Ohio State University has erased its 2010 football season from the books in the hope that the National Collegiate Athletic Association won’t impose tougher penalties on the program. Had university officials acted months ago, it might have been enough. But not now.
OSU vacated its 12 wins from last season, including its Sugar Bowl victory. It placed itself on two-year probation and increased its compliance staff from six to eight people.
The university will require players to prove they still have team rings and watches they were given, and players no longer will get other memorabilia until they have used up their eligibility. OSU also will keep closer tabs on players’ vehicles and living arrangements.
The intent of the self-imposed sanctions is to avoid harsher penalties by the NCAA, such as a cut in football scholarships or a ban on postseason games.
At least eight OSU football players traded memorabilia for improper benefits from the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor. Five were suspended for part of next season, one was ruled ineligible, and one unidentified player left the program. The eighth, former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, quit OSU to enter the National Football League’s supplemental draft.
Former head coach Jim Tressel, who knew about the infractions for months and lied to the university and NCAA about them, quit in May and was fined $250,000 by OSU. Last week, his resignation became a retirement, the fine was waived, and he was banned from off-campus recruiting activities for a year.
As a result, he will keep his health-insurance coverage, will collect his base salary for June, and is eligible to be paid for about 250 hours of unused vacation and sick days. In return, he will suffer the indignity of appearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions next month.
In its response to the NCAA charges, Ohio State laid the blame on Mr. Tressel.Certainly the head coach knew he was playing ineligible athletes. But OSU’s response continues to be: What is the least we can do to make this go away?
University officials should have responded earlier and more forcefully. Instead of joking about whether Mr. Tressel would fire him, OSU President Gordon Gee should have made clear that the university took the allegations seriously and would get to the bottom of them.
When it became clear that Mr. Tressel had known more sooner than he admitted, he should have been removed. And he should not have been allowed to return through the back door of retirement.
Wiping out last season changes little. Although the football team’s victories will be expunged from the record books, the money the university received for those games won’t be given back.
And faithful fans of the scarlet and gray already say that while the victories aren’t on the books, they know what happened in those games.
As the state’s flagship university and one of the premier football programs in the nation, OSU must recruit athletes who know how to play by the rules. Compliance officers must have real power to make sure that neither athletes nor powerful coaches are tempted to stray.
Even now, it’s not clear that Ohio State officials understand that. If further sanctions by the NCAA are needed to drive that message home, so be it.