More than a month later, it remains borderline unbelievable that Jim Tressel is no longer the head football coach at Ohio State.
When Tressel tendered his Memorial Day resignation, it was naturally assumed the steady stream of allegations against the coach and his program would evolve into a crystal clear picture of wrongdoing so dastardly that the university had no choice but to rid itself of a chronic cheating liar.
What the likes of Sports Illustrated, ESPN and even the hometown Columbus Dispatch trumpeted as dynamite, however, turned out instead to be nothing more than a wet firecracker.
From video of the “brand new” sports car former quarterback Terrelle Pryor drove to a team meeting – a used car that turned out to belong to his mother – to the sheer lunacy surrounding breathless reporting that Pryor and other Buckeyes had been witnessed in 2009 playing at a Columbus-area private golf course, the story quickly lost traction when even anonymous sources dried up for the aforementioned media outlets.
After acid rain seemingly fell on the OSU campus every day for a month, triggering a panic among university officials that precipitated Tressel’s resignation, we were left with a gaggle of half-baked innuendo some of which seemed plausible but most of which did not pass the smell test. Now that the media circus has packed away its carnival tents and Ohio State is left to clean up the sawdust and elephant dung, I continue to wonder if Tressel’s departure was absolutely necessary.
If your entire point of reference is the national media with its bloodthirsty obsession to take Tressel down, the answer is clear. From most of the blather than emanated from those who should know better, one might have believed many pundits wanted the former coach shackled and hauled away to federal prison.
ESPN college football writer Pat Forde summed it up nicely for the sanctimonious crowd when he wrote, “In the realm where Ohio State likes to say it resides, the school had to rid itself of a coach who cheated and lied his way into making a bad situation far worse. Staying in the fox hole with Tressel eventually became too costly to the school’s reputation.”
Forde and many others also mentioned that if Ohio State had elected to stand by Tressel, it would have sent an awful message – a message that winning is all that matters. Zip up your coat, Pat, and throw another log on the fire because here comes the cold, hard truth: Winning is all that matters in big-time college athletics.
The formula seems simple enough. The more you win, the higher profile your program enjoys and the more money you make. When is the last time you saw the ESPN College Gameday crew at Indiana or Mississippi State? Both schools are members of BCS conferences but since neither is a consistent winner, neither football program has a high profile and that means the Hoosiers and Bulldogs have to fight for the scraps along with about 100 other Division I-A schools.
If winning wasn’t important – all that matters, if you will – why did Mack Brown of Texas make more than $5 million last season while Big 12 counterpart Art Briles drew a relatively paltry $878,000 salary from Baylor?
University presidents and athletic directors can make all the pronouncements they want about the sanctity of amateurism and the purity of the student-athlete. It’s likely they are making such pronouncements at cocktail party fundraisers or annual retreats paid for at least in part by bloated television contracts.
If winning was not the bottom line, why did Kentucky on June 27 give men’s basketball coach John Calipari a contract extension, making his total compensation package worth $36.5 million, just weeks after it had erased 42 wins from his career total due to NCAA violations committed at schools where Calipari had previously coached?
What sets apart the University of Kentucky from The Ohio State University? Why does Calipari merit a raise while Tressel gets cut loose?
You could argue that all the offenses Calipari has committed over the years don’t measure up to the allegation that Tressel violated NCAA bylaw 10.1, which bans so-called unethical conduct. I suppose that would depend upon your definition of “unethical conduct” so any NCAA transgression – major or minor – could be considered unethical. That is an argument for another day, however.
Today’s debate – one that will continue to rage on in my mind – is what might have happened had Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith called a Memorial Day news conference to defend Tressel, to say that no matter what the NCAA had in store for the university’s football program, the coach was staying.
Naturally, that would have touched off another round of withering criticism from the media accusing Smith of harboring a rogue coach running a dirty program. My question: Why would the athletic director or anyone else at Ohio State for that matter care what the national media thinks?