CFN Analysis - The Tressel Situation
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel
Posted Mar 8, 2011

It has been alleged that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel knew that about the tattoo parlor controversy involving Terrelle Pryor and other top players back in April. So what does this mean if it's true? How much trouble could The Senator get in? The CFNers give their thoughts on a situation that started bad, got bizarre, and now has taken another big turn.

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Jim Tressel & Cash-for-Gear

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By Pete Fiutak

Wait, there's more to the Ohio State Tattoo You story than originally thought? Shenanigans? Ohio State? Jim Tressel? Nooooooooooo.

It's not exactly Tom Osborne hiding a gun, but Tressel knowing about the Tattoo You controversy in April is an interesting revelation, if it really is true, and could open up a debate about whether or not he should be suspended ... and even more. (But no, he won't be fired, so don't start drooling you Maize and Bluers.)

38% of a college football coach's job is putting out fires, and nothing good ever happens when a story breaks during the idle time of the offseason, but for Tressel, the question going forward will be whether or not this was an isolated incident on his part or if it was a tip of the Maurice Clarett-alluded-to iceberg that exposes the underbelly, if there is one, of the colossus that is Ohio State football. Peel the layers back from any college football program and you won't like what you see, and no one is bigger than tOSU.

The Buckeye program has been able to avoid the mega-issues that hit almost every other big-time program over the last decade, and while there have been incidents, there hasn't been a Reggie Bush-like nuclear bomb that many are waiting for considering the NFL talent flowing through the place. If Tressel knew, then what else has he been sitting on? He has institutional control, and it might be a bad thing in this case. What other flaming bags of controversy has he put out on his stoop?

Remember, under Tressel's watch, Youngstown State was nailed with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" tag in the early 1990s, but he was never cited for any wrongdoing. At Ohio State, there's been little more than rumors and innuendo surrounding Tressel every time there's been any sort of dust-up, but this is different because he didn't need to sweep the latest controversy under the rug and because it was so public before the bowl game. The bizarre way it was handled from all sides, including Tressel's promise keeper moment that the offending players would come back for another year only made this situation worse.

At this point, Tressel has earned more than enough stripes to have taken the moral high ground. If he really did know, then he should've taken action and suspended the players before the season, and he should've been proactive and made a stand that Ohio State football doesn't stand for anything like that. Had he suspended Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, and the others involved, it would've sent a message that he's in total command and that there wouldn't be any favors extended to any player who screws up. Instead, he let them play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, but if they vowed not to turn pro early, and now all of those who didn't trust him in the first place have ammunition.

Tressel could've established himself as a truly different sort of head coach – almost Paterno-like - by taking the moral high ground back in April – again, if he really did know – and he would've bought himself even more goodwill, even from the Buckeye fans. Now there's a chink in the armor, and if you don't think this can turn in a heartbeat for "The Senator," you don't remember the aftermath and the screaming after the 26-18 road loss to Purdue in 2009.

In the end, nothing will happen. At worst, Tressel will get a slap on the wrist and maybe, MAYBE, he'll get suspended for a game or so, but that's it. But now there's little margin for error and the program's bunker down mentality will only get tighter. If you thought Tressel Ball was conservative before, wait until you see what's next.

By Richard Cirminiello 

If Jim Tressel was aware of his players' NCAA violations month before Ohio State learned of the news, this is very serious business for the coach.

Obviously, everything is still fresh and both sides of this allegation have yet to be told, so it'd be wise to not jump to any conclusions. That said, it looks as if Tressel will have plenty of defending to do in the coming weeks and months. And if it winds up being true that he withheld key information from the school and the NCAA, Terrelle Pryor and Dan Herron might not be the only high-profile Buckeyes out of action in September.

Again, without jumping to too many conclusions at such an early stage of a report, it's interesting how the squeaky clean public image of Tressel has begun to unravel. Good guy, to be sure, and a terrific coach, but beneath the vest bubble concerns that there might be a lack of institutional control in Columbus. Of course, it's impossible to police the behavior of nearly 100 young athletes, but there's a growing trend that should have the University troubled. Remember, this isn't the first time that Tressel has been under the hot lights. It needs to be noted that Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith, and Pryor, three of the highest-profile players during the coach's tenure, have had issues that sullied the school's reputation. Oh, and Ohio State's grad rate, while improved, still can't measure up with the Big Ten's elite, like Northwestern and Penn State.

Let's let more of the facts come to the surface before connecting the dots. That said, there has to be a lot of hand-wringing going on in Columbus, as the Buckeyes' off-field troubles continue to percolate months after the school thought the situation had quieted down.

By Russ Mitchell

Oh my! Not the sweater vest!

First, they're both reporters of the highest caliber, but just because Dan Wetzel and Charles Robinson say it's so doesn't make it so. So hold off on the pitchforks and fire for just a wee bit longer.

If Tressel has specific clauses in his contract that require him to ensure his staff/players are in compliance with rules such as these, and IF as the Yahoo Sports article points out, "Section 5.1 (m) of his contract also states that failure to promptly report ‘any violations' could lead to ‘termination by Ohio State for cause'", then this could get really ugly.


It's too early to tell how the pieces are going to fall here, and indeed, whether or not this report is even accurate. Moreover, unless this turns out to be the most egregious of situations, we doubt this is the end of the sweater vest in Columbus.

However, let's be clear – this soap opera is intensified by the stink many people still smell from these players being allowed to participate in their bowl game – thanks in part to some heavy lobbying by Tressel and Big Ten Commish Jim Delany.

And on the matter of degrees, it's one thing for some kids with few resources to give their own clothes to someone in exchange for goods/services. It's another for an adult making millions of said kids, who clearly knows the rules, to intentionally hide/mislead the facts.

Again, let's slap a big ALLEGEDLY on this puppy, as it rightly deserves. But if this report turns out to be accurate, Tressel's actions would be the most damaging aspect of this sorry affair.

And with less than flattering news emerging this week on Oregon and now again Ohio State, to go with sanctions on USC and others, perhaps we can step away from the notion that cheating in college football only happens in the south.

By Matt Zemek

There are so many angles and nuances to this latest Ohio State story that it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. Just what is the "big picture," you ask? No, it's not that Jim Tressel finds himself in very hot water, or that his actions – if true – make Pete Carroll a very honest broker by comparison.

No, don't mention Maurice Clarett. Don't view Mister Sweater Vest as a uniquely despicable creature. Don't go down those roads if you think they lead to the biggest take-aways from an ongoing stream of unsavory though less-than-outrageous incidents. True outrages in the realm of human affairs concern the destruction of other lives, not the marginal fattening of wallets by players who live at the bottom of the athletic-industrial complex. (Gold pants and memorabilia aren't as bad as the physical abuse of other persons… right, Lawrence Phillips?)

Indeed, if you think Jim Tressel is the most important story to emerge from Ohio State's continuous (and manifestly inadequate) struggle to police itself, you're missing the point. Any of the aforementioned assessments of Tressel ignore the broader, deeper and more urgent point that collegiate athletics refuses to address, much to its own detriment: Plainly put, the current structure of big-ticket college sports punishes good instincts and encourages bad behavior.

If you're really focused on enabling the college sports industry to serve the whole of humanity, using The Games Young Men Play as a vehicle for holistic education and economic benefit, you need to be cognizant of that overarching truth. College sports, like so much of American society, rewards bad behavior. This cannot be stressed enough.

When the NCAA's work is being done primarily by Charles Robinson of Yahoo!, it's clear that the purported policemen in college athletics aren't doing their jobs. When the NCAA is concerned about a few players making a buck by doing something that, for "normal people," would be called "capitalism," it's clear that doing something good for oneself is not seen as acceptable in the college sports industry. When decisions on player behavior and matters of player-agent contact are placed in the hands of coaches like Tressel… and Carroll… and Urban Meyer, the conflict of interest will regularly lead to the lies (in Tressel's case, if proven to be true…), willful "I didn't know" denials (Carroll), and conveniently lenient suspensions (Meyer) that all return to one basic reality: Coaches are paid to win games. Therefore, they will typically, though not always, act in accordance with that foremost part of their mandate.

Let's get real, Mark Emmert: You rail against paying athletes, but your organization's rules often police behaviors that should not be viewed as wrong. Everybody is allowed to make a buck on the back of a college football player like Terrelle Pryor – in a video game, at a merchandise store, at a gameday ticket counter, or through an online betting site – except for Mr. Pryor himself. You expect coaches to crack down on players, but when coaches are getting paid more money to face more on-field pressures than ever before – in a BCS system that puts more pressure on elite football schools to perform – you can't then expect that coach to make decisions that will likely rob him of performance-based incentives.

Sure, Tressel is indeed a fraud if it's proven that he lied, Bruce Pearl-style, but the larger significance of this story – if it indeed holds up under scrutiny – is that a man in Tressel's situation shouldn't be given this call. Tressel isn't villain number one, or even villain number two. The real question the NCAA should be asking is this: "Why do we persist in enforcing nickel-and-dime stuff while athletes get exploited in our name and under our banner?" A good follow-up question for Mr. Emmert and Company is this: "Why are we wasting copious amounts of human energy and voluminous quantities of human ability and intelligence?" And a third question, while we're at it: "Why make coaches, people who are now clearly seen as game-winners and not teachers or role models, into people given a role consistent with that of a policeman?" The way the NCAA operates, just like the way the NCAA is set up at the present moment, incentivizes bad behavior among various primary actors in the college sports business. This is all a big shell game, a sprawling kabuki dance in which exploitation is the prevailing reality, furthered by a small group of people who are entrusted with powers that never should have been granted to them. Doing the right things like cleaning up a program or graduating athletes? That's what Randy Shannon and Ty Willingham do. Winning football games (or basketball games)? That's the province of country hardball… for coaches, yes, but also athletic directors and vulture-like dads such as Cecil Newton.

Terrelle Pryor and the rest of the Ohio State "Gang of Five" merely tried to make a buck. Cam Newton? Just trying to make a buck. A.J. Green? Trying to make a buck. Reggie Bush, for all his nakedly absurd lies and pathetically phony denials? Just trying to make a buck and pass on resources to his family. These are normal, even healthy, human instincts, but the NCAA has no use for them while its whole structure collapses around itself. This landscape would be worthy of laughter if the consequences weren't so substantially painful for the many young men who continue to be exploited. This would all be so hilarious if athletes didn't continue to labor in a world where suits in administrative positions – plus coaches like Jim Tressel – get their hands on big dollars but then tell their players, "No, you can't do the same thing we do every single day."

It all feels like wasted breath to say this, but unless Charles Robinson becomes the director of the NCAA (with Dan Wetzel as his right-hand man), it seems as though this organization won't ever reform itself. Talking about reforms in a thoroughly discredited system is an act that means nothing unless or until Mark Emmert and the rest of the NCAA's leadership structure show a genuine willingness to reform collegiate sports in the first place. That desire is plainly not apparent, as the good ole boys at the top of the pyramid seek their self-enrichment while keeping the player proletariat at the bottom of the food chain. It's plutocracy and oligarchy in the athletic-industrial complex, a small-scale representation of America's larger sociopolitical situation.

Tressel is just a bit player in the larger drama of the college sports business. Don't focus on Mister Sweater Vest, as tempting as it might be to do so. Focus on the vested interests that perpetuate the nakedly obvious yet willfully ignored practices of the NCAA, practices that punish reasonable behaviors and reward shadowy actions, all while wasting thousands upon thousands of human lives – employees, administrators, coaches, and the athletes themselves.