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On Tressel, and Missing the Point

It should be noted that I've read Ramzy, most recently of Eleven Warriors, for some time now through various Buckeye outlets, and I believe that he is a very good writer, and a level headed thinker.  For reasons that are obvious, I don't necessarily like most of what he writes, but that comes with the territory of being a Michigan fan reading an Ohio State blog.  However, even if I don't like it, most of what he says is true or interesting, and mostly both.  I don't like it because Ohio State has owned Michigan over the past decade, not because it's wrong.

However, his latest missive on the situation that Jim Tressel finds himself in, entitled Mr. Clean, misses the point entirely on why the majority of the nation believes that Jim Tressel should be relieved of his duties as head football coach at Ohio State.  The caveats here are so obvious that I shouldn't have to write them, but will do so in an effort to stave off the comments that will surely follow: I am a Michigan fan, and thus predisposed to thinking the worst about Ohio State.  Read this knowing that.

Ramzy starts by detailing how Tressel has managed to keep a lid on most of the shadier incidents involving Buckeyes over the years:

...From none of the things that Maurice Clarett claimed ever being proven to Troy Smith's $500 payment from Robert Q. Baker (the only cash handshake ever!) Donald Washington's mysterious status changes toward the end of 2007, how drug test results are handled, the "punishments" for DUIs, players receiving discounted furniture and driving more rental cars while in college than you'll drive in 20 years, Tressel and his staff have handled all of the particulars in a manner that has kept Ohio State football relatively unscathed, up until now.

Taken in context, Ramzy's argument here is that we all play in the same sandbox when it comes to these kinds of things, and that the incidents detailed above are par for the course in Big Time College Athletics.  While this is true to a degree, this is simply shifting responsibility away from Ohio State, and pointing to the larger issue plaguing NCAA athletics as a whole.  Fair enough.  However, when it comes to what is collectively being dubbed as "tat-gate" Tressel's skills at sliding things under the rug seem to be waning:

Every tragedy has a well-intentioned idiot, and this one is no different.  From the moment that Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero created a paper trail to Tatgate, Tressel had his work cut out for him.  While he had options and could have acted more covertly, it's now abundantly clear that Tressel tried to abort Tatgate before it gestated into Tatgate.  Immediately notifying the compliance department would have effectively birthed Tatgate last April.  While he failed in the noble endeavor to ultimately make it go away, he kept it obscured until the Feds finally shot their publicity ray at it.

You know how many other FBS coaches would have hoped or tried for this episode to erase itself rather than give a glimpse of it to their compliance departments?  All of them.  This isn't the cop out of "it happens everywhere."  This is the fundamental principle of risk mitigation that says if you think you can make trouble disappear rather than deal with its consequences, you make it disappear.

Throughout the post, from the reiteration of shady incidents in the first paragraph to this admittedly long block-quote, the issue for Ramzy doesn't seem to be that it happened, but rather that it could have been prevented.  The "well intentioned idiot" in this case is Christopher Cicero, who created the paper trail to Jim Tressel.  So Ramzy is essentially stating that the problem here is that there was a paper trail created, and not the fact that there was something to create a paper trail to.  Immediately notifying the compliance department would indeed have "birthed" Tatgate last April, but it should have been done anyways because it was the right thing to do.  It is not the Feds fault that they shot their publicity ray at it because it should have been handled properly - and that means directed towards the compliance department - from the moment that it came it light. 

Maybe every other FBS coach would have done the same thing and tried to make this go away, but that isn't the point.  Michigan fans are painfully aware of this.  Ohio State is the one who has gotten caught here, not this mysterious "everybody else."  Ramzy states that "This isn't the cop out of 'it happens everywhere'" but his argument is essentially exactly that. He continues:

Personally, I don't get all twisted up over off-the-field stuff like players selling possessions for discounted tattoos, selling their game tickets on the secondary market for a nice profit or occasionally getting free appetizers at crappy chain restaurants because while it's all not permissable by NCAA rules, genuinely giving a crap about it happening at Ohio State or anywhere else just because it's an NCAA violation isn't enough to make me care. 

It's just my personal belief system that leads me to despise most NCAA rules - especially the draconian one about not being able to capitalize on your own likeness - and root for players from all programs to do so without getting caught.  Plus, if there's a time to look stupid, act stupid and say stupid things, it's in college.  The NCAA frowns on that essential rite of passage, and I in turn root against the NCAA as though it wears a winged helmet in November.

This is straw man.  The issue at heart here is that Jim Tressel knew he had players who were ineligible according to the governing body of the organization in which Ohio State - and every other NCAA team - participates.  I don't particularly care if some football players get a free appetizer at Applebee's either, but the NCAA does, and if they're caught doing it then there are consequences (no matter how draconian or arbitrary they seem) for those actions.  We all play in the same sandbox here.  What is more problematic is the fact that Jim Tressel knew that his players were ineligible and played them anyways, leading to a BCS bowl birth and victory.  This is the very definition of "on the field" as it pertains to these players. 

The argument that college is a time to look and act stupid is fine and well - Pryor and company will pay the consequences they have to and move on.  However, Jim Tressel is not in college.  This is not his time to look or act stupid.  Rather, he is the CEO of the Ohio State Football program, reportedly worth $117,953,712 in 2008-2009, which was the most recent data I could find.  I agree with Ramzy - I don't particularly care that Pryor et. al. did what they did.  What I do care about is the fact that Tressel knew about it, and played them anyways instead of reporting it through the proper channels and taking his medicine at the time of the incident.  Pryor and company might not have known better.  Jim Tressel certainly did, and that's why he should be fired.

The point is not what happened.  We know what happened, and the punishment for the players has been doled out, appropriately or not, and will be served.  The point is what Jim Tressel did, or in this case didn't do, after what happened happened.  Instead of reporting it through the proper channels, he did his best to cover it up, and rode that cover up - complete with ineligible players on the field - to a BCS bowl victory, and everything that comes with that.  The point isn't that a "well intentioned idiot" created a paper trail, it is the fact that the event occurred and was reported in the first place.  Tressel has been caught in his lie, and any excuse that he or his fans make, including the ubiquitous "everyone does it," ring pretty hollow.