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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Tressel, Ohio State Buried In A Landslide of Circumstantial Evidence

Waking up Monday was nice. It'd been a great weekend, and to top it off, I didn't have to go to work that morning. So, as I stumbled into the kitchen to brew some coffee and call my brother, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, I saw the green blink of an incoming message on my cell phone. Sliding my fingers across the touch screen I saw this message from my friend Ken:

Tressel out at osu!


Instictively I bolted for the TV remote and turned on ESPN. There it was on the bottom line, "Ohio State Head Football Coach Jim Tressel Resigns." It was true. He was gone. But that answer created more questions. What the hell had finally sealed his fate? Ever since his April press conference, Tressel's lies and contradictions had continued to pile up like old, moldy fertalizer; rancid and dangerous. Yet nothing happened. Ohio State's president and athletic director refused to lite the fuse, knowing full well that the colateral damage from the explosion would likely take them with it. So we waited and watched as Tressel improbably continued to survive.

Then the details slowly started leaking out about the what had finally ended Tressel's career. There was word of the meeting with Gordon Gee and Gene Smith where the three men agreed it was in everyone's best interest that Tressel resign. Then there was word of the pending Sports Illustrated story that would expose everything and everyone. There were rumors about high school coaches, cars, money, and everything else. Then, in the mid afternoon there was the revalation that OSU's star quarterback Terrelle Pryor was, gasp, the subject of an intensive NCAA investigation. The internets, twitters exploded. As a result, Sports Illustrated, sensing the opportunity, moved up their publish date to 7:30 EST last night. But from 10am until the release time, there was nothing but speculation about what the story contained. Then, finally, mercifully, SI lit the fuse.

Sadly, the expected nuke was more like a mining explosion. A puff of smoke, a shower of rocks and debris, and the resulting landslide as rubble careens down the hill. There was no satisfying mushroom cloud or gratifying shockwave that levels the surrounding houses or forrests. Just a bang, some smoke, and a douple of rocks. The anticipation, combined with Tressel's resignation led us all to believe there was a smoking gun of Pearl Habor proportions waiting for us in the SI story. There wasn't. But in hindsight there was enough force behind that bang to do a lot of damage to the people below. As the rubble flew down the hill and piled up on Tressel and Ohio State, it became obvious that the SI article wasn't meant to incinerate. It was meant to bury.

Others have commented that there was truly nothing new in this article. To an extent they are right. The majority of this story was written seven years ago (jeebus, has it been that long?) when ESPN's Tom Farrey penned a scathing essay on Tressel's blind eye and the history of violations that occurred under his watch. Farrey documents every obvious transgression that Tressel somehow knew nothing about. I remain mystified that Farrey's excellent piece provoked little more than a yawn from the NCAA and less than that from the Big Ten. Even so, Farrey's article laid the ground work for what eventually took Tressel down on Monday.

The Farrey piece was the brunt of the SI explosion, reviewing the past and building a case that Tressel has a long history of these issues. As for new revelations, there weren't a lot. The Dohrmann's SI article's most damning allegations centered on Terrelle Tryor's access to "whatever I want," the tat-centric obviousness of Ohio State's players, Jermil Martin's love of new cars, and former DE Robert Rose's admission that he and "at least 20 other" players had swapped memorabilia for tattoos and other benefits. Still, none of the new allegations contained in Dohrmann's article specifically bury Tressel. There was no smoking gun. So, to an extent, it was a let down.

But taken in the larger context of what has come out over the last few weeks (my personal favorite being, OSU's director of compliance denying he ever dealt with Aarron Kniffin, to admitting he talked with him once, to being outed into admitting that he spoke with Kniffin on more than 40 occassions with Kniffin told reporters he had phone records to back up his statement), the allegations are sufficating. Taken in a broader sense, Dohrmann and Farrey's pieces establish a long track record at Ohio State and Youngstown State of awful, obvious violations occurring with regularity on Tressel's watch. While Tressel denied knowledge on those occassions, the final, horrific obviousness of his last and most deadly folly has transformed his plausible deniability into evidence of a pattern of non-compliance and conspiracy.

The last three months have served to confirm everything Michigan fans and the rest of college football thought was going on behind the scarlet and gray curtain. And while all these things have painted a picture of a coach out of control, only the Tattoo/memorabilia scandal can be tied directly to Tressel. Terrelle Pryor's love of new cars notwithstanding, we've only got one thing directly on Tressel. It's stunning really. The Senator's hand may have been caught in the cookie jar, no one's caught him robbing the bank yet.

Ohio State as a whole, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. Their coach is gone in disgrace. Their players have obviously been selling merchandise and equipment for nearly a decade. Players and their families have received sweetheart deals on cars in exchange for memorabilia, while OSU's athletic department looked on (and according Kniffin, approved the sales). The administration has been proven comically inept by the near constant stream of new revealations and lying to investigators. The result is the picture of an institution that has completely lost control of its football program.

As Dorhmann concludes his article he leaves us with the obvious truth of it all, "You do whatever it takes to win." The statement seems to sum this whole sorrid affair up. While there is a direct, proactive interpretation of this statement, it seems the passive, blind-eyed interpretation is what brought Ohio State down. Players, coaches, students knew what was going on. When Club Trillion is saying that it's obvious, well, yeah... it is. When Terrelle Pryor shows up to a team meeting in this, something's obviously amiss.

Ohio State did whatever it took to win by looking the other way when star players received obvious benefits. How do I know this? I personally saw Robert Traylor's lowed subburban rolling through Ann Arbor in the 90's. So don't tell me that the students and the coaches did see the wheels that the football players were driving over the last decade. When the whole team shows up with more tattoos than an issue of INK, something ain't right because that shit is expensive, and more importantly that shit is obvious. When bundles of shoulder pads, equipment and jerseys are gone, that's pretty obvious too. But if winning means looking the other way, that's what Ohio State did.

Let's be clear, it wasn't just Tressel that looked the other way. And while Dorhmann's article is centered on the head coach, the real question becomes "How in the hell did OSU's compliance and remaining coaching staff miss this!?" Every coach and athletic administrator at OSU is responsible for the athletes under their charge, and they're responsible for reporting violations they suspect or have knowledge of. The fact that five starters were trading equipment and/or driving fancy, rotating cars didn't send up a red flag to someone in the administration is ridiculous. I know this because Michigan Basketball tried the same excuses years ago to little affect.

Sure the article focusses on Tressel, but it appears his goose was cooked when the news of Pryor's investigation broke. The real issue is how the athletic department looked the other way. Ohio State may try to pin this on their "rouge" coach or claim they've cut the head of the violations snake, but the issue remains. They willfully ignored the obvious, and now people are finally connecting the dots. Say what you will about the Dohrmann article, that it wasn't that good, that damming, or that it didn't prove anything. The bottom line is that it couldn't. There isn't enough there to level Tressel or Ohio State.

But there is enough to bury them.