NFL creating bigger mess with Tressel

Published Sep. 5, 2011 1:00 a.m. EDT

Jim Tressel’s reign at Ohio State will be remembered not for championships but for a peculiar combination (peculiar to big-time college football coaches, that is) of sanctimony, subterfuge and willful ignorance. Tressel was fond of asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” Looking back, however, it seems Tressel would have been better served asking what Jesus wouldn’t do.

Tressel didn’t know about the boosters. He didn’t know about the cars. He didn’t know about the memorabilia and autograph sales. And what he did come to know — the tattoo scandal — he chose to cover up.

It should surprise no one, then, that Tressel’s tenure as an NFL flunky — a game-day replay consultant for the Indianapolis Colts — has already enveloped the NFL in his personal cloud. Just two weeks after Roger Goodell suspended a 22-year-old former star quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts hired the 58-year-old who ignored Terrelle Pryor’s transgressions (both real and alleged), an ostensibly religious man with more than a quarter-century of experience as a college head coach.

Also worth noting is the sneakiness with which Indianapolis made the hire. Colts coach Jim Caldwell mentioned Tressel’s new job on a Friday conference call heading into Labor Day, right before the inaugural weekend of the college football season, when the news cycle would be dominated with actual games.


Actually, I’m sure the timing was a complete coincidence. Just like it was a complete coincidence when the NFL cut Pryor’s rookie season by five games — which just happened to be the same number of games he’d been suspended by the NCAA. I know this was mere happenstance because the NFL said so.

On Aug. 18, with Goodell fending off an avalanche of criticism, spokesman Greg Aiello sought to clarify matters with Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez. Contrary to popular perception, Aiello argued, the league was not acting as the enforcement arm of its cost-free farm system, the NCAA. Rather, he wrote via email, “we are enforcing our own rules."

"Pryor made decisions that undermined the integrity of our draft eligibility rules,” Aiello said. “He skipped the regular draft. He then made himself ineligible for college football.

“Our rules have never been based on the notion a college player could choose to violate NCAA rules, obtain a declaration that he is ineligible to play and then be rewarded by entering the NFL draft. (Pryor) is not getting a free pass into the NFL.”

Hold up. I didn’t exactly follow that. I mean, what’s the purpose of the supplemental draft, anyway? How is it OK for an ineligible “student-athlete” to be rewarded for not going to class, or flunking out, or getting kicked off the team, or testing positive for a banned substance, while the kid who gets free tattoos warrants a de facto suspension from the NFL?

I didn’t think this was possible. But Roger Goodell’s NFL has now achieved NCAA-like levels of hypocrisy. Is the league really going to new professionals for their college transgressions? And what of coaches like Pete Carroll, another “hear no evil, see no evil” kind of guy? Carroll abandoned a program he ran into the ground and was rewarded with a $7 million salary from the Seahawks.

Look, I don’t doubt Goodell was actually trying to do the right thing. But the fact is, he made an even bigger mess. And it only became more confused and cynical — which is to say, more NCAA-like — on Monday morning when the Colts released an unwittingly extraordinary statement.

It began by citing the “questions raised with respect to the equity of (Tressel’s) appointment as opposed to suspensions being served this season by present and former Ohio State players” (read: Pryor). As a result, Tressel and his new bosses have agreed to begin his employment after six regular games (one presumes he’ll keep his bowl eligibility). It’s not being called a “suspension” — just as Goodell’s punishment of Pryor avoided the term. Of course, it is nothing if not a suspension.

Noting that Colts ownership and high command had conversations with league officials over the weekend, the statement continues: “We have informed the league office of our decision and expect that they will be supportive of it.”

Now the NFL has a real problem. They’ve already punished Pryor, and now they’re going to sign off on a six-game non-suspension-suspension of Tressel?

For what, though?

The NFL says it doesn’t enforce NCAA rules. Only now the Colts have basically confirmed that it does. By signing off on the six games — call it what you want, but it’s a punishment — the league is now squarely in the business of sanctioning players and coaches for transgressions committed in college. Now, I’m all for it, provided these sanctions actually prevent the next generation of Pete Carrolls from profiteering on their lapses and wrongdoings as college coaches. Unfortunately, realistically, I don’t see how it will.

And, right about now, Goodell has to be wondering why he didn’t do what Tressel would do. Nothing.