College

Jack Nicklaus Defends Tressel

Jack Nicklaus (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Jack Nicklaus (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

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MIAMI (AP)  LeBron James is at the NBA finals. Jack Nicklaus is hosting the Memorial.

Neither can avoid the current mess surrounding Ohio State football.

James is a longtime Buckeyes fan, and Nicklaus played his college golf for Ohio State. On Tuesday, when both James and Nicklaus were speaking before their events, the very first question each heard from the media was about his reaction to Jim Tressel’s scandalous departure from the Buckeyes.

Tressel resigned Monday amid NCAA violations, sending one of America’s proudest programs into even more turmoil.

Even now, Nicklaus sounds unwavering in his backing of the former coach.

“How could you possibly control what some kids do?” Nicklaus asked. “It was a fairly innocent act. You want to get a tattoo? You’re going to get a tattoo. Is that a big deal? Maybe to those kids it was. Maybe it’s the NCAA’s fault. Maybe the only way to pay for those tattoos was to do what they did. Is that a big deal? Probably not. It was theirs.

“At the end of it, Tressel was like a father to these kids. He brought these kids into the school, and he wants to protect these kids. He probably didn’t think that was a big deal. And that was his mistake.”

James, an Ohio native, never went to college but has been close with the Buckeyes programs. The basketball team wears his line of apparel and James is tight with Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, whose car collection – specifically, how he was able to obtain expensive vehicles – is now under scrutiny.

“Everyone in Columbus and Ohio knows how important, how great (Tressel) was for the university,” James said after the Miami Heat completed their final practice before Game 1 of the NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night. “So it’s unfortunate. I wish him the best and the organization, the university will come back. It’s one of the best universities that we have in America.”

Nicklaus is an Ohio State legend. Not only is he a native of Columbus, Ohio, where the school is based, but The Jack Nicklaus Museum is in the heart of the Buckeyes’ athletic complex.

“Well, obviously the cover-up was far worse than the act,” Nicklaus said Tuesday in Dublin, Ohio. “And once you got the cover-up, it became a situation where Jim had to say some things that turned out to be that weren’t exactly truthful. And so that’s where he got himself in trouble. … I feel very bad for Jim. He’s a nice man.”

Nicklaus’ grandson, Nick O’Leary, signed earlier this year to play football for Florida State. Nicklaus said he would have been thrilled if the tight end – one of the nation’s most coveted recruits in the 2011 signing class – had chosen to play for Tressel.

Nicklaus said when Ohio State was recruiting his grandson, everything went by the book. Nicklaus and Tressel were at the same game last fall when the coach was looking at O’Leary and some of his teammates. But in accordance with NCAA rules, Nicklaus said Tressel did not spend much time with him at that game, other than a quick greeting.

Tressel’s decade-long run as Ohio State’s coach ended because he was aware players received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment and did not tell anyone at Ohio State or the NCAA what he knew for more than nine months. That violated both NCAA rules and the terms of his own contact with the university.

“What’s going to happen, I don’t know beyond this point,” Nicklaus said. “The NCAA, it’s more in their hands. Once one of these things happens, by the time they get through digging they’re going to find whether somebody had a hangnail someplace or not.”

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.