Back in December — when Tattoogate seemed to be about Ohio State football players only — Buckeyes boss Jim Tressel made the following comment about whether his players should have known that trading athletic memorabilia for free tattoos and money was an NCAA violation:
“We all have a little sensor within us [that says], ‘Well, I’m not sure if I should be doing this.’”
Apparently, Tressel’s sensor had run low on batteries or he simply chose to ignore it when he first learned of these violations 389 days ago — or roughly 340 days before Ohio State suspended him and docked him $250,000 for lying to the NCAA about what he knew of Tattoogate and when he knew it.
Monday, the NCAA went a giant step further. Its official “notice of allegations” to the school labeled Tressel’s actions regarding Tattoogate as “potential major violations.”
In detailing those charges, college athletics’ governing body wrote that the coach “failed to deport himself ... [with] honor and integrity,” that he lied to the NCAA when he filled out a compliance form last September that he had no knowledge of player wrongs and that he “permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics while ineligible.”
Other than that, they apparently believe Tressel to be as strait-laced as his signature red sweater vests.
Clearly, there are a lot of layers to this, at least one of them anything but flattering to the NCAA. By allowing five players — including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor — to participate in the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas despite already knowing of the players’ violations, the association lost its chance to claim moral high ground with the general public.
As much as Tressel’s behavior in all this stinks, so does the NCAA’s regarding the Sugar Bowl. Those five players’ suspensions should have begun before the bowl rather than after it, and no amount of NCAA posturing can change that.
Then there’s the Bruce Pearl angle, at least if you believe the rumors that the Buckeyes basketball program played a role in the NCAA uncovering Pearl’s secondary recruiting violations at Tennessee.
If Tressel is ultimately fired for lying to the NCAA, there will be many comparisons drawn between Bruce Almighty’s professional suicide and The Vest’s unraveling.
One distinct difference cannot be ignored, however. Pearl lied about violations he committed, then compounded the problem by asking recruits and their parents to lie for him.
Tressel lied about violations he apparently had nothing to do with and presumably (at least at this time) involved no one else in his deception.
So which behavior was worse? In terms of gaining a competitive advantage, there’s no argument. Tressel’s decision to use players he knew had committed major NCAA violations not only altered the Sugar Bowl but the entire Big Ten race, since he knew his players had broken rules five months before the 2010 season began.
By contrast, Pearl’s lies remain stunning in nature mostly because he was lying about secondary violations that probably would have earned him no more than a slap on the wrist, even though he had previously broken the same rule of entertaining underage recruits in his home.
What made Pearl’s lies more serious in the eyes of the NCAA were his attempts to have others lie for him, as well as an apparent secondary violation four days after he tearfully admitted to the first charges.
The question now turns to whether or not The Ohio State University — as it smugly insists on calling itself — will willingly follow UT’s lead and toss away the Vest in the same way the Vols deep-sixed Pearl.
After all, it was OSU president E. Gordon Gee who dismantled Vanderbilt’s athletic department during his time in Nashville as an attempt to prove to college administrators that athletics need not be a separate arm of a university.
Under that mindset, does anyone think the head of any Ohio State academic department could behave in the manner Tressel did and remain employed?
Moreover, the Pearl and Tressel cases gift-wrap a chance for the NCAA to deliver an unmistakable message to all its coaches that lying to superiors about potential rules violations almost assuredly will lead to unemployment.
If the NCAA and its member institutions are truly serious about changing the way their high-profile programs do business, that would be an excellent place to start.
On the January day in 2001 that Tressel was hired, he told the OSU fans, “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially [against Michigan] on the football field.”
In the wake of Monday’s NCAA allegations, the only sure way for Ohio State to restore pride to its football program is to vanish the Vest.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...