The resignation yesterday of head coach Jim Tressel at Ohio State was “the sports news” of Memorial Day. Rarely do I watch 35-40 minutes of video clips on a sports news story but this story so captivated my interest that I spent a good deal of time last night trying to absorb it. I am truly saddened by the actions of Jim Tressel and pray for him and those who love him.
I wrote about the problems Jim Tressel faced just a few weeks ago. I suggested then that he should resign. I can only guess that it took time to work out the details of his contract for this to finally happen. I have no idea why the announcement came on a holiday. Cynics have made several suggestions.
This is what we know. Coach Tressel made a decision to cover up the actions of five players, perhaps because he cared about the players deeply. He further chose to withhold information from the NCAA and his superiors at Ohio State. One can understand his covering his players, to protect them and (perhaps) to try to help them. One can’t justify, however, his failure to comply with his duty and honor regarding the rules of college football compliance. He not only received emails telling him of the dangers that he faced but failed to accurately follow the compliance forms that he submitted in writing. All he had to do was walk down the hall and tell his superior what he knew and when he knew it and the results might have been very different. But he did not do it. Then, when the facts became known to his superiors, he covered them up. He knows, as well as any one can know, that the consequences of this would be his job. Did his pride precede his fall? I don’t know but he still seems a bit distant from the reality of what he really did, at least from the public appearances he has made about it.
In college basketball we have had 81 similar incidents and 78 of the coaches have ended up resigning. It seemed obvious that Jim Tressel would be forced to resign. Today was therefore no shock to most fans.
Former Ohio State star Chris Spielman rightly said, “You cannot justify playing ineligible players no matter what the reason.” Former Buckeye star Kirk Herbstreit said, “When you withhold information from the NCAA you have crossed the line and you know it.”
The real tragedy is that the legacy and impact of Jim Tressel has been severely tarnished As I have noted before Tressel has a strong statement of faith. He even recently released a book telling about his personal faith. He has appeared to be a honorable and wonderful leader for the past decade in which he has known great success as a coach. But Mark May, my favorite ESPN college commentator of them all, summed it up for me when he said that under Coach Tressel Ohio State had created “a culture of corruption.” No coach is bigger than this sport no matter how many games he wins. Jim Tressel, sadly, had to go. Now he knows how vulnerable he really is. We have to pray that he will also know how powerful forgiveness can really be and that he truly finds that forgiveness and moves on to become a more whole and mature person in Christ. I am praying for him even by writing this personal reflection.