On Christmas Day, 2010, a blog post sent Columbus, Ohio into a frenzy. Someone outside the Buckeye Bubble had the nerve to receive credible information, and publish a report that said Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel’s last game at OSU would be the Sugar Bowl.
OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith tweeted that day that Buckeye fans should “Go back to drinking your eggnog!! Rumors not true…”
OSU Sports Information Director Shelly Poe then allegedly texted media members in Columbus that the reports of Tressel’s impending departure were “the work of some prankster.”
These comments, coming from two of the highest-ranking individuals in the Ohio State Athletic Department, came on Dec. 25… or, according to later reports, 18 days after federal officers contacted the university to determine if items in question were stolen or simply sold for cash.
For over three months, Smith defended Tressel publically. In spite of self-reporting violations and taking steps to do the right thing, it was six months after the initial report that Tressel was actually gone from Ohio State. And yet, at the end of the day, the 2011 Sugar Bowl was indeed the final game Tressel coached at Ohio State.
The fall guy in all of this became Tressel, who was fired, fined, and cast away to the previously-unknown level of Dante’s Inferno known as “the 2011 Indianapolis Colts.” He was fired by OSU, I mean he resigned on May 30, leaving behind a program will with suspended upper classmen, legal issues and a head coach that appeared to be finishing puberty.
Fast forward 360 days – an ironic, perfectly round number – and we’re back at square one. Smith was yet again answering for a systemic failure he continued to blame on Tressel.
The NCAA handed a one-year bowl ban and other minor, inconsequential penalties to the Buckeyes on Dec. 20. Smith said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the Buckeyes received such a punishment.
My question, indeed my problem with this disappointment, is how the Buckeyes continue to get away with a naïve sense of entitlement in the face of serious issues.
In June 2010, USC was hit with a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation, had to vacate 14 wins and the loss of 30 scholarships over a three-year period because Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush and eventual NBA first round draft pick OJ Mayo took thousands of dollars from agents and supposed sports marketers.
Pete Carrol, who was then the head coach at USC, didn’t lie to the university or the NCAA; he left for the Seattle Seahawks. The university was required to banish Bush from the program. USC was cited for a lack of institutional control and Bush gave back his Heisman.
But Tressel, who was absolutely wrong for being dishonest to the NCAA and OSU on multiple occasions, received more blind faith from his bosses than Carrol did from the Trojans’ athletic department.
Just a couple days before Tressel was encouraged to resign, USC’s appeal of their historic sanctions was denied by the NCAA. The hammer still dropped on Southern Cal, and yet now the Buckeyes are disappointed with receiving the quintessential slap on the wrist.
What is disappointing is that, in both cases, the head coach of a major program was a fraud. But in both cases, the lack of institutional control was laughable.
Ohio State’s idea of “institutional control” was forcing the players at the heart of the mess to come back to school for another season. If they had done the right thing, and immediately ended their collegiate careers, then the Buckeyes may have lost face – and recruits – in a nationally televised bowl game. So, in an effort to “do right by their student athletes” (read: athletic budget), Ohio State allowed those players to win them a bowl game before the program could use spring ball and summer practices to get players ready for prime time.
Meanwhile, all along, Smith defended his coach.
Did Ohio State deserve the same sentence USC received? Probably not. The prestige of the players involved at USC, including a Heisman Trophy winner, took the required penalty up a level for the Trojans.
But the separation between what OSU received and what USC was handed a year ago shouldn’t be so wide. The fact remains that Ohio State University knowingly used their power over student athletes for the financial gain of the university at the expense of credibility.