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Published: 4/27/2011

Stand down, coach

The allegations that the National Collegiate Athletic Association is making against Ohio State University and its head football coach, Jim Tressel, are so serious that Mr. Tressel is honor bound to step down at least until the charges are resolved. If he will not do so voluntarily, OSU President E. Gordon Gee should not hesitate to suspend him from his duties.

And if the NCAA's allegations are validated, Coach Tressel must go for good.

Between 2008 and last May, the NCAA says, five OSU football players got monetary favors from, and sold team memorabilia such as championship rings and apparel to, the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor. These transactions broke NCAA rules and would have cost the players their eligibility had they been disclosed.

Mr. Tressel learned of some of the violations in April, 2010, the NCAA alleges, but instead of reporting them allowed the ineligible athletes to play last season -- even as the transgressions were under investigation last December. The players helped Ohio State win the postseason Sugar Bowl.

Worse, the NCAA claims, Coach Tressel signed an evidently false statement last September saying he had told OSU of any violations of which he was aware.

Mr. Tressel conceded last month -- without publicly apologizing for the fact -- that he had known early on about the infractions but withheld them from university officials until January. Because of a previous violation during his OSU tenure, NCAA penalties if the new charges are upheld may include a bowl-game ban and forfeiture of last season's victories.

The coach and five players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. Mr. Tressel also faces a $250,000 fine. But if what the NCAA alleges is true, the coach behaved unethically and the penalties against him are inadequate.

The university has evaded, so far, an NCAA designation of "lack of institutional control," which could lead to stiffer penalties. But the investigation continues; the NCAA also seeks to determine whether anyone else in OSU's athletic department knew of the player violations.

As one of the university's best-known employees, Mr. Tressel is primarily an educator. His won-lost record, however glowing, is not the only or even the most important measure of his performance in that role.

A successful educator seeks to teach the young people in his or her charge that their actions have consequences. By contrast, Mr. Tressel has worked repeatedly -- and, it appears, dishonestly -- to shield the athletes from the consequences of their rule-breaking.

In a letter to President Gee, the NCAA's vice president of enforcement cites "the premise of presidential control of athletics." Mr. Gee must maintain control of the university's response to the charges against Coach Tressel, rather than cede it to the athletic department. There can be no repeat of the president's jocular treatment last month of the NCAA allegations: "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Instead, Mr. Gee needs to assert his authority and make clear how seriously he and Ohio State take these charges. The separation of Mr. Tressel from his university responsibilities, at least until the allegations are disposed of, is an essential first step.



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