The smoke and mirrors have given way to mud. Slinging mud, that is, and you haven’t seen anything yet.
Ohio State’s football program is tainted, forever, and the path is as certain as Script Ohio:
Jim Tressel needs to go.
He should resign. If he chooses to stay and fight, then Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith should terminate his contract.
These are not easy words to write. Like you, I was here for most of the Tressel era at Youngstown State University.
Those were glorious times, as the wins kept coming and a berth in the championship game was almost a foregone conclusion.
We all reveled in the shining light of the Penguins’ success, and perhaps we were all a little blinded by that light. Surely, we didn’t want to believe that success was tainted. But it was, thanks to Youngstown businessman Mickey Monus supplying quarterback Ray Isaac, the star of the 1991 championship team, with money and cars. That was the first time his critics had the ammunition to suggest Tressel was not uncomfortable turning a blind eye, or deaf ear, to his players receiving illegal benefits.
And, of course, there were the months of claims and counter-charges involving Maurice Clarett, the star-crossed running back from Youngstown who helped the Buckeyes to the 2002 BCS championship. Clarett claimed Ohio State coaches had helped supply him with cars, money and grades for classes he didn’t attend. Of course, Clarett’s legal troubles didn’t help his cause and Tressel and Ohio State didn’t face any sanctions — while not exactly being exonerated, either.
Even with all that, I believe Jim Tressel to be an honorable man. I know he is a successful one.
I also know him to be a man who makes mistakes. This one is a whopper.
The day Tressel was introduced at Ohio State, his press conference message was so well-delivered, so polished, that many in the room couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe him. It was “too sincere,” they said.
He’s acquired many nicknames since then — “Sweater Vest” and “ The Senator,” to name a couple.
Now, he’s being labeled “Liar” and “Cheater.”
Harsh, indeed, but don’t be naive enough to think those descriptions won’t be used by coaches at other schools during the recruiting process.
That alone should compel Tressel to step down. Even if he believes he acted in the best interests of his players — a flawed premise, without question — the fact is, Ohio State is going to take a substantial hit from the NCAA in terms of lost scholarships and television revenue.
As long as he is at the helm of the ship, competing coaches are going to remind recruits at every possible moment that, if they choose Ohio State, they are going to forfeit a certain amount of exposure and January bowl trips.
The NCAA’s hard-line stance is going to gain traction the longer Tressel stays on and fights.
I believe, if he could go back in time, Tressel would have chosen a different path.
But that is not possible. And, he must suffer the consequences of making the wrong choice.
Jim Tressel is the icon of two universities and their most visible programs.
Unlike YSU, Ohio State football was not built by Jim Tressel. The foundation was solid long before he became its chief architect.
Even when John Cooper was bungling through countless Novembers and the bowl seasons, the Buckeyes were still one of the nation’s elite programs.
On Monday, former Ohio State quarterback and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he believes Cooper, if caught in a similar lie, would have been fired already.
He’s right. There’s something to be said for how much winning games can loosen the noose.
But Tressel is not — and should not be — bigger than the program and the institution he represents.
If he truly loves Ohio State and its football program as much as he has always professed, Tressel should do the honorable thing and resign.
Rob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org