Today was the day I planned to release Part 4 of my Big Ten preview for 2011, but this story needed to be addressed.
Of all the days that Ohio State could have announce this, why now? Why did Jim Tressel leave his vacation in Florida to fly back to Columbus to end it now?
While most will think it is surrounding the fact that Sports Illustrated is planning on releasing an article that will even further ignite fire in the Ohio State camp, it now leaves numerous questions that need to be answered for the time being.
Memorial Day, on vacation with his family—what made Jim Tressel go out of his way to say that he now wanted to end his partnership with Ohio State? We will obviously know more as the day and the week progresses, but it's a question that is running through everyone's head right now.
Of course, all of the major news outlets and sports reporters are centered around this story, rather than serving tribute to Memorial Day and the incredible finish to the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
It's not the ideal headline Ohio State wanted to see today.
Is Tressel Taking the Bullet?
It remains to be seen, but I say yes. Jim Tressel is by far one of the more honorable men you could meet face to face.
He has a great family and support system behind him, and he is loyal to his family and the program he controlled.
Imagine the implications for the Ohio State football program if Tressel decided to stay on as coach. The NCAA wouldn't use the "death penalty" on a program like OSU, but there's no doubt that scholarships, victories, championships and even future bowl game invites would have to be removed from the picture.
Were Gene Smith and E. Gordon Gee Prepared To Face the Storm?
Throughout the past few months, every indication was that Ohio State was keeping Tressel on and not ditching him. Smith and Gee were as loyal to Tressel as he was to Ohio State.
To answer the question—yes. Ohio State was prepared to batten down the hatches and face this thing head on. That's how far it appeared the athletic department and the University were going to go for their coach.
It shows the amount of respect and loyalty that they have for a guy who is arguably the most successful coach in Ohio State history next to Woody Hayes. It also shows even more how much Jim Tressel meant to this program and this university.
What Sanctions Is Ohio State Up Against?
As of now, The Columbus Dispatch reports the Buckeyes could "face postseason bans, the entire coaching staff could be suspended and the school could lose scholarships, according to NCAA rules."
With the storm that's coming from Sports Illustrated, you can bet the house that hardware will be removed from the trophy case, banners will be taken down, scholarships will take a hit and postseason trips will be a distant memory.
Tressel, Gee, athletic director Gene Smith and others are being asked to meet with the NCAA infractions committee on Aug. 12 in Indianapolis. At the hearing, OSU will answer questions and explain itself. At some point after that, the NCAA will rule on the ultimate punishment.
How Far Will This Set Back the Program?
Again, another wait-and-see question with short-term and long-term impact.
In the short-term, I believe Ohio State will lose games—more than most Buckeye fans would like to see.
Think about this: In each of the last six years, Ohio State has won more than 10 games, taken home a Big Ten championship trophy, appeared in a BCS bowl, gone to two national championship games and has not been defeated by Michigan.
Buckeye Nation better be prepared to throw all of that out the window and lower its expectations. Of course, a bowl game will be the minimum expectation for any season going forward and with a possible postseason ban looming, you've got to expect at least six wins from the Buckeyes.
Along with that, Buckeye fans better be prepared to lose a few big-name recruits here and there. Jim Tressel was the kind of guy you sent in to ink that letter of intent whenever a recruit was on the fence.
Having him out of the picture will make future prospects think twice about their commitment to the Buckeyes. The class of 2012 could take a hit, but we know the 2011 class is already set in stone.
The long-term impact may not be as severe as most people think.
Five years down the road, it will still be Ohio State football. OSU is still the powerhouse of the Big Ten and the Buckeyes are still the team that fills a 105,000-seat stadium every single Saturday.
Of course, recruiting may take a hit with a new coach at the helm (depending on whether that's Luke Fickell or someone else), but that doesn't mean OSU will lose in-state guys who have to choose between Columbus or a small MAC school.
What Will the Coaching Situation Be After This Year?
We know Luke Fickell was named interim head coach for the 2011 season. Once that was announced, the question became who will Ohio State go after in December?
All this time, Mr. Fickell is yelling out, "Hey! What about me?" And that's a valid question.
Fickell has been at Ohio State under Tressel when the former Youngstown State head coach came to Ohio State in 2001. Fickell has been coaching since 2000, four years after his graduation from Ohio State, where he dominated the middle of the defensive line.
Why can't the former Buckeye defensive lineman be the actual head coach in Columbus after this season? He certainly has the experience coaching at OSU, and he's got an extensive background in the state of Ohio.
He is already a tireless recruiter and a guy that knows the defensive side of the ball tremendously well.
We will have to wait and see how he combats the pressures of being the new head man in Columbus, but there's no reason to count Fickell out as the true hire after the 2011 season.
If not Fickell, the first name that immediately jumps out is Urban Meyer, the former Florida Gators head coach.
Meyer got his coaching start at Ohio State back in the mid-'80s coaching tight ends and receivers in his two years at OSU.
He's also been wildly successful at his three head coaching stints at Bowling Green, Utah and obviously in Gainesville. He's a guy that grew up in Ohio, and has been noted as saying that Ohio State would be a place he could see himself running to if the job ever opened up.
At this point though it's pure speculation to think Meyer is the next in line at Ohio State, seeing as how Meyer quit one of the best coaching jobs in college football to combat his stress levels and any health problems he was facing. (It serves to mention as well that he's getting paid quite nicely at ESPN).
So if Fickell and Meyer aren't options, who else could be in line? People have thrown around the name that always seems to get around when a job opens up—Jon Gruden. That's a bit of a stretch.
A name that could be a better possibility is TCU head man Gary Patterson, but again, all of this is purely speculation at this time.
What's Next for Ohio State?
I can tell you one thing: Buckeye fans are all mourning the loss of one of the most beloved coaches in college football.
Jim Tressel was more than just a football coach. He was an icon, a leader and an authority figure that spoke volumes in the Buckeye state. He was a guy that developed boys into men, and someone that showed character in everything that he did.
Of course, that last statement could be a bit contradictory to what he tried to cover up in his last months as head coach, but there's no doubting the type of person Jim Tressel is.
So what's next for Ohio State? Is this an SMU situation or is this a more manageable situation much like the Indiana University basketball team faced?
While I don't think the NCAA "death penalty" would ever come down on a football program ever again, the penalties could be severe for Ohio State. Scholarships and victories will be gone, and recruits will be making a beeline to a program where they won't face sanctions.
The big word that comes into play here is loyalty. Loyalty certainly does live in Columbus, whether it is to the fans, the players, the administrators or the coaches that are at Ohio State.
If you commit to play for the Buckeyes, you immediately develop a sense of loyalty towards the program. That will never go away with NCAA sanctions or violations, which leads to my final question...
Will This Bring Down Ohio State or Strengthen the University and Its Supporters?
Another question that will have to wait to be answered, but knowing Ohio State and being from a Buckeye family, it could be a little of both.
Being a part of the Cooper years and seeing the tail end of the Bruce years, it's tough to gauge whether or not this will bring down the program for a lengthy period of time or be a minor speed bump.
My personal opinion: This will make Ohio State stronger and provide an even bolder bond across the nation.
Times of crisis are the moments that bring everyone together against one cause.
Of course, negativity will creep in over the next couple months, but the support that Luke Fickell will have should be strong.
Buckeye fans should never abandon their beloved program, even in times of need. Fans should still pack every seat at the Horseshoe no matter what circumstances are pending.
It's all about loyalty, and if you are a Buckeye fan, alum, follower or family descendent like me, you never desert your roots or leave your Ohio State Buckeyes.
That's the way I'll be following, and that's the way every Buckeye should follow across the nation.