Jim Tressel roamed the sidelines during the spring game last week. It may be the last time he gets to do that as the Buckeyes’ coach.
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There are two chances that Jim Tressel will be the football coach at Ohio State University a year from now — slim and none.
Did people, notably Buckeye fans, really think this was going away? Most likely, what will happen now is Tressel going away.
The NCAA’s notice of allegations, sent to OSU last Friday, was made public Monday, and while the school escaped the dreaded “lack of institutional control” charge, its head coach was anything but unscathed.
He was accused of ethical misconduct for having “knowingly provided false information to the NCAA” and for knowingly playing ineligible athletes last season. That 12-1 season is about to turn into 1-12, but that could prove to be the least of the coach’s problems. The one win standing would be the Sugar Bowl, and that might be Tressel’s last hurrah.
If the NCAA, in its final adjudication, issues a “show-cause” penalty against Tressel, Ohio State will be hard-pressed not to sever ties with the highly successful and popular coach.
Tressel has given no indication he will step down, although the severity of the notice of allegations might change his mind. OSU, certainly, would have to find the courage to fire a coach who has a national championship and seven Big Ten titles (give or take last season’s) on his 10-year resume. Remember OSU president E. Gordon Gee’s silly response at the March 8 press conference when asked if he considered firing Tressel?
The NCAA, however, could force the university’s hand if it finds the coach guilty of major violations and issues a “show-cause,” which basically means a coach is unemployable without NCAA approval that presumably would come with additional and serious sanctions.
This all stems, of course, from Tattoogate, the incident that found five OSU players selling memorabilia, which is against NCAA rules, to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor. Tressel learned in April, 2010, that quarterback Terrelle Pryor and at least one other player were involved, but he didn’t share the information with OSU officials and, in September, signed an NCAA compliance form without indicating any potential or known violations by players.
Tressel didn’t come clean to his bosses until January, when the school was preparing an appeal for the players’ five-game suspensions to open the 2011 season. And he has yet to fess up to the rest of us. At last month’s press conference, at which he was not particularly contrite, Tressel forged his defense around a request for confidentiality by his source. Since, we’ve learned he really thought so little about confidentiality that he forwarded e-mails on the matter to a mentor of Pryor’s in Pennsylvania.
The NCAA denied the players’ appeals, and Tressel increased his own suspension from two to five games, about the only thing for which he deserves an “attaboy” in this whole process.
The notice of allegations included a vague threat that Ohio State might be treated as a “repeat violator” for some past transgressions that could lead to a postseason ban or scholarship reductions. But that seems a stretch since the NCAA didn’t cite OSU for any lack of institutional control.
No, the NCAA, now moving with unusual speed after being heavily criticized for certifying the five Buckeyes as eligible to play in the Sugar Bowl, is basically laying all the blame in this case at Tressel’s feet.
A man who forged a reputation, and considerable support from Buckeye Nation, for conducting a program that seemed above reproach, in fact “failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics,” wrote the NCAA.
It is doubtful Jim Tressel can survive this. It’s equally doubtful that he should.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.