It was Memorial Day around the rest of the country, but it likely seemed like Doomsday in central Ohio.
The news that beloved—but beleaguered—Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was quitting under fire hit Columbus and the sports world like the worst kind of natural disaster. With LeBron James having taken his talents to South Beach, Jim Tressel is the biggest sports name in the state of Ohio.
Even though Tressel has been under scrutiny for months and had voluntarily agreed to miss games without pay next season as a self-imposed penalty for failing to report what he knew about rules violations, most sports observers felt Tressel might be wounded, but would never take himself out.
Yet Tressel—whose resume at Ohio State includes a national championship, seven Big Ten titles and a $3.5 million salary—will now be known as a liar. He admittedly hid the truth from investigators, rather than take the risk of exposing his star players and his team to possible NCAA sanctions.
I know its Jim Tressel’s head on the chopping block, but I suspect there are many other guilty parties here, too. And with new reports that star quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, is under another investigation by the NCAA—along with accusations that other Ohio State players “sold” memorabilia and have taken improper gifts—this burgeoning scandal looks and feels as bad as any set of sports misdeeds in recent memory.
If in fact any of the allegations against players and the apparent “cover up” by coach Tressel are true, then what this case really exposes is the unfortunate need for players and dozens, if not hundreds of fans and supporters, to play misguided roles in athletic glory.
Tressel Trouble is also about Columbus, Ohio, a great city that probably loves its football team a bit too much. Yes, The Ohio State University is smack in the middle of the capital city, but it’s the school’s football team which occupies this city’s heart.
This is fine, until boosters and hangers on take that idolization too far—handing out improper gifts, free lunches and dinners, cars, trips and cash—ultimately compromising a once proud program and forcing a coach to resign. Apparently no one seems to know what the limits are or they just don’t care.
It would be one thing if what is suspected about Ohio State’s players, boosters and coach is an isolated incident, but, sadly, most of us know deep down something resembling the Ohio State scandal is probably going on right now at dozens of other major college football and basketball programs.
Some might argue that this is the cost of doing business in order to reach the top of the college sports ladder. True enough, but it also speaks to misplaced values and putting team glory and winning at any cost—far above honor and honesty.