Something’s rotten in Columbus. And the stench is bordering on the overwhelming.
In October of 2009, Dez Bryant was ruled ineligible for the remainder of what turned out to be his final season at Oklahoma State for lying to the NCAA. And Bryant hadn’t even committed a major violation; the fact that he fibbed led to the ultimate sanction.
Almost exactly 17 months later, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel has been found to have committed a major violation and was slapped with a two-game suspension and fined $250,000 for, in essence, lying to his employer. On three different occasions. And you wouldn’t have to stretch very far based on his Herbie Hancock on compliance forms to make the case that his lies to the school were lies to the NCAA as well.
And he’s slapped with a two-game suspension? There’s that odor again.
Tressel’s defense of why he knew in April of 2010 — a full eight months before OSU was made aware by elements outside the university — that at least two of his players were possibly receiving impermissible benefits and didn’t inform anyone at the school was wrapped in one word: confidentiality. In an email dated April 2, Tressel was first informed by an unnamed attorney that federal agents had raided the house of Eddie Rife, owner of a Columbus, Oh., tattoo parlor frequented by Buckeye players, and that the raid yielded “a lot of Ohio State Memorabilia, including championship rings.” The coach was further informed that “[name redacted] and other players have taken… signed Ohio State memorabilia to Eddie who has been selling it for profit.”
Tressel’s confidentiality defense is obliterated by the fact that the unnamed attorney had not asked for the information he was revealing to be kept in confidence during the first email. It wasn’t until the second one sent on April 16 that Tressel was told “What I tell you is confidential.” That means the head coach had a full two weeks between exchanges to inform his university that potential violations had possibly been committed and avoid violating some informal, trumped-up “confidentiality agreement”.
Instead, Tressel sat on the information. Throughout April, into summer camp and through the regular season, he squatted on information that he knew at the time could contain potential violations of NCAA bylaws. Hell, even as he was excitedly telling the world in late December that the players suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season would be returning for their senior years, he was still two weeks away from being forced to admit his cover-up.
Just as damning is the fact that the school acknowledged in its report to the NCAA that Tressel had three opportunities to come clean about having prior knowledge of the potential of impermissible benefits. In September, Tressel signed the NCAA Certificate of Compliance Form indicating “he has reported any knowledge of possible violations to the institutions.” There was another opportunity in early December, the school cited, as well as one on Dec. 16 “[w]hen Coach Tressel was asked if he had been contacted about this matter or knew anything about it, he replied that while he had received a tip about general rumors pertaining to certain of his players, that information had not been specific, and it pertained to their off-field choices.”
Of course, the latter was a blatant untruth as the attorney was very specific in his emails as he named both players and the type of memorabilia being sold and/or bartered. It wasn’t until Jan. 13 that the emails were discovered by the school while working on “an unrelated legal issue” that Tressel was compelled to cop to having knowledge of the situation involving six of his players.
A full nine months after he first obtained said knowledge.
“Quite honestly, I was scared,” Tressel said when asked about his initial reaction to the emails, before launching his paper-thin confidentiality defense.
Certainly Tressel cares about his players, and tries to protect them at all costs. That’s one of myriad character traits that endears him to players past and present. However, in this case, and from the outside looking in, it appears he put the powerhouse football program he’s built above all else. He took it upon himself to be above the law, NCAA or otherwise.
Should Tressel be dismissed for his transgressions? Probably not, although going by the letter of his contract he very well could, and maybe should. In that aspect, he’s likely out of the proverbial woods.
This is far from over, though; the NCAA will still have their say, and could very well add to the self-imposed sanctions.
And maybe, just this once, the governing body of collegiate athletics will get it right and hold a head coach to a higher standard than they do their student-athletes.