I apologize because it's been a few weeks since I've written something in this forum. I started a new job across the country, and that's kept me busy, but truth be told I haven't really had a lot to say. To borrow a phrase from a famous children's book, it's been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month to be Ohio State fan.
First, it's reported that Jim Tressel knew about NCAA rules violations last spring and kept his mouth shut in dereliction of his duty to report. Then Tressel, Athletic Director Gene Smith, and University President E. Gordon Gee staged a joke of a press conference, admitting that Tressel failed to act, but omitting an apology of any kind, before going out of their way to sing Tressel's praises. Tressel's "I thought the information was confidential" defense was suspect at best, and that was before we found out that he shared the information with at least one other person.
Then to top it all off, our top-rated hoops team bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet Sixteen.
After Friday night's loss, I drove over to the Pasadena Ruth's Chris, took a seat at the bar and ordered a dirty martini with Gorgonzola-stuffed olives and a rare fillet with extra butter. The grain alcohol and raw meat was strangely comforting. But even then, sitting in a dimly-lit steakhouse 2,200 miles away from campus, I couldn't completely escape the storm. The LCD over my head flickered with highlight after highlight of the Kentucky loss. An ominous message scrolled on the ticker at the bottom of the screen: "Tressel emailed Pryor mentor."
Less than a few miles from the floor of the Rose Bowl, where fifteen short months ago I watched Tressel and the Buckeyes celebrate in a sea of confetti after a surprising defeat of Oregon, I had an uncomfortable thought: Is it time for Jim Tressel to go?
You know how hard it is for me to even think about that. I love Jim Tressel. I love his conservative coaching philosophy, and the way he emphasizes mistake-free football and field position above all else. I love that he romanticizes the punt, and builds defenses with size and lateral speed. I love how he all but guaranteed a victory "in 310 days in Ann Arbor" when he was introduced at St. Johns arena and made good on his word. I love his sweater vest, and the fact that he's a closet cigar aficionado. I love what he's done for Columbus on and off the field.
But for all he's done, and for all he will do, I wonder if he can escape the reality he (ironically) foreshadowed on page 193 of his book "The Winners Manual For The Game of Life:"
"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."
I'm not just talking about Jim Tressel's reputation. I'm talking about Ohio State's too. Through one astonishingly bad decision Tressel and his cast of apologists have compromised the integrity of an 121 year old program and the priorities of a 141 year old university.
I say Tressel and his cast because they're all really at fault here. Tressel, by failing to report a violation to the NCAA despite having several opportunities to do so. Gee and Smith by refusing to publicly hold Tressel accountable.
Anything who watched the March 8th press conference couldn't help but conclude that: 1. College football drives the bus at Ohio State, and the school owes a considerable portion of its national reputation to its performance on the gridiron and 2. Jim Tressel is one of the best college football coaches in the sport and the university can't afford to abandon the goose that lays the golden eggs. Nevermind what he does to its good name in the process.
It didn't have to be this way. Gee and Smith could have taken a hard line publicly and consoled Tressel in private. They could have announced on March 8th that Ohio State takes coaching infractions extremely seriously and that they would take appropriate action once they'd completed their internal investigation.
Instead, Tressel got a lifetime achievement award and an administrative slap on the wrist.
Just how untouchable did they make Tressel appear? When asked whether Tressel might be fired, President Gee smirked and quipped "I just hope he doesn't dismiss me."
Sure, Gee regrets his comment, but the damage has been done and Ohio State Administration looks like it has about as much control over the situation as a corrupt Mexican police officer does over a drug cartel. Welcome to the wild wild west.
Jim Tressel has unquestionably done a lot for Ohio State. I wonder whether his last act of good will should be to fall on his own sword. Would the program fare better in front of the NCAA infractions committee with him away from the controls?
So what do you think?