Tue Mar 08 07:13pm EST
For a brief, ridiculous moment Tuesday afternoon, there was some idle chatter to the effect that Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was preparing to stand in front of a microphone Tuesday night and resign over Monday's report that he knew about NCAA violations involving star players last April – a good eight months before OSU officially opened an investigation and announced a five-game suspension for the players last December. Maybe he'd even be fired.
That, of course, did not happen. But it's only by comparison to the most extreme corners of the conversation that the actual result of the university's response is anything less than shocking, given the protagonist: Tressel will serve a two-game suspension this fall for a violation of NCAA Bylaw 10.1 – specifically, failing to report emails that he received from an attorney last spring implicating two players in a federal drug-trafficking investigation. He'll also be fined $250,000.
Now, we know the investigation in question was into a Columbus tattoo parlor where at least six players (quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Boom Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Jordan Whiting) had sold jerseys, championship rings and other memorabilia in exchange for free services, the violations that eventually cost all except Whiting the first five games of the 2011 season. (Though, conveniently enough, it did not keep them out of the Sugar Bowl in January.) When he received the emails last April, though, Tressel was sufficiently spooked by the legal ramifications – "quite honestly, I was scared" – that he didn't consider betraying the sender's request for anonymity, even to the university. "I didn't move forward simply because in my mind, I couldn't think of who that best would be to talk to," he said. "What was most important was that we didn't interfere with a federal investigation."
Well, then, objective achieved: The feds moved on the tattoo parlor in early December, when it first informed the university of the players' connection to the business. But the consequence of his silence, even beyond the practical annoyances of a suspension and stiff fine, is that Tressel – "the Sweatervest," "the Senator," one of the most entrenched and above-the-fray reputations in his profession – has now suffered the blackest mark against his name in 25 years as a head coach. Only one other active FBS coach has suffered the same fate: New Mexico's Mike Locksley, who sat out a game in 2009 for allegedly punching an assistant coach earlier in the season. Dubious company.
Which two games will Tressel sit out? The first two on the 2011 schedule: Home dates with Akron and Toledo on Sept. 3 and Sept. 10. He can't be present in the stadium or have any contact with anyone therein. (So forget the Luther Van Damme strategy.) He may also be suspended from spring practice and summer camps. His first game back will be at Miami on Sept. 17, still without Pryor, Herron, Posey and Adams on offense.
Are they done with the NCAA? No. Athletic director Gene Smith said the university contacted the NCAA about Tressel's (lack of) response on Feb. 3, and formally launched an investigation itself on Feb. 8. That investigation remains ongoing. The discipline against Tressel and press conference Tuesday were strictly in response to the Yahoo! report on Monday. The NCAA can still apply further penalties, including potentially vacating the 12 wins in which the suspended players participated last year, apparently with at least some indication (and likely much more than that) on Tressel's part that they may be ineligible.
Who is the attorney tipster? If we ever know, it's not going to be from Ohio State – at least, not until the investigation is long dead and buried. As it is, Tressel's admission that the email(s) came from an attorney came across as a minor slip.
Will any players be charged in the criminal investigation? No.
Is Tressel now in legitimate danger of being fired, or having his contract voided? As of now, no. Smith made that clear enough: "At the end of the day, Jim Tressel is our football coach." (OSU president Gordon Gree cracked that he hoped Tressel wouldn't fire him.) That's mainly because Tressel isn't Bruce Pearl; his reputation to this point has been relatively impeccable. But it also depends on what else comes to light in the course of the investigation, and what potential consequences any new revelations bring. Tuesday is strike one.
Like, what other new revelations? Why was Tressel quiet for so long? Why did he stay quiet about the emails throughout the investigation into the players' memorabilia sales in December? Why did he eventually come forward about the emails more than a month later? When did he realize the players were likely guilty of NCAA violations? When did he realize he was likely guilty of NCAA violations by not coming forward when he was tipped off? Did anyone else at the university know what Tressel knew?
No, this isn't over by a long shot.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.