Friends know that I am a huge college football fan. I am especially loyal to my own school, the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide has had its own trials in the recent past with probation because of serious violations with boosters paying for players, etc. This sad legacy came on the heels of the head coaches moral failure (Mike DuBose). The coach’s lack of attention to his own program landed them in deep weeds. No excuses. Alabama got hammered and deserved it.
Nothing strikes a college fan with more dread than an NCAA investigation. It likely means penalties that will set back the football program for years. The ramifications for the school, the team and the fans are immense. But the NCAA shows no mercy in these instances. (Perhaps on another day I will share my view of the NCAA, which is not all that favorable either. )
Now the school under the investigative microscope is Ohio State University. I am not a Buckeye fan, nor am I an anti-Buckeye fan. I have respected their great tradition for many years, however. The sad exodus of Woody Hayes was a black-eye, at least in the way his career ended with an ugly on-field incident. But the program eventually recovered, after some leaner years under John Cooper. Now the Buckeyes have a highly successful winning program, the best in the Big Ten and one of the Top Five programs in the nation over the last decade, which included one national championship. And they’ve had a coach who is adored by the fans, even respected by his opponents and other fans like me. But that coach, Jim Tressel, has now really messed up big time. We will not know how and why he messed up so badly for some months but the likely result is that it will cost him his job coaching the game he loves at the university he clearly loves. Why?
Coach Jim Tressel, head coach at Ohio State for ten years now, hid information from his university for more than nine months, information that he was required to provide according to his contract and the rules of the NCAA. In the words of the NCAA statement released on Monday Tressel “permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics while ineligible . . . [and] failed to deport himself . . . (with) honesty and integrity.” Ouch! What does that last sentence mean? Tressel filled out a compliance form in September of 2010 which said that he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations. This was not true. Simply put, he lied to the NCAA knowing full well that he was lying! Maybe he was trying to protect his players like a “good parent” thinks best but he was wrong and he knew it.
The Ohio State University issued a statement saying it had no comment until this investigation is over and the penalty has been assessed. OSU has put penalties on its own players and the coach, suspending them for five games in 2011. It is unlikely this will be adequate for the NCAA. There is one unforgiveable sin with the NCAA and real fans understand it: you lie to the NCAA and you’re history!
What makes this whole episode even more difficult is that Jim Tressel is a Christian brother. He recently authored a book titled The Winners Manual. One of his quotes includes the following: “I’ve seen the positives of setting a goal and pushing a team of players to achieve it, working together and striving for something as a team. But I’ve also seen the destructive force of that kind of ruthless search and what it can do to young people and the coaches who try to win at all costs.” (This quote comes from the first page of the book’s prologue. It grew popular Monday thanks to the Twitter account of Rand Getlin, a lawyer and sports consultant.)
Tressel, in the same new book adds: “The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. Discipline is what you do when no one else is looking.” Discipline and responsibility serve as two of the Big Ten Fundamentals, the core tenets of Tressel's new book. The media has already jumped on these and other quotations.
Jim Tressel had full opportunity to deal with a bad situation in April of 2010. For whatever reason he did not act with good judgment and clear leadership. He knew then what he should do and then later lied to cover it up. The track record of coaches who are complicit in such matters is that 1 in 20 survive. If Jim Tressel is still the coach at OSU next year I will be surprised. How can a family believe in the honor and integrity of what a man promises them on a home visit related to recruiting their son when this news is now admitted to be true. Even Coach Tressel does not deny the charges. It was painful to see two eminent OSU former-players asked on ESPN on Tuesday if Tressel should remain as coach? They love him and did not want to answer but you could see they deeply feel he should simply resign. I agree. He must show moral courage and let the university go forward without him.
Here is the question for big time college fans like me. If this was my coach, Nick Saban at Alabama in this case, how would I respond? I would say, “He has to go, wins and championships or not. He is finished. No man is bigger than the school and its integrity.” The same goes for Jim Tressel. We shall see how honorable Ohio State really is in the coming months. Do they love beating Michigan and winning the Big Ten year-in and year-out more than having a coach who tells the truth when he has been required by the rules to do so?
What makes me sad is this – if you had asked me to name the five coaches with the best programs, and also were men who had real integrity, I would have listed Jim Tressel near the top until a few months ago. I knew his profession of faith and have had numerous people tell me that he was a solid, intensely faithful guy. (The same thing was said about Coach Mike DuBose who led Alabama to probation and rightly lost his job as their head coach, nearly destroying the program and taking it to the brink of the NCAA's "death penalty" probation phase.) It is time for the Buckeye Nation to stop defending their man. Their man is deeply tarnished and cannot remain a leader at this great university any longer.