To understand why obviously successful — and seemingly thoughtful — individuals in the Mahoning Valley go weak in the knees whenever they envision Jim Tressel sitting in the president’s office on the campus of Youngstown State University — and are willing to overlook “The Lie” — consider the following note from one of the former football coach’s disciples:
“I have written you once before with all the facts concerning the situation at OSU [Ohio State University] and Jim Tressel.
“I hope that you never have the choice that he had to expose a federal criminal investigation that would put 2 major drug dealers in jail due to ‘Tatoo man’ roll over.
“You just can’t seem to get beyond making Coach Tressel some kind of man with a criminal past. Your lack of research or even giving him a benefit of a doubt amazes me.
“But like Gordon Gee [former president of Ohio State] and Gene Smith [Ohio State athletic director] you throw him under the bus.
“If you ever have young people in your charge and you see what drugs do to their lives, you most probably will never understand.”
The note was from Kenneth Conatser, who served as an assistant football coach under Tressel for more than 20 years.
So, there it is. Tressel, the national championship-winning coach when he was at YSU and Ohio State, should be sanctified, not condemned.
And YSU trustees, like their counterparts at the University of Akron, agree. Tressel has made it to the final six for the Youngstown State presidency, and he’s one of three finalists at Akron.
Last week, this writer presented the argument that with YSU’s future hanging in a balance, the institution needs at its helm an academic who has a track record of building a major program virtually from scratch, instead of a former football coach.
Dr. Martin Abraham, dean of the nationally renowned Science, Technology, Engineering and Math College, had applied for the presidency, as he had done last year, but again failed to make it to the final six. Abraham is a finalist for a provost position in another major university, and could well join the legions of high ranking officials who are abandoning Youngstown State.
Tressel’s inclusion in the list of six — there are two other non-academic candidates and three candidates from academia — is an insult to Abraham, who has proven his worth to the university. His departure could be a major setback in establishing YSU as the center for additive manufacturing research and development in the state of Ohio.
Nonetheless, the trustees seem willing to let a valuable member of the university’s academic community leave, but are bending over backwards to keep an ex-football coach with the taint of an NCAA sanction on the short list.
Given that, perhaps it’s instructive to think of Tressel’s fall from grace in terms of the Catholic church’s view of sin. According to church doctrine, there are two kinds: a mortal sin, which will get you a one-way ticket to hell unless you repent by doing major penance; and a venial sin, which can be wiped clean by an Act of Contrition, three Hail Marys and a donation to the church (this last one is optional).
Thus, in the case of Tressel’s lying to the NCAA in the Ohio State football scandal known as Tattoogate, his supporters see it as a minor infraction. Why did the NCAA pick on poor Jim when such violations are commonplace in college football, they ask.
The simple answer is that Tressel signed a document required by the NCAA saying he was not aware of his players violating the collegiate association’s rules, when, in fact, he had in his possession emails from a source saying that some of the players had received free tattoos, cash and other items of value in exchange for Ohio State football memorabilia.
But all that is water under the bridge.
The new and improved Jim Tressel is executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron, and he will be meeting with that university community this week.
This weekend, YSU trustees were scheduled to conduct Skype interviews with the six candidates with the goal of selecting three finalists.
Thus the question: Should we all join the Tressel juggernaut? The answer depends on whether you think “The Lie” is a big deal, or was an act of supreme sacrifice by the former coach.