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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2011

Even Tressel supporters look for NCAA to react harshly to violation

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

OSU president E. Gordon Gee, left, Buckeye coach Jim Tressel and athletic director Gene Smith talk at Tuesday's  press conference. OSU president E. Gordon Gee, left, Buckeye coach Jim Tressel and athletic director Gene Smith talk at Tuesday's press conference.
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COLUMBUS -- Embattled Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel's admission Tuesday that he had violated NCAA rules by not reporting potential infractions by his players in a timely fashion has elicited reactions that cover the full spectrum.

While a number of members of the media and Internet message board bloggers have called for Tressel to be immediately terminated, the veteran coach of the Buckeyes has received words of support from former players and coaches, and current recruits.

But most of the folks in Tressel's corner chastised him for his apparent error in judgment, and warned that Ohio State's self-imposed punishment will not likely be the end.

Tressel, who revealed that e-mails dating back to April of 2010 had alerted him that some of his players were selling OSU memorabilia for cash and discounts on tattoos, has been suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season, fined $250,000, and publicly reprimanded for violating NCAA rules -- all penalties imposed by Ohio State.

Former Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman, a two time All-American for the Buckeyes and the 1987 Lombardi Award winner, said he expects the NCAA to "come down with the hammer" once its own investigation into the matter is complete.

Spielman said the NCAA has been criticized recently for its perceived flimsy punishments in the Cam Newton affair at Auburn, and when the five Ohio State players involved in the memorabilia scandal were still permitted to play in the Sugar Bowl.

"The NCAA has been chastised for being weak," Spielman said Wednesday on ESPN, where he works as a college football analyst. "This is a chance for them to make a strong statement."

Former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie has very similar expectations when this case ultimately plays out.

"I imagine the worst in this. I see the NCAA coming down with the hammer," said Davie, who also works as a commentator for ESPN. "I have tremendous respect for Jim Tressel . . . but you can not defend the tactic he took in this incident."

Tressel said he received a series of e-mails from an attorney who was representing an individual involved in a federal drug trafficking probe, and in those e-mails Tressel was alerted to the fact that some of his players had sold championship rings and signed Ohio State jerseys, footballs and other items to the individual, the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor, for cash and discounts on tattoos.

In his brief response to the first e-mail, dated April 2, a portion of Tressel's reply read: "I will get on it ASAP." He apparently took no direct action.

The next e-mail from the person Tressel referred to as "an attorney" is dated two weeks later, April 16, and includes a line stating: "What I tell you is confidential," and lays out more details on what memorabilia the players had been selling.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the lawyer was Christopher Cicero, who lettered in football at Ohio State in 1983 when Tressel was an assistant coach under Earle Bruce. Cicero earned his law degree at the University of Toledo College of Law.

Tressel said one of his reasons for not revealing the potential violations last spring was his desire to protect the confidentiality of the federal drug case. Some information in all of the e-mails was redacted before being released to the media, but the April 2 e-mail makes no apparent reference to confidentiality.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the university discovered the apparent NCAA rules breach by Tressel in January while working on an unrelated matter. When Yahoo! Sports broke a story Monday, indicating that Tressel had earlier knowledge of the players' actions, OSU was forced to call a news conference.

The memorabilia/tattoo affair came to light publicly in December shortly after the U.S. Attorney's office had notified Ohio State.

At that time, Smith stated it was at that point that OSU officials had first been made aware of it.

The NCAA became involved immediately, and eventually ruled that five Buckeyes involved in the matter would be ineligible for the first five games of the 2011 season, but permitted them to play in the Sugar Bowl in early January.

The five suspended players are all returning starters or projected starters: quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas. None of them are identified in the non-redacted portions of the e-mails.

Tressel's newest adversary, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, elected not to pile on at a point when Tressel is undoubtedly the most vulnerable to criticism.

Speaking to the media Wednesday while he introduced his coaching staff, Hoke was very complimentary of Tressel, while admitting he had little knowledge of the specifics of the Ohio State matter.

"I've known Jim Tressel a long time.  He's a quality guy, he's a daggone good football coach," Hoke said. "I don't know that situation.  What I do know is what we're focused on here at Michigan."

Incoming OSU recruit Tom Strobel, a defensive lineman from Tressel's hometown of Mentor, said the news won't impact his commitment to play for the veteran coach, who is 106-22 in his 10 seasons as head coach at Ohio State.

"I was pretty surprised about the whole situation," Strobel told the Ohio State fan site, Bucknuts. "But I really don't look at coach Tressel as being any different person. He's still a great coach. It doesn't bother me at all. It doesn't change how I feel about Ohio State. It doesn't change anything."

Spielman said he felt the matter would tarnish Ohio State for a long time, and that Tressel had likely irreparably damaged his image.

"We all have something in our past that we're not proud of. Coach is going to come under some criticism that he's never had to come under before," Spielman said. "This is Ohio State. These things will live on forever. That's the way it is."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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