Redemption for Ohio State? Not quite

Redemption for Ohio State? Not quite

Published May. 12, 2011 9:53 a.m. ET

Only an optimist would smash one ant scurrying from beneath the rug and breathe a sigh of relief over having eradicated the ant problem.

Only an optimist.

Or an Ohio State fan.

Since the Tattoo-Gate scandal broke in late December, then mushroomed into the fireball of head coach Jim Tressel’s lying to the NCAA and OSU, a segment of Buckeye supporters has seized upon every figurative smashed ant to exult over the school’s and Tressel’s supposed innocence.


That’s why Wednesday was a big day for the apologists, given the Columbus Dispatch’s correction of the price former OSU linebacker Thaddeus Gibson paid for his 2007 Chrysler 300C that same year.

The Dispatch reported Saturday that title records showed Gibson obtained the vehicle, which had less than 14,000 miles, for zero dollars.

The newspaper reported yesterday that an older title showed Gibson paid $13,700 for the car.

The resultant outcry from OSU defenders was swift and shrill.

The Dispatch’s oversight of the original title gave rise to a movement that the entire story from Saturday -- which detailed between 40 and 50 vehicle sales by one person at two dealerships, all to OSU athletes -- should be discredited.

It mirrored the gleeful reaction in the aftermath of the television show, Pawn Stars, showing a gold pants award obtained from a former OSU player with the initials, DW.

Theories arose that that pants must have been those of former Buckeye Doug Worthington. Worthington denied the charge, and supposedly provided proof he still possessed all five gold pants awards he earned at OSU.

There’s your complete exoneration, the apologists sniffed.

Well, except that someone’s gold pants still wound up on Pawn Stars, and that player has yet to be identified.

The same bothersome follow-up applies to the Gibson car sale.

OK, great, he paid $13,700 for his Chrysler the year it hit the market. A quick Google check shows the base model, stripped down with no options, sold for $35,000 in 2007.

Gibson purchased it later that year for $21,000 less, assuming he purchased the bare bones edition.

True, all cars depreciate when driven off the lot, but a $21,000 drop for a vehicle with less than 14,000 miles?

Hey, maybe Gibson had a trade-in that lowered his purchase price.

That’s plausible . . . but so is this question:

Where would a college football player, who can’t work because of his time commitment to football, get a trade-in valued at $21,000?

That’s the trouble with the OSU scandal. One question begs another, and another, and no one knows where it will end until it does.

Former Ohio State linebacker and ESPN analyst Chris Spielman has surveyed the twists and turns of the story and stunned an audience in Lima on Monday with his prediction on Tressel’s future.

“I’d be surprised if he’s coaching (this fall),“ Spielman said. “Why I say that is, I think there is more stuff coming out.”

Certainly, the Dispatch is not the only media entity digging into the Ohio State football program.

Gibson’s transaction may have been perfectly above board, as may all 40-to-50 of the sales both OSU and the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles are investigating.

That’s great for Ohio State if true, but it doesn’t change the reality that Item One on the agenda when OSU goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions Aug. 12 won’t be cars, tattoos or any other extra benefit Buckeye players supposedly received.

The first, and most troublesome, item is Tressel’s lying to the NCAA in September, cheating by knowingly playing ineligible players throughout the season, lying twice more to OSU investigators in December and covering up his prior knowledge of the players’ NCAA violations by saying nothing until confronted by school officials in January.

None of that is in dispute. OSU has already admitted to all of it in a self-report of the matter to the NCAA, whose president sounded an ominous tone on Tuesday.

“We need to make sure our penalty structure and enforcement process imposes a thoughtful level of concern, and that the cost of violating the rules costs more than not violating them," Mark Emmert said.

But, really, what do we expect Emmert to say?

He’s clearly not going to admit the NCAA factors in which school is guilty, and if it’s a cash cow for a major conference — like Ohio State is for the Big Ten — the boys in enforcement will pull back their fangs.

The only real answer as to whether Emmert’s get-tough policy will translate into Tressel getting the show-cause order — essentially a ban from coaching — that lesser-known violators with lesser NCAA crimes have received is to wait for the Infractions Committee ruling that should come down in late September or early October.

That’s about the time Tressel and his five headline players are eligible to return from their five-game suspensions for OSU’s Oct. 8 game at Nebraska.

Have the Buckeyes chosen the exact wrong time to be in the crosshairs of NCAA justice? Will they be hammered by bowl bans, scholarship limits and recruiting restrictions like USC was for one player, Reggie Bush, profiting massively from his celebrity?

To this point, there’s no proof any OSU player cashed in like Bush or his parents. But is it better or worse for the Buckeyes that their primary violation involves their head coach essentially spitting on the very fabric of the NCAA’s existence by concealing violations, lying about his knowledge when the scandal surfaced and making no attempt to come forward?

It will be an interesting test for Emmert’s promised crackdown on cheating and his pledge to make the penalties so severe coaches won’t believe the reward worth the risk.


Follow Bruce on Twitter @BHOOLZ