By Adam Hoge –
CHICAGO (CBS) No one is better at avoiding questions than Jim Tressel. He’s always had that tricky, oblivious way of ignoring what you are really asking him.
Turns out, he’s used that exact same approach throughout his coaching career when it comes to a number of NCAA violations that date all the way back to 1980s. Just like he deflects questions by sneakily changing the subject, Tressel has turned a blind-eye to a history of systematic violations under his watch at Ohio State.
An exclusive Sports Illustrated report released Monday night alleges a number of NCAA violations throughout his eight-year tenure in Columbus, which include players exchanging memorabilia for free tattoos, vehicles at slashed prices and even drugs.
Somehow Tressel had no idea his players were hanging out at two different tattoo shops daily, playing video games with a drug dealer who would later end up in the hands of the FBI. Somehow Tressel had no idea that those players were trading in footballs, gloves and jackets with his signature on them in exchange for tattoos and other benefits that included discounted cars. Somehow Tressel had no idea that those players were even trading in memorabilia with his signature for marijuana.
If the sarcasm isn’t obvious then you aren’t paying attention.
Those are the allegations listed in Sports Illustrated’s revelations of what was really happening at Ohio State on Tressel’s watch, a piece that not only brings light to the situation, but also suggests there is no way Tressel could have been oblivious to the violations that were being committed.
But if you believe anything Tressel, Athletic Director Gene Smith and President E. Gordon Gee have been feeding you over the last four months, then you might actually believe the three blind Buckeyes had no idea their program was as dirty as they come. The ironic thing about that idea is that if true, it makes them all look as incompetent as ever.
I think we — and they — are all smarter than that.
Unfortunately, the one thing the Sports Illustrated piece fails to do is actually prove Tressel knew of the wrongdoings. It does everything in its power to suggest he had to have known what was going on, but there is hardly any concrete evidence to prove he did. Sure, the NCAA will run with the allegations and launch an investigation, but trusting the NCAA to reveal the truth and come up with a fair punishment is like trusting Maurice Clarett not to commit a crime for an entire week.
And that’s why Tressel got out when he did. In the first smart move he has made in months, Tressel submitted his resignation Monday and walked out the door. It’s Gee’s and Smith’s problem now.
What was revealed in Monday’s Sports Illustrated piece is a systematic problem that was likely inherited by Tressel and consistently covered up by the hierarchy at Ohio State. If they are all going to continue to claim ignorance to knowledge of the violations then it will only get worse for everyone involved, as it has since the denials first started flowing in December. More is going to come of this and if Gee and Smith are spared, I would be shocked.
Here’s some of what you should expect in the aftermath of Tressel’s resignation:
The Sports Illustrated piece implicated a total of 28 players involved in NCAA violations since 2002 when Tressel took over as head coach. That number includes the six already suspended players, along with nine other current players and “nine former players whose alleged wrongdoing might fall within the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations on violations”. Trying to predict the punishments the NCAA will hand down is nearly impossible, but if those former players are ruled ineligible, it is possible wins could vacated.
The nine additional current players named in the SI report include starting defensive tackle John Simon, starting defensive end Nathan Williams and running back Jaamal Berry who received some reps as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 running back this spring. All-in-all 15 current players could be punished if the NCAA finds the allegations to be true, which means a major loss of depth for Ohio State in 2011. And I haven’t even mentioned the separate NCAA investigation into allegations that Terrelle Pryor received cars and other benefits, which could mean the quarterback has already played his last down as a Buckeye. Amazingly — in another example of how poorly this situation has been handled by Ohio State — Pryor showed up to a team meeting Monday in a Nissan 350z with a temporary tag dated May 24. Even if he has an alibi for the car, it certainly didn’t help the situation.
Meanwhile, 37-year old assistant coach Luke Fickell takes over as interim head coach in 2011 and there’s no guarantee he will succeed in his first year on the job. To say the Buckeyes are a favorite to win the Big Ten in 2011 would be irresponsible.
The longterm impact of all this nonsense is really in the hands of the NCAA. While names like Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini and Mark Dantonio have been mentioned to take over the Buckeyes in 2012, that may depend on how harsh the punishments on the program are. If Ohio State is banned from the postseason for a few years, that will severely hurt any chance it has to land a guy like Meyer, if it is supposedly is his dream job. Meanwhile, recruiting will also be impacted as prospects across Ohio will look to go elsewhere in the Big Ten and beyond.
That’s right Michigan, if Brady Hoke can coach at all, you might be back in this thing.
Do you agree with Adam? Post your comments below.
Adam regularly covers the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports for The Score. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge670 and read more of his blogs here.