It’s clear that The Ohio State University is not going to take any further action against football coach Jim Tressel. The more this mess drags on, the more surprised I am that they did anything at all.
So it’s time for the NCAA to step up its investigation into Tressel’s actions. From the time this story broke, it’s been clear that Athletic Director Gene Smith and university President Gordon Gee work for Tressel, not the other way around. Gee’s joke that he just hoped Tressel wouldn’t fire him should have led to Gee’s immediate dismissal.
But it appears OSU has no intention of taking further action, and here’s why: A recent poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that most Ohio voters believe Tressel shouldn’t be fired for misconduct under NCAA rules.
In fact, 83 percent of those polled who had heard or read about Tressel’s transgressions said he should not be fired, and 56 percent said his punishment was sufficient.
Of course they love Tressel in Ohio. He has won 241 games and a national championship. But Ohio voters are not in charge of enforcing NCAA rules. There is no question — zero — that Tressel violated NCAA rules, which is where the athletic director and university president are supposed to come in. No coach should be bigger than the university for which he coaches. But because college football — especially a program such as OSU’s — is a cash cow, the football coach is sometimes the highest paid employee at a university, and even more often the most powerful.
And that’s where the problems begin. Tressel covered up a very serious NCAA violation. There’s no other words for it: He covered it up. He knew that five of his players were trading memorabilia and autographs to a tattoo parlor owner for ink and cash. He knew that this owner was under federal investigation for drug trafficking. And he told no one. Not his athletic director. Not his university president. Not his own attorney. Not university counsel. He stood by and watched those players receive punishment for their actions — and still said nothing.
Well, that’s not quite true. Despite saying that he didn’t know whom to tell about the damaging information — a laughable statement — he did tell one person: a “mentor” of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
If I were a coach and I knew that five of my players were not only violating NCAA rules, they were doing it with a man being investigated by the federal government for drug trafficking, I wouldn’t turn to a “mentor” of one of them. I’d turn first to my athletic director and the university counsel to see how best to keep these five players from ending up on the wrong end of a very unpleasant federal investigation — or worse.
That’s your job as coach: to protect your players. You go into parents’ living rooms and promise them you’ll take their kids, coach ’em up, give them an education and keep them out of trouble. You don’t make promises to their “mentors.” And if you do, you’d better stop. “Mentor” is a word that should be raising eyebrows at the NCAA all the way to the ceiling.
Defenders may say Tressel was trying to get that “mentor” to extricate Pryor from this mess. Let’s say that’s true, for the sake of argument. Two questions: What about the other four? A coach has a responsibility to all his players, not just his quarterback. And what about Pryor’s family? Is his “mentor” really his emergency contact on his forms?
No, there is no defense for what Tressel has done, and there’s no real sense, yet, that Tressel understands the severity of his actions. It’s clear Smith and Gee don’t, either, or are too scared to admit it. It’s time for the NCAA to take swift and strong measures.