Mailbag: Jim Tressel edition

The response to Jim Tressel’s on-going drama at Ohio State has covered the spectrum in email responses to, with most of the defenders’ comments divided into four distinct categories.

Most of those who excuse Tressel’s lies to the NCAA and OSU stand behind the following themes, which I’ll address:

The violations by the players in the Tattoo-Gate scandal weren’t that serious, because all they did was sell their own memorabilia and team awards.

Rules are rules, and no NCAA athlete can break them without consequences. It would be chaotic to have a system where players could sell their own sports-related items, because it wouldn’t be long before some school’s boosters would be paying players $500 for sweaty practice T-Shirts. Bottom line: It’s a rule, so players can’t do it.

Tressel’s violations don’t rise to the level of dismissal or resignation because no crime was involved.

That’s true, but it’s a flimsy and irrelevant justification. What Tressel is accused of doing is among the most serious violations for a coach at an NCAA member school. Coaches cannot lie to the NCAA and go unpunished. If so, no coach could be compelled to tell the NCAA the truth and the NCAA therefore could never effectively investigate any wrong-doing.

Sure, Tressel lied, but every coach at every school cheats, so he was only doing what was necessary to compete.

Not true. Every coach doesn’t cheat. Joe Paterno has never been cited for a major rules infraction, and he’s not alone among his profession. In the Big Ten alone, Bret Bielema, Brady Hoke and others have no so stain on their records.

What Tressel did was bad, but what other schools — mostly in the Southeastern Conference — do is worse, so this isn’t that big of a deal.

This view arises because Tressel loyalists fail to grasp, or don’t want to hear, how serious lying to the NCAA is. They also don’t want to hear about how many times Tressel lied (twice to OSU investigators in December, again at his March 8 press conference, again in speeches around the state immediately afterward). And there is no proof that all schools in the SEC cheat. That’s a fallacy born of OSU fans jealousy over losing to SEC schools in bowl games.

And now to some Tressel-related emails with other themes:

From Shaggy:

“Tressel needs to resign. His facade of being a upstanding, ethical coach is gone…If some Buckeye fans want to think he did this to ‘protect‘ his players, who am I to disturb that delusion? His actions were purely selfish.

Certainly, OSU benefited greatly from Tressel knowingly playing ineligible players during the 2010 season. That is why I believe the NCAA will take away all 11 victories, allowing only the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas to stand.

From PhillyBuck:

“The rest of the media that regularly covers OSU is reporting that because the charges investigated were focused on Tressel and not OSU, that it would be highly unlikely that the NCAA would apply the repeat violator tag. But I guess that didn’t fit into your look-how-Tressel-ruined-OSU-football storyline did it? It’s a violation, but not the axe murder you keep trying to make it.”

The NCAA Notice of Allegation makes clear that OSU can be subjected to repeat violator penalties, because this major infraction comes within five years of the basketball violations and the Troy Smith violations ruled upon in March of 2006. You may be confusing the repeat violator statute with the “lack of institutional control” charge or “failure to monitor” charge” that was not in the NCAA’s letter. Those charges can be added during the penalty phase of OSU’s case.

From Mark:

“Not every Buckeye fan in Central Ohio is “drinking the Kool-Aid.” I have long been an admirer of Tressel, but am also disappointed in his decision-tree last April.

Tressel certainly has his defenders, but there are many who feel betrayed by his actions because they bought into his image as a straight-shooter. The repeated lying and brittle excuses he has used to explain his behavior embarrass some OSU alums who want their diploma to stand for something besides victories in football. The fact that he forwarded crucial information about his players NCAA violations to someone outside the university, but to no one at Ohio State, is a major problem.

From MH:

“Bruce, I am not sure what your obsession is with Ohio State’s football program, but your articles are getting old. It’s the same old, ‘blah-blah-I-hate-Jim-Tressel saga. You have made it very clear that you don’t like Tressel, so now if you have any talent, please go write about something else. Please vent your anger in other areas. I personally would like to see something else on the front page of Fox Sports.“

Unfortunately, you’re trapped in a news cycle where Tressel is more important than all other things in college football right now. That’s my beat, so that’s what I write about. I don’t “hate” Jim Tressel. That’s ridiculous. Pointing out what he did, and placing it in context, now that we have new information coming to light about what he did last April, is what reporters do.

From Damon:

“I was more embarrassed on how Gee and Smith acted in the (March 8) press conference than Tressel. I love sports…but football has gotten out of hand at the elite level — recruiting freshmen, televising practice games, university funding directly related to the success of a football team.”

You sound like one of the concerned alums I spoke of. Like it or not, an elite football program creates an image for a university that often trumps all the other academic-oriented things a school does. Years ago, before he was the athletic director at Ohio State, Andy Geiger was the AD at Stanford when he asked a sports writer on the West Coast to name the most famous Stanford alum. Without hesitation, the sports writer said, “John Elway.“ Geiger became so upset he threw drink in the writer’s face. It was Geiger’s contention that Stanford’s numerous Supreme Court justices were more famous than an NFL quarterback, even one as successful as Elway. In terms of significance to society, Geiger was right. In terms of notoriety among the masses, Geiger was wrong. OSU football gives Ohio State more notoriety — good and bad — than anything done in a research lab.

From Randy:

“It is time for you to just shut your mouth. You need to get the heck out of Ohio.”

I get this a lot, and so have former Ohio State players like Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Spielman and Robert Smith when they’ve spoken of Tressel taking ownership for his behavior or OSU being forced to hire a different coach when Tressel is either fired or resigns. It astounds me people could question the love of OSU or the loyalty to the school from people like Kirk, Chris and Robert — admittedly, all friends of mine. These guys could have gone anywhere in the country to play college football. They chose OSU, and when they played were cheered at every turn. Now, because they give honest opinions to fair questions, they are vilified? Please consider that the reason they speak as they do is related to having been around the nation at other schools where they see how similar matters are handled. Also, realize that their words come not from a hatred toward OSU, but because of their love for their school.

Follow Bruce on Twitter@bhoolz