Posted by Adam Jacobi
Any doubt as to whether Ohio State would continue to stand behind its man Jim Tressel through the NCAA investigation was answered today when Tressel announced his immediate resignation from the program. Sure, that's not the same as being fired, but as the Columbus Dispatch reports, that resignation was "encouraged" by Ohio State. The Associate Press' account of the meeting doesn't seem to stray very far from that notion, either.
That departure might be the only thing that saves Ohio State from the worst the NCAA can throw at the Buckeyes. The NCAA's notice of allegations mentions misdeeds by exactly one Ohio State staff member: Tressel. There's also the players' sales of memorabilia and other impermissible benefits received, but that's an eligibility issue, and one that Tressel single-handedly worsened by flagrantly failing to comply with NCAA regulations. If Tressel is removed from the equation, how much punishment does the rest of the OSU athletic department deserve? The way the NCAA's allegations are written, it doesn't appear to be a whole lot.
So assuming the NCAA doesn't break a bat across the figurative back of the Ohio State football program, considering the entirety of Tressel's tenure in Columbus, will his legacy be overall positive or negative? In other words, would OSU -- or any other school -- do it all over again?
Here are the positives: A 106-22 (66-14) record in one of the most high-profile football conferences in the nation, seven conference championships (either shared or outright), eight BCS bowl game appearances, three BCS National Championship appearances, and one BCS National Championship. Oh, and a 9-1 record against Michigan, a domination that doomed UM coach Lloyd Carr just as much as Tressel's predecessor John Cooper was done in by his ineffectual rivalry record. Few coaches in college history can match a 10-year spree like that. CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy wondered aloud whether Tressel was only good because he cheated; I'm not so sure that causation exists.
The negatives are less numerous, of course, but they're bad. Ohio State's two brightest stars in the Tressel era, Maurice Clarett and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, were both involved in allegations of preferential treatment (Clarett's troubles got much worse, of course, but that's not exactly something to tie back to Tressel). There's a potential situation with Ohio State players and local car dealerships, although there's no allegation (official or otherwise) of any wrongdoing just yet. And then, of course, this, the scandal that just cost Tressel his job. The hand grenade that Tressel had to jump on after he threw it at his players. Lying to the school and to the NCAA about his players' eligibility is, short of major criminal activity or physically endangering his players, just about the worst thing Tressel could have done as a coach.
The highest of highs. The lowest of lows. The situation's not quite over yet, but what amount of punishment would make Tressel's ten-year tenure not worth it to Ohio State? After all, the entire point of college football is to play for national championships and to beat the living daylights out of your rivals, and Jim Tressel did that in spades. Ohio State's on a streak of seven straight BCS bowl game appearances. Seven. Even if the NCAA hands down a postseason ban of a couple years--and there's not a whole lot about this situation right now that appears to warrant such a ban--is that really enough to put a cloud of shame over the Tressel Era forever? Would no college football fan endure two years' probation for 106-22 in the 10 years prior?
It's not just an idle thought exercise, either. It took Ohio State over five months and the threat of new forthcoming allegations to finally force Tressel out, after all. So that means in OSU's eyes, the stuff that was on that letter of allegations most certainly did not outweigh Tressel's positives. That troubles Gregg Doyel, and it troubles me too. Here's why: if whatever the NCAA throws at Ohio State isn't enough to ruin Jim Tressel's career in the eyes of fans or athletic departments, well, what's to stop this all from happening again and again?