Jim Tressel: NCAA’s Nixon in a Sweater Vest?


Coach’s “Teaching Opportunity” Fumbled By So-Called Teacher

By Joe Bodolai © 2011, All rights reserved

UPDATE: JIM TRESSEL FINALLY RESIGNS. A bigger question is does it change anything morally throughout the sport? And does this scandal obscure some more serious problems elsewhere? And is it time to admit that big time college football players are semi-pros and call for a real full-scale investigation of the sport and deal with contradictions in the aftermath of the NCAA and media storm?

I wrote this about three months ago but much of it is still timely. If you’re not a college football fan check out the pictures and the footnotes and click on any of the stories in the links on the right. For those of you who seem to enjoy my college football writing, read on…

The Vests nerd ne sais quoi not bulletproof

The sweater vest has a certain nerd ne sais quoi about it, to be sure, and Jim Tressel wore it with all the aplomb of the high school math teacher. Not just the vest, but his playbook had “created with the pen from my pocket protector” written all over it. And, just like that boring high school math teacher, he’d be the last guy you’d suspect of secretly coloring outside the lines. Oh, not in the To Catch a Predator way, just maybe fudging on his expense receipts for filling up the Mazda after a recruiting trip. So, like much of college football fandom, I was shocked to learn that when it comes to the story of his players selling their game jerseys and other memorabilia and receiving free tattoos, we had literally just scratched the surface.

Here’s what happened: Five Ohio State players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were found to have sold some of what in the rest of the known universe might be called “their own property.” The players were suspended for five games next season but were allowed to take part in the post season Sugar Bowl game. There was much outcry and moralizing, as usual first from supporters of rival teams[1],that the players should have been declared “ineligible” and should not have been allowed to play, harrumph! The players were suspended for the first five games of the upcoming season. Since selling jerseys and trinkets provides no discernible competitive on field advantage, the game was played, as it should have been, between the two teams at full strength.[2] To remove the five from the postseason game would have also deprived television viewers and advertisers and the tens of thousands of tourists who traveled to New Orleans of the great classic bowl experience[3] that ESPN, CBS, ABC, FOX and all the advertisers remind us “is what college football is all about,” giant bowls full of money.

Should the players receive some sort of punishment for their actions? Of course, as long as others are punished for similar infractions, they also should be and all received five game suspensions. That half a season is pretty big in the short three-step drop of a college football “career.” Tressel and the university tried to deflect the moral blame by saying they had not done “a good job of educating the players” about the rule, which seems simple enough as “yo! You can’t sell your own gear… give it to the ‘rents to unload on eBay.” Class dismissed, along with lame excuse.

Most of you know what happened later. Tressel recently was caught out in a lie and suspended for two games and fined $250,000 as proof surfaced that he knew of the merchandise sales earlier but did nothing about it.

De Anthony Thomas (r) in Curiously Plain Oregon Attire

The brouhaha over Ohio State then seemed to subside as a flurry of seemingly daily allegations surfaced faster than brawling transsexuals on Springer. First Oregon’s flashy hair extensions were ripped off as their program was hit with allegations of a payoff to a “scouting service” to recruit a player out from under USC’s upturned Kiffinesque nose.

Then came the actions of an Alabama fan (and just by mentioning Alabama that Springer reference is workin’ it hard). Anxious to get back at hated rival Auburn this fan brought the wrath of the Crimson Tide as surely as it might smite a cheerleader needing a tampon on Iron Bowl Day. An obviously mentally challenged irate caller to a sports talk show rest my case was accused of poisoning some of rival Auburn’s legacy oak trees at “Toomer’s Corner”, which sounds worse than it is. As the trees began to die of hyperfanoid toxicity caused by some chemical infusion this fine citizen poured around the trees, perhaps scraps from Todd Blackledge’s game day takeout, students mourned the majestic oaks as only Auburn fans could: ritual beer fueled showering and the festooning of the stately oaks with ringlets of sacred Costco toilet paper. Auburn officially mourned with the quiet desperate downcast gaze of a martyr’s mother and received visitors in their self-righteous victimhood in the two-ply shadows and the reflected glow of the national championship football. This relic was on display being trucked around to fine Walmarts near you throughout Alabama. The Cam Newton scandal[4] in the rear view mirror, all seemed pretty much tickety-boo in the Moonshine State, or whatever they call it.[5]

Auburn Faithful Protect Legendary Oak Trees With Powerful Toilet Paper Wrap

Then, dad-gum it, four players from the national championship team go and get they asses arrested for armed robbery! And one that makes the damn newspapers and intertubes to boot! Auburn reacted immediately and kicked the players off the team in a high-minded moral stance way way before the players might actually be imprisoned at an inconvenient distance from the field. Police had no explanation why the four were unable to escape on foot, despite possessing legendary SEC speed. Fortunately for Auburn, they had a surplus of players since the conference schools routinely, and some police blotter readers jurisprudence observers say wisely, offer many more scholarships than they can legally provide, perhaps for just such a “thinning out the herd” process, called oversigning, every armed robbery no limit catfish season.

Okay, to recap: Since the Tattoo Five incident involving sold used merchandise the following clearly more serious incidents occurred at schools other than Ohio State:

1.     Possible Illegal Recruiting Payments: Allegations and evidence of a $25,000 payment made by the University of Oregon program to a “scouting service” that ostensibly provided videotapes of top high school players (video that may or may not exist) but more importantly delivered a top high school player to the Ducks after it was widely assumed he would be attending another generous program, USC. (Photos of the recruit wearing some of Oregon’s celebrated Nike-provided apparel have been seen online, which would be another clothing violation, by the way, but by the school not the player.)

Recent Events in College Football As Measured on My Bovine Excremometer

2.     Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy. After Tressel suspended the players for next season and the matter appeared to be cleared up, Cam Newton was presented with his Heisman Trophy. This revered bronze figure is considered sacred in college football for its mystical prophetic and cleansing powers. Not only has it virtually guaranteed that the recipient would be miraculously spared the blight of a successful NFL career, its sculptor in 1935 eerily foreshadowed the game-winning real life touchdown pose of 1991 recipient Desmond Howard some half a century later as if the statue somehow knew! This mystical prophetic radiance is considered so sacred that the statue must be regularly returned to its tabernacle by those deemed retroactively unworthy so as not to besmirch the presentation ceremony. The most recent to make the pilgrimage back to the Heisman Holy Land to return the trophy was celebrated USC free home and auto enthusiast Reggie Bush. Many experts familiar with the ritualistic cult say that current Heisman bearer Cam Newton will possibly also be anointed and deemed worthy to make the much more humble and less media-worthy Pilgrimage of Remorse.

Michigan Icon Desmond Howard Strikes Heisman Pose vs. Unidentified Opponents as Statue Eerily Predicted

3.     Criminal Offenses in Alabama Trees were poisoned and players arrested at Auburn, criminal charges involved. None are NCAA offenses but pretty big scandals in real life I’d say.

4.     Abuse of Athletic Scholarships and “Oversigning”: Oversigning in college football became headlines on many top sports publications as well as in The Wall Street Journal and much was made of this, and still is, since the Ohio State paraphernalia situation. The discussion outlined how some schools, especially in the SEC, offer more scholarships than the NCAA allows them to legally give. Auburn and especially Alabama were singled out for this practice while schools in the Big Ten do not generally oversign. Aside from the more serious implications on how the abrogated scholarships affect young mens’ lives once they are dumped from the program, the stockpiling of talent by SEC schools clearly also provides a competitive advantage. For a more thorough discussion of this practice I refer you to the excellent site oversigning.com but not until you finish reading my views on these other issues.

5.     Some more vague chronic Kiffinage. In what has become so routine that it hardly raises an eyebrow outside of Tennessee, somewhere in all this are more allegations of shenanigans by former-USC-then-Tennessee-now-current-USC-coach-again Lane Kiffin. His brief but eventful time at Rocky Top was fraught with a trail of “secondary violations” that some in the state have recommended putting a ring of slug repellent salt around Tennessee to dissuade him from ever returning[6].

6.     Notre Dame Fined in Circumstances Concerning Death of a Student. Just today I see that Notre Dame was fined $77,500 (or about 30% of the Tressel fine) for events that led to the actual death of a volunteer student videotaping a practice from a tower in high winds. This incident is far more serious than anything I discuss here but is a reflection on the high stakes that big time college football can become. I have no comment on the size or circumstances of the fine but suggest that it become a more important area for concern.

Okay, I hope I’ve got this straight. Since the Ohio State players were busted for selling stuff, there were roughly half a dozen other fairly large scandals involving big time college footballs programs in six months, or about a good week of headlines during Watergate.

And speaking of Watergate… Out of the blue, actually the purple exclamation mark of Yahoo! Sports, came the news that

Forced to Vacate Win in 1972 Election

Jim Tressel did indeed know more about the players, the tattoos, and the merchandise than previously claimed. In the splatter from the excremental coolant whirlage, it seems now that Senator Tressel (HC-OSU) flat out lied in a Tricky Dicky coverup slant right on three. This is where the game off the field changes. Big Time. This is an infraction of “epic seriousity”. It’s an even clearer open and shut case than it was with Nixon’s coverup which, if you also lie and say you’re not old enough to remember like me, lacked 18 minutes of tape. In Tressel’s case, there are damaging emails. I would put links up to those but they’re all over the place and I have enough trouble with short attention spans getting you to even read this far. They’re real and they aren’t good. To put some foam on this Starbucked up cappuccino, Tressel didn’t even really apologize for his own actions, merely for “what we’ve been through!”

What troubles me is that Tressel referred to punishing the players and getting them to return for their final seasons at Ohio State instead of trying their hand at the NFL or setting up car dealerships as a “teaching moment.”

Oops.

For a man who preaches integrity to his “young people”, perhaps Mr. Tressel should take another look at the meaning of the word. Instead of claiming “he didn’t know whom to contact” about the information, he should have remembered that, as many say, integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.

Trouble is, someone was. He threw into coverage.

To be sure, had Jim Tressel’s coverup not happened and he had come forth once he was sure the notification he received was true it would have been pretty ugly for the Buckeyes, but nowhere near as ugly as this. Maybe the players would have been suspended for four games immediately and maybe not have beaten a team or two with Joe “Bow Wow” Bauserman[7] at quarterback. They still would have probably lost to emerging new rival Wisconsin but would still have beaten the Washington Generals Michigan in the annual Distribution of the Gold Pants rivalry game.

Jim Tressel has now found himself compared to Woody Hayes not merely for his coaching victories, but for his behavior. Sure he didn’t punch an opposing player as Woody did, perhaps mistaking the Clemson orange for maize and blue or else just plan furious for having to play in a second-tier bowl game. He actually did something I consider far worse —  lying to retain competitive advantage. And that is the crux of the problem for the NCAA, and where Tressel’s actions are in fact as great as illegal recruiting payments. This is the pressure of big time college football, where millions are at stake. It is also a system where student-athletes aren’t paid for helping provide this revenue but coaches are paid more than Nobel laureates.

The “teaching moment” that was lost was the opportunity to examine the behavior of the Ohio State players and others such who have sold memorabilia and the entire relationship between NCAA revenues for scholarships, which are in fact employment contracts at set standard wage. Many college football players come from underprivileged backgrounds where the dream of playing professional sports is dangled as bling on a string. Too many do not graduate or even obtain the educational skills that a college degree would warrant. These are issues that could have been in the conversation had the Ohio State situation remained about the players’ morality not about NCAA legality. Many observers began to question the difference between tossing around figures of $180,000 for a potential recruitment in an investigation that resulted in no penalties with selling a few hundred dollars worth of stuff that is routinely sold by the Athletic Department off the players’ backs! It is a huge moral difference and the opportunity for that is now lost, thanks to Jim Tressel.

OSU Athletic Director Smith, Coach Tressel, and President Gee Discuss Strategy

Should Ohio State have to “vacate” victories, it will be a simulated penalty. Michigan won’t be able to remove the stigma of not having beaten Ohio State in football for 3,018 days when they take the field on November 26th. What really would hurt is not even a rare suspension of Tressel as a coach, but reduction of scholarships. While this happened to USC for l’affaire Bush that was about lack of institutional control. I think Tressel, Athletic Director Gene Smith, and President Gordon “Not Llike the Exclamation but Like the Clarified Butter” Gee acted like the Three Stooges but this rests solely at the feet of one man. If Dick Nixon had to vacate his Presidency for lying about a small crime, then perhaps Jim Tressel should vacate his position and allow the discussion to allow an issue rarely discussed into the game – not merely NCAA rules, competitive advantages, or polls but something bigger about the entire game, about all of college athletics — morality.

In a crisis, don’t hide behind anything or anybody. They are going to find you anyway. -Bear Bryant


[1] Yes, you Michigan. As an admitted Ohio State fan I rose to defend the Buckeyes online with a warning shot across the bow at Wolverine fans to not get too comfy on Dr. Schadenfreude’s couch with my ad on craigslist for Michigan forgetabilia.

[2] I was going to write a sentence about how Ohio State won the game to cap another outstanding 12-1 season but didn’t mention the 31-26 win. At all. Pretty frickin’ objective, huh not to even mention the fantastic win even once. I certainly wouldn’t gloat about it in a video link in a serious article like this. And again, not mention the 31-26 win at all. Ever.

[3] Which includes ancillary events such as the annual Rose Bowl festival of watching Big Ten linemen from the Midwest be naively gorged on unlimited prime rib at Los Angeles steakhouses in order to slow them down and fatten them for the kill in the big game against the crafty and sharply-dressed personal trainer loving Hollywood hipsters.

[4] Allegations that Heisman Trophy winner Newton’s father asked for $180,000 in exchange for his son enrolling to play at Mississippi were conveniently ignored as the NCAA said they “believed” that the younger Newton did not know of dad’s shenanigans. For more on that brand of Newtonian calculus, I wrote this, explaining “Newton’s Law”.

[5] I don’t know what they call Alabama but if “stars fell” on it like the song says, I’m thinking craters, but it’s SEC country, so the state’s nickname could also involve roadkill. In any case they will remind you that the SEC possesses more “speed” than a trailer park full of meth dealers and will, according to Ozark Folk Tales, outrun the aptly named linemen of the Big Ten (see above. I blame Lawry’s Prime Rib.)

[6] Fans outside of Tennessee are more lenient since he has a hot wife. Look her up yourself. I’m writing a serious article. What? Layla.

[7] I made up the nickname as Mr. Bauserman is apparently lacking in sufficient color to have acquired one on his own. I am sure he is a great guy and he does have the significant accomplishment of actually being a quarterback for a great college program. And if nobody wants to buy his jersey, Mrs. Bauserman hates you.

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