Talking football at the Final Four

BY foxsports • April 1, 2011

Ohio State didn’t advance to the Final Four, at least its basketball team didn’t, but the Buckeyes were certainly represented Thursday when NCAA President Mark Emmert sat down for his annual state-of-the-NCAA press conference.

Emmert didn’t wait for questions before laying down a personal agenda for his first year on the job — an agenda that threatens trouble for Ohio State and embattled head football coach Jim Tressel.

“If I've learned anything in the six months (since my hiring), the single biggest concern that I have among the threats to the collegiate model is simply the threat (against) integrity,” Emmert said. “I've heard concerns expressed by people all around the country about the integrity of intercollegiate athletics right now, that people are seeing things that they don't like and that I don't like and that many people are concerned about.

“. . . Sometimes we're lagging in that integrity. We need to be sure that we restore it. We need to make sure that people understand what we stand for. We need to make sure that we're willing to stand up behind that. And when we have people that don't want to conduct themselves consistent with the integrity of these games, we need to be ready to deal with that appropriately.”

Three weeks ago, Ohio State self-reported Tressel’s violation of perhaps the most sacred bylaw in the extensive NCAA rules manual.

OSU said Tressel broke bylaw 10.1_(d), which forbids "knowingly furnishing the NCAA or the individual's institution false or misleading information concerning the individual's involvement in or knowledge of matters relevant to a possible violation of an NCAA regulation."

Ohio State admits Tressel received emails in April and June notifying him of likely extra-benefit violations by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and receiver DeVier Posey. The school also has admitted Tressel falsified an NCAA form in September saying he knew of no possible violations in his program, and that twice in December he misled OSU investigators looking into the matter.

While Emmert shied away from commenting specifically on Tressel’s transgressions, the OSU coach drew a stern rebuke Thursday from Ed Ray, the chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee, which oversees all rules changes.

Ray, president at Oregon State University, was an executive vice president and provost at Ohio State when Tressel was hired in 2001, and participated in that hiring.

"I just thought the world of him, and he obviously has been incredibly successful," Ray told The Oregonian newspaper. "I would assume he's certainly been a very positive influence on many of the players that he had. But this whole episode to me is beyond the pale. It's totally unacceptable. I'm pretty disappointed and startled by it all."

Asked how he would deal with Tressel if he were a member of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, Ray said: "If I were in their position, I'd be a hanging judge. I think there are lines you don't cross in your own life.

“. . . I'm not a big mercy guy. I'm not a big understander of extenuating circumstances. We all sort of engage in thinking about situational ethics. But I'm kind of old-school. And I think you're either ethical or you're not ethical."

Emmert said his mission will be to tighten the ethics of collegiate athletics at a time when the Cameron Newton investigation at Auburn, an HBO "Real Sports" investigation of Auburn, and the Tressel/Tattoo-gate scandal at Ohio State have produced a battery of unflattering headlines.

“When it comes to issues of integrity of intercollegiate athletics, what I can first and foremost do and will do is be doggedly persistent,” Emmert said. “There are too many great people in this enterprise. There are too many student-athletes who do so many good things to have their reputations besmirched by the tiny fraction that don't. We're going to make sure that happens.

“We need to, therefore, make sure that people understand if there are things that are awry, we will put them right.”

Coaches seldom survive violations of bylaw 10.1_(d) without losing their jobs. reported Sunday that since 1989, 81 cases have come before the NCAA involving a violation of the same rule Ohio State acknowledges Tressel violated.

The report said 78 of the 81 coaches or administrators resigned or were terminated.

Tressel said Wednesday he has never contemplated resigning, and his bosses — Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith — staunchly supported him on March 8.

“At the end of the day," Smith said, “Jim Tressel will be our football coach.”

Asked whether he considered firing Tressel, which the coach's contract allows for a 10.1_(d) violation, Gee said: “Are you kidding? I just hope he doesn’t dismiss me.”

Smith characterized Tressel’s violation as “major,” which means Ohio State will fall within the repeat-violator statute of the NCAA. That is the so-called “death penalty,” although it has never been administered since the crippling of the SMU football program in the late 1980s.

Repeat violators since then have routinely had the seasons in which violations took place vacated, and have suffered some or all of additional punishments that include postseason bans, television bans, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.

Tressel could also receive a show-cause penalty, which would require any school that wants to hire him, including OSU, to be forced to petition the NCAA Committee on Infractions for permission. That, too, could carry sanctions if the committee chooses.

No coach operating under a show-cause order has ever been hired or maintained his current position.

“We have to make sure that we have penalties that line up in a fashion that actually serve as useful deterrents,” Emmert said. “We cannot have coaches, administrators, parents or student-athletes sitting out there deciding, ‘Is this worth the risk? If I conduct myself in this fashion, and if I get caught, it's still worth the risk?’

“We don't want those kind of cost-benefit analyses going on. If our penalties and processes aren't providing sufficient deterrents, then I need to sit down with the board of Division I and others and fix that and make sure that our penalty structure and our enforcement processes serve as a deterrent so people conduct themselves with integrity and forthrightness.”

Asked how seriously the NCAA takes rule violators who provide false information, Emmert said: “As you're probably aware, for anyone involved in intercollegiate athletics, ethics violations are something we take very, very seriously and always have. So those fall at the top of a long list to the NCAA.“

Follow Bruce on Twitter @BHOOLZ

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