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COLUMBUS — After embattled Ohio State coach Jim Tressel sits before the NCAA’s infractions committee in August, that group of administrators, academics, and legal minds is expected to deliberate for two or three months before deciding Tressel’s punishment.
Based on the reaction of a group of prominent past Buckeyes to the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that has ballooned into the potential end of Tressel’s tenure at Ohio State, Tressel is better off facing that NCAA committee than these OSU football alums.
Former Ohio State standouts Chris Spielman, Kirk Herbstreit, and Robert Smith, all commentators for ESPN, have addressed the issue on that network in the past couple of days. Even though they have been proudly draped in scarlet and gray in their past, the trio has taken a harsh look at Tressel’s future.
“I don’t know that there’s a way to recover from this,” Smith said.
Tressel has admitted to not being honest with his superiors or the NCAA regarding his prior knowledge of infractions committed by a number of his top players who sold memorabilia for cash and discounts on tattoos. The NCAA has formally accused Tressel of lying to hide the violations, and permitting the players to take part in the 2010 season when he knew they should have been ineligible.
“I have no idea how Jim Tressel can sit in the living room of a parent right now and say that our program is about honesty and integrity,” said Smith, who was a two-time winner of Ohio’s Mr. Football award at Euclid High School before going on to play running back for the Buckeyes.
“When you talk about the university and its reputation ... and its respect in so many different fields, I don’t know how, moving forward, the president, E. Gordon Gee and the athletic department headed by Gene Smith can talk about honesty and integrity if they don’t take the action to remove the coach that put the university in this type of situation.”
Spielman, a two-time All-American linebacker at Ohio State, has been a staunch supporter of Tressel in the past, saying he would like his son to play for the OSU coach. But Spielman is also pragmatic about the mess Tressel is in, and Spielman expects Ohio State to be forced to give up its wins from last season as part of its eventual punishment.
“I think if you’re a true fan of Jim Tressel and a true fan of Ohio State, you understand that there has to be action taken against his mistakes that he’s made,” Spielman said. “I think ... the NCAA is going to come down hard. I don’t think you can have a coach who knowingly put ineligible players on the field, and you’re not going to take those games from them last year.”
Herbstreit, who has been the target of the ire of OSU fans in the past for his sometimes edgy critiques of the team, said Tressel is getting a pass from many due to his success on the field, a pass his predecessor John Cooper would not have received.
“The Ohio State fan base is just blindly supporting Ohio State and Jim Tressel,” Herbstreit said. “It’s almost gotten to the point where he’s beaten Michigan, he wins 10 games, he goes to BCS bowl games, and they’ll support him no matter what he does. If this would have happened to John Cooper, not only would they have fired him, they would have actually lined him up at a firing squad and fired him.”
Herbstreit, who was the Ohio State MVP as the team’s senior quarterback in 1992 while playing for Cooper, is an Emmy-winning analyst for ESPN’s popular College GameDay program. He echoed Smith’s sentiments about the serious damage done to Tressel’s credibility.
“The bottom line is — he broke the rules by the NCAA, and it’s very difficult after you do that to go into the homes of recruits ... when you have this in your background,” Herbstreit said. “I think it will be very difficult moving forward with Jim Tressel.”
When asked during his ESPN interview what he would encourage Tressel to do, Herbstreit called out troubled former Buckeye Maurice Clarett and current quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of the players involved in the tattoo scandal.
“The first thing I’d tell them to do is quit recruiting players like Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor,” Herbstreit said.
Tressel is 106-22 in 10 seasons as Ohio State’s head coach, with seven Big Ten championships, one national title, and a 9-1 record against rival Michigan.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.