Brutus and the Buckeyes are in trouble. Or should I say – more trouble.
A black cloud is hanging over The Ohio State University after five football players were suspended in December and now with Head Coach Jim Tressel not initially admitting to his prior knowledge of the players receiving improper benefits.
The trickle down effect from the latest problems at Ohio State could shift the power balance in Big Ten. Ohio State football has long been the face of Big Ten football, having won the Big Ten title for the last six seasons. This could be the start of the end to their reign.
Ohio State’s recruiting, both nationally and locally, could take the biggest hit. The tremendous amount of negative national media coverage from this scandal will significantly impact recruiting for years to come. I’m surprised we haven’t heard about recruits that signed in February trying to get out of their commitments. My guess is that they are waiting to see what sanctions the NCAA imposes.
The Senator or The Vest, as Tressel has been dubbed, comes off as a squeaky clean, do everything by the book kind of person. The reputation and image that Tressel has attempted to personify has been shattered. It’s worth noting that Tressel managed to portray a clean image, even with past violations at Youngstown State and previously at Ohio State, but this will be difficult to overcome.
Tressel lied to the NCAA during an investigation of players who sold memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner. A former buckeye player, now a lawyer, emailed Tressel alerting him that players were receiving improper benefits. Tressel replied to the email, writing, “I will get on it ASAP.”
What he meant by “get on it” is unclear; he failed to mention it to Athletic Director Gene Smith or university officials. Tressel was either trying to cover up the violations or there’s more to this story. I’m not sure the whole story will ever come out about this, but Tressel’s message at the press conference was completely out of character. He stumbled with his usually polished delivery, seemed insincere and never even apologized for his wrongdoings.
Once Ohio State learned about Tressel’s prior knowledge, to the university’s credit, it called a press conference to suspend and fine Tressel. That’s about all the university and athletic department did right. The $250K fine isn’t enough for a guy that makes $3.5 million annually.
The university did suspend him for the first two games of next season, against Akron and Toledo. Big deal. He lied to the NCAA. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Ohio State could have started to rebuild its reputation and garner some respect by coming down hard on Tressel. A lengthy suspension by the university would send the message that deceit and lying will not be tolerated. Instead, Tressel got a slap on the wrist, which is typical of college athletics.
Ohio State’s future now hinges on what the NCAA does to its football program. It seems like the university’s self-imposed sanctions will be trumped by more severe penalties by the NCAA.
Heavier sanctions will only contribute to the harm done to Ohio State, but the damage to Tressel’s coveted reputation is done. No longer will Tressel be able walk into a recruit’s home and talk about how his program does things “the right way.” The reputation he built his program on is shattered and it’s hard to imagine how he’ll be able to repair it.
The stronghold Ohio State has had on football in the Big Ten is now in jeopardy. If Ohio State starts to stumble on the football field, remember this moment. Playing without star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other players will obviously affect next season, but in the long run it could be Tressel’s mistakes that impact the program the most.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.