That’s all that really can be said.
The Ohio State University held a press conference tonight to address the situation that was brought to light by the report by Yahoo! Sports that head coach Jim Tressel knew of the selling of sports memorabilia by some of his players as early as April of 2010 but failed to report the violation to the NCAA. This is a clear NCAA violation on the coach’s part. Tressel explained his his regret of the situation and how it was handled during the press conference.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that this happened at all,” Tressel said. “I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously and for the game of football. I plan to grow from this. I’m sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and didn’t do things as well as I possibly could have.”
The situation from the outside looks pretty clean cut. Tressel received and email from an attorney that stated some of his players were involved in the selling of their school issued memorabilia to a local tattoo parlor owner, Eddie Rife. In the email, the attorney states that Rife is in the middle of an on-going federal drug trafficking investigation and that his players should steer clear of Rife. Tressel responded by saying that he would “get on it ASAP”. That email was dated April 2, 2010.
Two weeks later, the unnamed attorney emailed Jim Tressel again, this time in more detail. He wrote that he had met with Rife and he told him he about 15 pairs of cleats and 4-5 jerseys, all signed by Ohio State players. Also, he said he had 9 Big Ten Championship rings and a National Championship ring, presumably from the 2002 National Championship. In an email dated the same day, but a few hours later, the attorney tells Tressel that he should keep his house and the tattoo parlor off limits to his players and that they should not be mixed up with Rife. He even offers to get Tressel a slate photo of Rife so he can show his players he knows what they are up to. To these emails Tressel responds “I hear you!! It is unbelievable!! Thanks for your help…Keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up…”
So by April 16th, we know that Tressel was fully aware of what was going on and, according to his statement on the last email, he had confronted the players about their involvement. Sometime between April 2nd and April 16th, the NCAA should have been notified, according to NCAA bylaws, about the situation that was arising in Columbus. Sadly, they were left in the dark.
Had Tressel reported the actions of his players to the NCAA, the players would have received, in theory, the same punishment they were given this year; A five game suspension for the upcoming season. Tressel would not incur a $250,000 fine and a suspension himself and, for what it’s worth, justice would be served. However, by not reporting these violations, Tressel was in direct violation himself of the NCAA bylaw 10.1.
Here is where it gets more involved. Ohio State believes that Tressel had at least three specific occasions to bring the situation to light but failed to do so. The first in September when he signed the NCAA Certificate of Compliance Form indicating that he has reported any knowledge of possible violations. The next was in December of 2010 when the University was first notified on the information and finally in December 2010 when he was asked if he had any information on his players involvement in the situation. Afterwards, Tressel stated that he knew not reporting the information constituted a NCAA violation, he knew “there would be consequences” and he did not “look at” eligibility issues prior to December 2010, although he acknowledged that the players would eventually be ineligible and the “inevitable” would occur at some point if the players were involved in criminal and/or NCAA violations. So Tressel knew his players were in clear violation but chose to keep it under wraps. This is where the OSU haters will chime in and immediately assume that it was because he did not want to open his season minus his star players. I understandwhere they are coming from as I did the same exact thing when Michigan and Rich Rodriguez were under fire. However, Tressel sites other reasons for withholding the information.
Tressel explained that he felt there were “unusual extenuating circumstances” that he felt prohibited him from informing the University, and subsequently the NCAA, of the information he had received. The first being the anonymity of the attorney that fed him the information. As the attorney asked, Tressel protected the confidentiality of his source. The other being that he did not want to interferwith the federal investigation surrounding Rife. Basically protecting the attorney confidentiality and the integrity of the federal drug trafficking case fell before the NCAA violations on the coach’s list of priorities. I can see where he is coming from, even though it was the wrong choice.
Tressel now sees that he should have complied, like he agreed to in his contract with the University, but like the old saying goes “hindsight is 20/20”. The University has now taken punitive and corrective action on the coach. The corrective actions include reviewing the Universities formal “Protocol for Reporting of Violations” and NCAA Bylaw 10.1 with the entire coaching staff on a quarterly basis throughout the 2011-12 school year and semi-annually in subsequent years. Also, they are requiring the coach to attend a 2011 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar by September 2011. As for the punitive actions, Coach Tressel will have to issue a public apology, serve a two game suspension and pay a $250,000 fine. Remember, these are per the University, not per the NCAA. The NCAA still has to conduct it’s formal investigation on the subject. Therefore, Ohio State as well as Jim Tressel might be looking at a harsher punishment.
You can read the letter to the Director of Enforcement Services as well as the actual emails between coach Tressel and the attorney here.
There are a few things in the emails that stood out to me. The biggest thing was the amount of memorabilia that Rife said he had in his possession. Fifteen pairs of cleats that were signed? Nine Big Ten Championship rings? A National Championship ring? This should be scary for any Ohio State fan. Mainly because it makes it seem like there might have been more players involved in this than originally thought. Moreover, there may be more players from different classes involved. Of course, that National Championship ring and the Big Ten Championship rings could have been sold after the players had left the University and but how will we know?
Jim Tressel’s punishment should feel like a mini victory to Buckeye Nation as of right now but I would keep the champagne on ice for a while. After reading through the documents it really feels like this is the tip of the ice berg. I am an Ohio State fan and a Jim Tressel fan (Youngstown what up) but I am also a realist. I know that this is not over by a long shot. You, as fans, will be inundated with harassment from OSU haters (mainly Michigan fans) but please do not do Buckeye Nation a disservice by acting like Tressel did the right thing. He did not and he, and the program, will now have to suffer because of his poor judgement on the matter.