The Jim Tressel Fiasco
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I'm not sure what's worse for Ohio State as an institution of higher learning, the Ray Small non-retraction retraction to his statements
made to The Lantern, the student paper, claiming that he sold his Big Ten rings and that "everyone was doing it," or Brian Hartline tweeting that Small was "lieing."
There's no truth to the rumor that Jim Tressel dressed up in a flesh colored bodysuit, tied up the 2003 Fiesta Bowl trophy to his car and dragged it around the parking lot, and wiped his strawberry-stained hands on an Archie Griffin game-worn jersey as he tried to get fired so he could take a gig with the Mets.
What else has to happen before Tressel gets fired, and more importantly, Ohio State, after all that's already been proven, forgetting about all the rumors and hearsay, why do you still want this guy representing your university?
Small might have overstepped his bounds by implying that "everyone" was breaking NCAA rules at Ohio State, and certainly it's true that former players like Malcolm Jenkins and Michael Brewster, who came out screaming after Small's statements, were among the majority that didn't do anything wrong, but as the Reggie Bush situation showed, it only takes one. More importantly, one thing is becoming more and more obvious with each passing day; the Ohio State football program is out of control.
While USC fans are still seething over its program got blown back into the stone age, Ohio State needs to be freaking out as player after player and scandal after scandal keeps picking at Tressel and his football team. He already got busted for operating outside of the university's control, and it would be foolish to think that the Terrelle Pryor-led Tattoo Five situation is the only transgression under his reign. There's way, way too much smoke for there not to be a major fire blazing away.
While it's possible that some of the allegations revolving around player like Small, Thaddeus Gibson, and Maurice Clarett – he might have been Charlie Sheen-crazy, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was wrong – might not be 100% believable, the pattern has become disturbing. Someone blabs, the Ohio State Nation goes ballistic, the backlash is swift and merciless, characters get assaulted, and the storm temporarily passes. And while there might be 15 former players waiting to come out in defense of Tressel and Ohio State for every one mini-scandal, the body blows continue to add up.
Even if Small was a rogue offender, combined with what we already know, that's enough. Even if Stanley McClover – remember him? – is even partially right, that's enough. Even if there's even a glimmer of truth to all the different allegations, that's enough. When the student paper, not exactly a bastion of anti-Ohio State football sentiment, is able to come up with dirt, that's enough.
Again, what else has to happen for Tressel to be let go?
He should've been fired for the Pryor-tattoo parlor shenanigans alone; and everything else that's surrounding the program should be more than enough to finally show that The Ohio State University needs to make a move to save any semblance of face.
For now, the one mini-positive part about all of this for the football program is that the smoking guns, if there are any, are so hard to find. The recent Academic Progress Report was fantastic, Tressel has been defended by a slew of high-character players, and the wagons have been circled so well that seeds of doubt are always created with every new scandal. There's a chance that the next head coach – and there needs to be a next head coach – might not be spending the first few years of his tenure trying to sell recruits on the idea of building the program for a bowl game four years after they sign on. If you're Urban Meyer, the last thing you want to be is Lane Kiffin, for a variety of reasons, and have to spend time in a holding pattern.
However, there will be a major delay in any move on the head coach, for good or bad, because the NCAA infractions committee isn't going to meet about Tressel's wrongdoing in the Pryor situation until mid-August. If the NCAA absolves Tressel, then the justification will be there to keep him on. If the opposite is true and the NCAA is going to drop a hammer, then a new head coach like Meyer would want to know.
Until the NCAA meets about Tressel, this isn't going to stop. Sports Illustrated is supposedly coming out with a major investigative piece in the near future, the media won't stop searching for stories, and the exposure is too great to keep a gag order on anyone who wants to start talking. There are too many moving parts to the Ohio State football program, and there are way too many problems to think that Tressel will have any semblance of believability the next time he signs a five-star recruit. And then there's Tressel's résumé itself, leaving Youngstown State in an ugly scandal, that'll always be hard to overcome.
Ohio State football fans and administrators, your program can get almost any superstar head coach, and that includes a coach who won't bring this kind of heat. So, really, why do you still want this one?
By Richard Cirminiello
Can someone kindly rip the Band-Aid off Ohio State already?
It's the slow drip that's been killing the program this offseason, and quite frankly, giving college fans across the country Buckeye fatigue. From tattoo-gate and the subsequent cover-up to recent allegations about preferential car deals for players, you get the feeling that it's going to be months, possibly years, before all of the sordid details become public. Now, Ohio State isn't going to air out any of its dirty laundry voluntarily, but there's something to be said for standing naked in front of critics until the dust settles. Only then will the recovery begin because at this rate, the Buckeyes will be remaining in the headlines every couple of weeks and for all of the wrong reasons. Oh, and credible or not, when loose cannons, like Ray Small, have a microphone in front of them, bad things are going to happen. You think there are any former players wandering around with chips on their shoulder, feeling as if they got jobbed out of playing time?
The end game here is that Jim Tressel has to go. This is a mess, under his watch, that could get worse before it gets better. No, no coach ought to be expected to be a super cop to 85 young men, but he's dragging his employer through the mud and has made way too many missteps along the way. Who knows what still lies on the innermost layers of the onion? What's happening in Columbus is not just bad for the University, but also for the game of college football and amateur athletics.
Ohio State needs to send a message that more is expected from its leaders. Part ways with Tressel, hire the cleanest assistant off his staff on an interim basis, and then spend the next six months devising a fail-safe plan to bring Urban Meyer out of retirement and back to Ohio.
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Let's get a few caveats to get out of the way...as was the case with the HBO 4, Lloyd Lake and many others, just because Ray Small says something doesn't make it fact. Conversely, just because Ray Small has an axe to grind doesn't make him a liar.
With that said, one thing has become apparent ever since the tatgate story broke last December - Ohio State seriously lacks institutional control.
Defenders of Ohio State University have been screaming from the highest mountain top that "these are relatively minor violations" and that "everybody is doing it." They're right on both counts. But the NCAA isn't investigating everybody else, it's investigating Ohio State, which has a documented pattern of violations and disregard for the rules.
What I don't understand is the notion that Ohio State somehow acted responsibly in reporting these violations to the NCAA. It most certainly DID NOT. The administration may have (although I have my doubts about that), but we know for a fact that Jim Tressel did not - and he has the responsibility to do so. Tressel did not live up to his responsibility, lied to the NCAA (both by omission and when signing the annual violation document), and covered up the fact that he was using ineligible players in order to win football games.
Whether by its own accord or because of pressure by the NCAA, it has become apparent that - at some point - Ohio State is going to have to part ways with Jim Tressel because of this mess. When that happens, it has nobody to blame but itself. A little control of the program would have gone a long way.
By Matt Zemek
Revelations – or at least, many claims of revelations – just keep tumbling out of Ohio State. The school's student newspaper, The Lantern, made national news by impressively and boldly snagging a revealing interview with former Buckeye receiver Ray Small this past week. Yes, Small's labyrinthine and malleable account of his playing days invites appropriate scrutiny and even skepticism in terms of its particularities. However, Small's basic testimony carries the weight of truth on a larger, overarching level. In reading Small's statements, the heart of the matter is this: Of course these things have been happening at Ohio State, which means that they are just as naturally taking place at other high-powered football schools. Facing up to this reality demands a levelheaded approach that, sadly, is missing from big-ticket intercollegiate athletics.
There are two things one must centrally come to grips with in the ongoing Ohio State saga: First, let's not put our heads in the sand and pretend that this stuff isn't appreciably commonplace at other elite football programs. The state of Ohio's drinking water isn't that different from the rest of the nation. If anything, one of this story's most constructive elements is that it has exploded the myth that only SEC schools live in the gray areas of the athletic-industrial complex. Plenty of schools bend the rules the NCAA uses to give the wayward organization an outer veneer of respectability that doesn't endure when one peeks underneath the surface. Acknowledging this helps any and all productive discussions to move forward.
Second, while being sober in confronting the pervasiveness of car dealers and under-the-table payments and countless goodies being thrown at college football players, one would do well to step back and realize that these NCAA violations are not grievous sins against humanity. Yes, Jim Tressel's lies and cover-ups are criminal in their stupidity and outrageous in their brazenness, but since the notion of "NCAA amateurism" has already been unmasked as the mockery of a travesty of a sham that it long has been, it's hard to get too worked up about the events that have rocked the Ohio State athletic department.
One can express extreme displeasure at Tressel – and demand that he be fired on the spot – yet still view these transgressions as relatively minor in the larger scope of human wrongdoing. The much bigger issue here – far more important than one football program's public humiliation – is that so-called "adults" and so-called "student-athletes" are being held to two different standards of conduct and are being given two decidedly different sets of material incentives.
Tressel, for all his misdeeds and for all the ways in which his naked lies are continuing to crash upon him, is still employed and making a pretty penny all the while. The Ohio State Five, on the other hand, could not cash in on jersey sales or video-game replications, and in response to that legal and economic climate, it succumbed to the desire to make an extra buck outside the NCAA's outdated framework of rules and regulations. While OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith got to chair the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee and hand the national championship trophy to corrupt Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun – whose own AD, Jeff Hathaway, will chair that same Selection Committee in 2012 – college basketball players can't cash in on the billions of TV dollars they are generating for the NCAA. Coaches and ADs can preside over wrongdoing and yet continue to lord over the playpen of high-dollar college sports. The players themselves are shoved to the margins of this realm and can't begin to share even a fraction of the many revenue streams they generate in the larger marketplace.
Amateurism is a phony, hollow and blatantly dishonest concept as far as the NCAA uses it. With such open falsehoods at work in intercollegiate athletics, how can one harrumph and cluck at Ohio State? The system is the true cancer and the manifestation of hundreds of different ills. Ohio State is just one symptom out of many in a sick and broken college sports structure. One cannot say this enough, because it's the deeper truth, the truth that needs to be reasserted whenever a new revelation of wrongdoing emerges from a high-powered athletic program.
Are the leaders of college sports going to stop pretending that amateurism exists? Are the powers that be at the NCAA, who just affirmed their hatchet job against USC, going to display anything resembling true wisdom, maturity and leadership? You might be roused or dismayed at the new headlines that have poured forth from Columbus, Ohio, this past week, but if you're focusing on the granular, micro-level details of Ohio State's fall from grace, you're missing the macro-level story: The NCAA's continued unwillingness to radically reform itself – and the college sports industry along with it – will only perpetuate more Ohio States and more cover-ups in the future. It will only sustain conflicts of interest and give continued life to the tensions athletes face when they feel – rightly – that they're being deprived of full market value in return for their immense investment of time, an investment dedicated not to learning or community service, but to the entertainment of the masses.
If only the NCAA would look around at the world it has created and appreciate the extent to which the reality of collegiate athletics is so sharply at odds with the values that amateurism – real, wholesome amateurism – is supposed to foster. Until adults – NCAA officials, school presidents, school athletic directors, and football coaches (basketball, too) – start acting like adults, why should we expect the athletes at Ohio State or any other school to resist temptations that shouldn't really be forbidden in the first place?
It would all be so hilarious if it weren't so pathetically wasteful and counterproductive. The longer the NCAA tries to maintain the façade, the longer it's hard to view the Ohio State scandals of the past several months as welcome or necessary turning points in the battle to reform the heart of college sports. This stuff will continue until people in power – equipped with necessary leverage and know-how – begin to see the world in a different way. The time for visionaries is long past due, but no one's trying to see clearly in the midst of this nobody-wins scenario at Ohio State.