Tressel should go out fighting for change

Firing Jim Tressel is the easy way out. It’s a high-profile drug bust. It’s dope on the table worthy of a televised press conference and a slew of journalism awards for The Columbus Dispatch.

You don’t need to be Slim Charles to understand that, in the aftermath of Tressel’s tattoo cover-up, “the game remains the same, just more fierce.”

Ohio State’s and Tressel’s misfortune reinforces the bliss and safety of ignorance when trying to abide by outdated and integrity-lacking NCAA rules.

Make no mistake, across the college football and basketball landscape, Christopher Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on linebacker, is the villain. He violated the unspoken don’t-ask-don’t-tell code shared between coaches and boosters.

Head coaches must be allowed to live in a protective bubble where they can pretend their star players acquire cars, jewelry, designer clothes, tattoo sleeves and whatnot courtesy of a wealthy uncle, cousin or grandparent.

Cicero, the idiot lawyer, had no business emailing Tressel about the activities of his players.

Contact the NCAA, the police, an assistant coach, the FBI, The New York Times. But under no circumstance does a responsible booster disturb the blissfully ignorant bubble of a coach with a 9-1 record against Michigan.

Cicero put Tressel in an impossible position.

Lose his star quarterback over tattoos and autographed memorabilia. Lose a shot at a national championship, a BCS bowl game and millions of dollars over tattoos and autographed memorabilia.

Show me a head coach willing to make that sacrifice and I’ll show you a coach who won’t last long in a BCS job.

This is not a defense of The Vest.

He deserves an NCAA fate much worse than the one the organization dealt Dez Bryant for lying about having a meal with Deion Sanders. Tressel lied and has been caught. The NCAA established a punishment standard for lying to its investigators. It cost a kid from a tough background his final season at Oklahoma State.

It should cost Tressel his career.

The NCAA better not catch religion and compassion when a 58-year-old millionaire tramples its rules.

But, again, this column isn’t a call for Tressel’s death sentence.

It’s a reminder the NCAA and its rulebook are in need of complete overhauls.

The participants — the coaches, administrators, school presidents and athletes — don’t believe in the system.

The Ohio State University is one of the schools at the top of the NCAA food chain. The Buckeyes are perennial national-title contenders in football and basketball. The Ohio State prides itself on the perception that it goes about winning the right way.

Look at how it has handled Tattoogate.

From school president E. Gordon Gee joking/insinuating Tressel could have him fired, to athletic director Gene Smith pretending to know nothing, to the self-righteous, vested head coach lying for eight months to protect ink-stained, bowl ring-selling quarterback Terrelle Pryor, no one at Ohio State really believes the myth of amateurism should stand in the way of big business.

While Gee cowered at the thought of getting crossways with Tressel, The Vest strong-armed his tatted players into sticking around for another season and negotiated their five-game suspensions. Then, in the ultimate face-saving move, Gee and Smith took action against The Vest, handing him a two-game ban against Mid-American Conference foes, before accepting Tressel’s five-game plea bargain.

Shamateurism is the disease causing all of the deceit.

Gee, Smith and Tressel know there’s too much money being made by adults to crack down on kids looking for tiny perks.

By ending shamateurism, by giving the kids a real financial stake in football and men’s basketball, you give the adults the moral authority to demand the kids and their families abide by NCAA rules.

No new rules. No peace.

Should the kids let the old white men running the Fiesta Bowl have all the fun, cash all the checks?

Hell no.

Rather than greedily try to hang onto his $3.7-million-a-year contract, I wish Tressel would man up, quit his job and lead the fight against the immoral rules that put him in this embarrassing predicament.

The coaches know the system isn’t right. They’ve all sold out. They live in their protective bubbles praying they never make the mistake of opening an email filled with an inconvenient truth.

As of now, that’s the lesson in the Tressel fiasco. If you’re a coach, don’t open emails. If you’re a booster, don’t put potentially bad news in writing.

Can we please move on to a valuable lesson?

The NCAA and its rulebook must be destroyed and remade.