Thursday, June 2

On Jim Tressel

On my Memorial Day drive down to West Virginia for work, I listened to quite a bit of sports talk radio, nearly all of which, of course, focused on the resignation of former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. As I listened to caller after caller thank the troops (Armed Forces Day was 10 days prior, btw) and give their take on the Tressel saga, something struck me about the situation: how little there actually is to discuss.

It's weird because this is such a major story - Tressel is one of the most successful college coaches in the nation, beloved by Buckeye fans and holder of what appeared to be the safest seat in major college football, and his downfall is naturally by far the dominant story for Buckeye fans. Yet despite that, it's relatively easy to sum up the tale and dispense with it. Tressel covered up things he knew about player ineligibility, lied to the school and the NCAA, and ended up resigning because of it. There appears to be no doubt that Tressel acted improperly and deserved to lose his job because of it. Put it this way: if I had done something comparably unethical in my job and it had been discovered, I would have been fired the very next day. No keeping my job for a couple of months and eventually allowed to resign. Fired. Immediately. Tressel was probably "asked to resign" more than doing so voluntarily, but that's still more courtesy than you or I would be extended in an analogous scenario.

It's such a straightforward story, but since it's such an important one, there's a desire among fans (myself included) to discuss it ad infinitum as if there were more there. The good news is this allows me to go all meta and give my opinions on other people's opinions, which is what I like to do anyway.

"Tressel was a scapegoat"
Nonsense. Tressel knowingly broke the NCAA's rules and lied about it by signing the NCAA's compliance forms when he knew full well those players were ineligible. Being punished for intentionally breaking serious rules is not being scapegoated. I fully reject this claim. Yes, the players created the situation with their actions, but that most definitely does not exculpate JT.

"Tattoos are stupid"
OK, that's just my opinion. But wouldn't you feel like a jackass if you got the team's coach fired just so you could get free tattoos? I would.

"The players should be kicked off the team"
Going forward, now that Tressel has moved on, the only real topic of discussion is the fate of the five (or more) players whose tremendously stupid decisions created the entire situation to begin with. As it stands, the five ringleaders have been suspended for the first five games of 2011, but what to do after that? WKNR host Kenny Roda actually broke down the options pretty clearly - either you let them rejoin the team after their suspensions, or you give them the following option: transfer to another school (and miss a year) or stay at OSU and finish their education (retaining their scholarship), but inform them that they may not rejoin the football team. Roda was inexplicably berated by a caller for presenting these options ("sour grapes" according to the aggressive caller, which makes no sense), but they are, in fact, the only options available.

Personally, I think they should offer the players the second set of options - in other words, dismiss them from the Ohio State football team but allow them to continue to study if they like. They knew what they were doing - you hear their teammates talk about having to attend compliance meeting after compliance meeting - and went ahead and did it anyway, knowing fully that they were putting their team and their coaches at risk. They simply do not deserve to be on the team anymore. As much as I enjoyed the Sugar Bowl win, I'd give up that memory in an instant (the NCAA will be taking it from me in August anyway) now knowing that those players should not have played.

Imagine the divisions the return of the five offenders will cause in the locker room. How would you receive them, if you were one of the 100 Buckeyes who managed to follow the rules and didn't get the coach fired? I would be highly resentful. Their return might help the club on-field, but it sends the wrong message to all the other student-athletes.

Of course, the common defense to that suggestion is...

"They're young, they made mistakes"
Yes, we all make mistakes. But these guys were told again and again the repercussions of doing things like what they did, things that were clearly wrong, and they went ahead anyway. We all have had our youthful discretions (I've passed out in three different lawns), but most of us avoided things of this magnitude. Compared to what happened to their embattled former coach, missing a season of football and being able to complete their degrees on scholarship doesn't seem like a particularly harsh punishment.

"The players should be able to accept gifts/get paid"
I sigh every time I hear someone make this point with respect to this particular situation, because it has absolutely no bearing on what is happening at Ohio State. With respect to dealing with the trangressions of Tressel and the players, it's completely irrelevant what you think the rules regarding payment of student-athletes should be. 100%, completely, irrelevant. The fact is, the rules state clearly that you cannot do such things, and everyone involved knew that, and elected to violate those rules and will be disciplined. I didn't (and still don't) care for the rules when I got my underage citation (nor did I care for the fact that I got an underage citation without having actually drank anything), but didn't suggest that opinion as a defense.

Going forward, can we have the conversation about compensating student-athletes? Sure - I'm interested in arguments on both sides. But it plays no role in this present discussion.

"michigan still sucks"
Surprisingly, no one bothered to make this point, but it's true and always worth a mention.

"Tressel wasn't a very good coach anyway"
Believe it or not, a fair amount of callers actually said this, to varying degrees. And they're stupid. 106-22. 7 Big Ten titles (including 6 straight). 9-1 against michigan. 8 BCS Bowls (5 wins). 3 BCS Title Games. 1 National Title. To criticize Tressel's record at the helm of the Buckeye football program is to reveal that one will never be satisfied with any level of accomplishment and success. Unbelievable. Take what you will from this scandal, but these numbers speak for themselves. Tressel wasn't perfect - he was seriously outcoached against USC in 2009, for example - but he was without a doubt one of the greatest coaches in the country and the second-most successful OSU coach ever.

You know who made this incorrect point the most strongly? WTAM's Mike Trivisonno, who reveals himself to be a weak critical thinker with many of the things he says. He called Tressel "very mediocre" and said that Tressel's failure to ever recruit an elite quarterback (Troy Smith won a Heisman Trophy at OSU) or running back (Beanie Wells, anyone?) stopped OSU from winning "a couple more championships." Ridiculous. Trivisonno also went on to explain how the Indians losing a game to Toronto and Detroit winning their game would be like the Tigers gaining two games on the Indians. It's one, captain.

So despite all the digital ink I've spilled, what I said at the outset remains true - there isn't truly a whole lot to this story. Tressel was a wildly successful and popular coach, and a well-respected man, who made a major mistake that cost him his career. Certainly a lot of fans are very surprised and disillusioned to see this happen to a fellow who projected such an air of integrity and righteousness, which I think prompts people to seek some deeper explanation where one may not be there to find. Of course, had I known he authored a book called Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best, I would have been more suspicious in the first place.

What's left to discuss is the fallout, how it affects the Buckeye program going forward, and what it means for the players already in trouble and those who may face discipline in the near future. As fans, I think we're best served by backing Coach Fickell and the Buckeyes who managed to stay out of trouble in 2011, and hope the next leader of the Buckeyes restores the integrity and on-field success we all expect from Ohio State Football. Go Bucks.

No comments: