Today the NCAA announced that former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel would receive a five year show cause. Remember all those people who tried to argue with me that Tressel’s acts weren’t worse than Bruce Pearl? Well, they were wrong. Ohio State tried to protect Tressel, but then they eventually threw him to the NCAA wolves. Back in March Ohio State said a two-game coaching penalty represented the “sweet spot” for Tressel’s actions.
Now he’s gone for five years.
In conjunction with the three-year show cause received by Bruce Pearl it seems clear that the NCAA is now waging war on coaches. Gone are the days when a coach could skip from program to program leaving behind ruin in his wake. Nowadays the NCAA’s message is clear, if you were there and violations occurred, it’s going to be really damn hard to argue that you don’t bear the penalty as well.
In going after coaches the NCAA has acquiesced to university complaints that players and coaches created the problems and then leapt away just before the hammer fell.
Tressel is now 59 years old. By the time his show cause runs out he’ll be 64. For all intents and purposes his college coaching career is over.
Meanwhile, for Ohio State, the final NCAA penalties are trivial at best. Nine scholarships over three years — oh, no 82 scholarship players instead of 85! — and a bowl ban for next season. Given that the Buckeyes weren’t likely to be contending for a national title in 2012, what do you lose, exactly? Not a whole hell of a lot. Urban Meyer will start with a fresh slate come 2013. And isn’t Urban Meyer worth a year’s bowl ban in a straight up trade? Or do you think there are Buckeye fans dancing in the streets over this year’s trip to the Taxslayer.com Bowl? Ohio State’s program will survive and, probably, thrive. Early media focus will be on the lost scholarships and one-year bowl pan aspects of this penalty, but that’s a red herring. The real story here is the NCAA walloping Jim Tressel.
And for Tressel, the man whose sweater vest had come to embody a state, what a tremendous fall from glory. When Tressel found out his fate, he had to think, if only for a minute, what if I’d never tried to recruit Terrelle Pryor at all? And maybe that is the lasting message to coaches, be careful what players you bring in to your program. You can’t just dismiss the wrong player any longer, he can end your career. Especially if you try and protect him as well.
Make no mistake, Tressel’s actions were far from perfect, but did he behave any more poorly than his institution did in choosing not to fire him the moment they uncovered these wrongdoings? Did he conduct a sham investigation as Ohio State did on multiple occasions? Did he work a sweetheart deal with the Sugar Bowl to ensure that ineligible players were eligible to compete? Did he come back time after time to the NCAA and the media and say everything was public even when it wasn’t?
Of course not.
Yet Tressel is the sweatered scapegoat for all that Ohio State did wrong.
Ultimately the message from the NCAA is clear to everyone — give up your coaches and we’ll tread lightly on your punishment.
(USC interlude here, the Trojans got screwed. But they got screwed under the old NCAA rubric. That is, the university bears the brunt of the punishment as opposed to the coach. If USC had this to do all over again it would probably try to pin knowledge on Pete Carroll instead of protecting the coach and letting him jump to the NFL just ahead of the lynch mob. If USC could have given up Pete Carroll there’s no way the NCAA hits them like they did. Even still, no reasonable person can argue that what USC did — have one player accept improper benefits — was anywhere near as big of a deal as Ohio State’s Pryor cover-up. Dumb fans will focus on free tattoos and complain, but that’s not the story. The story is the massive cover-up orchestrated from the top down.)
Coaches are now facing a serious dilemma — should I be loyal to my players or my university? Especially since both are unlikely to be loyal to me when investigators come calling. The new NCAA policy seems designed to ensure coaches turn in the school and players at the first hint of wrongdoing. Fail to do so and you might not just lose your job, you might lose your ability to make a living.
Lots of coaches have to be asking themselves this question right now, would my career be over if I’d recruited Terrelle Pryor too?
For an awful lot of them, I think the answer is yes.