Sports Commentary
7:27 am
Fri June 3, 2011

Jim Tressel and Ohio State: Cheating is excused. Losing is not

The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State started on January 18, 2001. 

It so happened the Buckeyes had a basketball game that night against Michigan, so it was a good time to introduce their new football coach.  When Tressel stood up to speak, he knew exactly what they wanted. 

He was hired on the heels of John Cooper, whose record at Ohio State was second only to that of Woody Hayes.  But Cooper’s teams lost to Michigan an inexcusable ten times.  Can’t do that.  And you can’t say, “It’s just another game,” either – which might have been his biggest mistake. 

Knowing all this, when Tressel told the crowd, "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.  The place went nuts. “At last,” they said, “somebody gets it!”

Tressel got it – and he proved it, beating Michigan nine out of ten times – and the last seven in a row, a record.  The Buckeyes have also won the last six straight Big Ten titles, another record, plus a national title.    

Jim Tressel is clearly one heck of a coach.  He was also pleasantly professorial, famed for his sweater vest, not his temper. 

But smoke always billowed up behind him.  His previous team, Youngstown State, won three Division I-AA national titles, but one of his stars got in trouble for taking money from a wealthy booster.  The school got in trouble, not Tressel.  At Ohio State, another star was suspected of academic fraud and taking money, too.  But the player got in trouble, not Tressel.

Last spring, however, a few of Tressel’s players traded signed jerseys for tattoos.  Yes, it was against NCAA rules, but it was still relatively small potatoes – until their coach lied about it to the NCAA.   Not once, not twice, but three times.   Once again, it’s not the crime, but the cover-up that does them in – but no one ever seems to learn this. 

Tressel committed his third lie right before the Buckeyes’ big bowl game against Arkansas.  The Big Ten the NCAA and the bowl officials were only too willing to play along.  There was money to be made.  

But after the Buckeyes’ victory, reporters dug a little deeper and discovered an oil spill of corruption -- money, cars, you name it.

The Jim Tressel era ended on Monday, May 30th, 2011, when he “resigned.”  But don’t worry: Tressel will be fine.  He’ll get to keep his national titles and his severance package and he’ll probably get a spot on TV as a color commentator, because the networks seem to prefer hiring only the most corrupt or incompetent coaches for those cushy jobs.

The mess Tressel leaves behind will be for everyone else to clean up: the players, the school and the next coach, for years.  A few former opponents – like Michigan – might get some of their losses to Ohio State erased from their records, but it’s unlikely they’ll charge the field after getting the news.    

And that’s why coaches like Tressel cheat: It works.  The Big Ten and the NCAA don’t want to catch you, and when they finally have to, it’s the guys after you who pay the price.  Years from now, Tressel will be dotting the “i” in “Ohio” at half-time, while John Cooper looks on from the stands.

Cheating is excused.  Losing is not. 

Winning is rewarded.  Playing straight is for suckers.     

Wish I had a better story to tell you.