Tressel’s excuse is a whopper

Now THAT’S an excuse.

Why didn’t Ohio State coach Jim Tressel come forward when he found out several of his players were violating NCAA rules regarding improper benefits?

Well, you see, there was this ongoing federal criminal drug trafficking case! And an attorney asked him for confidentiality! He was worried for people’s safety!

You can’t make this stuff up. (Seriously. You can’t, right?)

You think you’ve heard excuses, in college athletics? THAT’S an excuse. It rivals Jake’s in "The Blues Brothers."

(My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts!)

Why didn’t Jim Tressel tell anyone his players had received improper benefits? Well, you see, there was this federal criminal drug trafficking case …

And yet, as he said it, he had me.

“I was scared,” he said.

“My focus was on the well being of the young people,” he said.

(You know, it was a federal criminal drug trafficking case!)

And I was with him. (Oh, Jake!)

Except …

Except, well, Tressel’s previous knowledge of this might not have come to light at all had Ohio State not stumbled upon it while going over an "unrelated legal issue." (How’d you like to be the university official to come across that? How’d you like to make that phone call? How’d you like to get that phone call?)

And the way Tressel lectured everyone on ethics when his players were busted back before the Sugar Bowl.

And, if this is really such a humanitarian/federal investigation thing, why is he being charged with a major violation?

Don’t people understand where he was coming from?

Well, of course they do: “When you think of the body of work he’s put into this program, this profession,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said, “when you think about who he is, there’s no question in my mind his decision came from the heart.”

Translation: The man has beaten Michigan eight times.

And yet, here we are. Ethics, again. Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor have all been busted for taking improper benefits. There was trouble at Youngstown State before that.

And this time, beyond the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal, Tressel let his bosses be blindsided by the fact that for months, he knew.

“As time went on, in my mind what was most important was that we didn’t interfere with a federal investigation,” Tressel said.

Yes. The federal investigation. But when he keeps talking, what it boils down to is, he didn’t tell anyone because he just couldn’t think of anyone to tell. And so he sat on it.

He kept secret that he’d known, even after the story broke at the Sugar Bowl.

Suddenly, this is a much less great excuse.

His bosses apparently didn’t know that he knew. Not until they stumbled upon it. And yet, “We trust him implicitly,” Smith said. Uh huh.

A sweater is a strong symbol. No, really. Mr. Rogers wore one.

And you wonder whether the sweater, and the professorial specs, and the iconic silver helmets, unblemished by anything but Buckeye leaves, are why we look at Tressel the way we do.

When for anyone else, the stats might give a different impression of a program. Of a coach.

Gordon Gee knows his symbolism. A university president, he models his wardrobe after Orville Redenbacher’s. Perfect.

He has great faith in his school’s football coach, in part, because Tressel gives his players a copy of The Gettysburg Address. Of course.

When asked whether his coach’s job was ever in jeopardy, Gee was emphatic in Tressel’s defense.

“I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me,” Gee said.

He was making a joke. We think.

But Tressel will pay a $250,000 fine (in itself, a statement of these coaches’ power, that they make enough to pay a fine like that). And he will be suspended two games, three fewer than the players he, um, “advised” to return to school in order to face the music.

This is the latest fad, suspending coaches for games. In theory, it’s meant to be the ultimate embarrassment.

But it doesn’t seem to work out that way.

Hey, which big-time college coach hasn’t been suspended for a couple of games lately?

Of course, the rest of them are amateurs. Some come off sleazy. Others are defiant. But this? This had style.

Hey, he took the high road in breaking the rules. There was this federal criminal drug trafficking case …

Now THAT’S an excuse.