Since there seems to be so much misinformation, and every monkey with a laptop believes he has the inside scoop on the Jim Tressel situation at Ohio State, the end of spring football season seems like the perfect time to begin separating fact from fiction.
When I lived in Texas, I often heard the phrase “separating the pepper from the flyshit” whenever someone was trying to discern truth from speculation. In this particular case, there seems to be precious little in the way of pepper and a burgeoning mountain of the other stuff.
So, the best way to separate the two would seem to be providing what facts we know as well as best-guess answers to some of the most frequent questions surrounding the situation.
Q. Is the NCAA still investigating the OSU football program?
A. Yes. The investigation was reportedly complete until March 8 when Ohio State announced that Tressel had received e-mails from a Columbus attorney informing the coach about two of his players selling memorabilia and receiving discounted tattoos. Tressel did not share that information, which he received in April 2010, with the university or the NCAA during its original investigation, so the NCAA decided to revisit the investigation.
Q. What if the NCAA finds anything new?
A. There is always a chance. No one knew about the incriminating e-mails during the original investigation, so the NCAA will assuredly dig as deep as possible to make sure it doesn’t miss anything this time. It should be noted the probe has the full cooperation of Ohio State, something the NCAA doesn’t always receive when they investigate member institutions.
Q. Why is this whole thing such a big deal? Weren’t the players just selling property that belonged to them?
A. Yes, but that is still a violation under NCAA bylaws governing improper benefits. Simply put, college athletes are not allowed to benefit from the fact they are college athletes, so having an official team jersey or a Gold Pants charm to sell sets you apart from every other OSU student who has no opportunity to have access to those items. Therefore, selling them for profit is regarded as an improper benefit.
Q. We have heard there are new allegations involving Terrelle Pryor and improper use of a car. Anything to this?
A. The Columbus Dispatch reported in January that Pryor received two traffic tickets while driving an auto dealer’s car while the quarterback’s own car was being serviced last spring. Pryor also reportedly borrowed a car salesman’s personal vehicle during the fall of his freshman year and received a ticket while returning to Columbus from his hometown of Jeannette, Pa. OSU and Big Ten officials looked into both matters and concluded that no NCAA violations were committed.
Q. What about the revelation that Tressel forwarded the e-mails to Pryor’s mentor in Jeannette but not to athletic director Gene Smith or the university compliance office?
A. The fact that Tressel did not forward the e-mails to Smith or compliance is why the coach was hit with a lengthy suspension and substantial fine. That he did forward the e-mails to Jeannette businessman Ted Sarniak, Pryor’s longtime mentor in Jeannette, apparently means nothing to the NCAA. Sarniak has not been designated as a booster or an agent, so when Tressel forwarded the e-mails to him, it was the same as forwarding them to a player’s parent.
Q. Why did Tressel request his suspension to be increased to five games? Was he trying to mitigate additional sanctions from the NCAA?
A. The coach seemed to believe he should have had to sit out the same number of games as his players. His original suspension was two games because Ohio State hoped to get the players’ suspensions reduced to that number through the appeal process. When that appeal was denied, Tressel requested an additional three games be added to his suspension and OSU complied with that request.
Q. Who will coach the Buckeyes in Tressel’s absence?
A. Tressel is barred only from participating in gameday activities. Rest assured he will continue to be the head coach during the other six days of the week. As far as Saturdays are concerned, newly christened assistant head coach Luke Fickell will assume head coaching duties and implement the game plan formulated by Tressel. That said, I would love to see a Woody Hayes impersonator lead the team out of the tunnel for the season opener. You would probably be able to hear that eruption in Ann Arbor.
Q. Nearly every so-called national expert believes additional sanctions are coming. For example, will Ohio State have to vacate victories earned during the 2010 season?
A. This is strictly a guess but I think that is doubtful. I know the rationale is that Tressel knowingly used players he knew to be ineligible under strict interpretation of NCAA rules, but I keep returning to the NCAA’s original ruling in December. You would have thought if victories during the 2010 season were to be vacated, the NCAA would have vacated them as part of the original ruling.
Q. What about the Sugar Bowl? Certainly the Buckeyes will have to forfeit that victory, right?
A. Wrong. The NCAA could conceivably vacate the team’s 11 regular-season wins from last season, but the organization already signed off on the suspended players’ participation in the Sugar Bowl. Revisiting that decision and essentially saying, “Oh, well, now we think they probably shouldn’t have played” would be more than a little hypocritical at this point.
Q. How about the players involved? Are they facing any additional penalties?
A. No. When the NCAA denied the appeal to have their suspensions reduced, that ended the investigation involving the so-called “Tattooed Five.” That means Dan “Boom” Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas and Pryor likely have Oct. 8 circled on their calendars. That is when they will make their 2011 season debuts – at Nebraska.
Q. But you said the NCAA had reopened the investigation.
A. The ongoing probe is focused on Tressel and the fact he did not tell investigators everything he knew about the players selling memorabilia and receiving discounted tattoos. Of course, should the NCAA discover additional violations committed by any of the aforementioned players, additional penalties could be and likely would be levied.
Q. Address the rumor the NCAA has told Ohio State that firing Tressel will make it easier on the university’s athletic program with regard to additional or more severe sanctions.
A. That is a popular rumor that has made its rounds, and it always seems that schools facing severe penalties believe getting rid of the offending coach somehow eases the pain of what’s coming. That is rarely the case, though. The NCAA’s policy has never been to recommend whether a coach should be fired, leaving that decision to the institution.
Q. How can that be true? Hasn’t every other coach ever hit with a violation of NCAA bylaw 10.1 been fired?
A. That seems to be a popular myth being promulgated throughout the national media and it’s close to the truth – but not the whole truth. According to a study done by Sports Illustrated, there have been 81 cases since 1989 involving coaches or athletic administrators accused of providing false or misleading information to NCAA investigators – a violation of bylaw 10.1. Of those, 78 resigned or were terminated. Unlike Tressel, however, most of the coaches or administrators in those cases were accused of additional violations. So, unless the NCAA uncovers additional obfuscation on Tressel’s part, he will probably keep his job.
Q. But if the NCAA does uncover something else?
A. That would undoubtedly force the university’s hand. Smith would have little choice but to ask for Tressel’s resignation.
Q. Does it help Ohio State’s cause that it self-reported both the players’ indiscretions and then Tressel’s knowledge of the e-mails when the university discovered them?
A. It should. One of the reasons the NCAA came down so hard on USC in the Reggie Bush case was because that school stonewalled the investigation for so many years. Plus, it certainly can’t hurt that Smith knows the NCAA Committee on Infractions inside and out. If anyone should know what it takes to mitigate sanctions, Smith should.
Q. Is it true that Urban Meyer would be Tressel’s replacement if it comes to that?
A. Talk about a replacement for Tressel is a bit premature. As for Meyer, one of the rumors making the rounds is that he has purchased a house in suburban Columbus. According to a quick Google search of Franklin County properties bought and sold within the past 18 months, that is apparently a falsehood. Also, according to those who live in Upper Arlington – a fairly tight-knit community – there have been no Meyer sightings and no gossip about the former Florida coach buying a home there. At least for the time being, Meyer is officially “retired” from the coaching profession so that he can address some health issues. Also, any Buckeye fan who wants Meyer as Tressel’s replacement might be careful what they wish for. Meyer’s reputation wasn’t exactly squeaky clean with regard to off-the-field problems while he was at Florida.
Q. What is the timetable for a final decision from the NCAA?
A. No one can say for sure because the NCAA never comments on ongoing investigations. An educated guess, however, would be sometime between now and the beginning of June. That is based upon the fact it took the NCAA about 2½ months to rule on the appeal of the players’ suspensions.
Q. Ultimately, how will all of this play out?
A. That is the big question, of course. Barring anything else from this sludge pool that gurgles to the surface, I believe the current sanctions will stand. After all, losing your head coach and five starters for nearly half the season – not to mention that check for a quarter of million dollars Tressel must write – seems pretty stiff to me. Then again, if the NCAA turns up something else, all bets are off. You can prepare for the worst because that’s pretty much what it will be.