I want to follow up on my previous post on Jim Tressel and Ohio State, a post which I started late on Monday evening and jumped back in to finish on Wednesday afternoon, making the message somewhat disjointed.
My bottom line argument is this: Given what actually transpired, I think it's fair to ask whether Ohio State supporters should continue to support Jim Tressel as the head coach. I made the point that while it seems increasingly clear that there are limits to what's going to be handed down from the NCAA, that should not necessarily end the discussion.
Here's what we know:
1. Ohio State players committed flagrant violations of NCAA rules. We're not talking about accidentally in the same room as a booster's son. These were obvious, flagrant violations: the sale of autographs and memorabilia for hard cash.
2. Jim Tressel learned about these activities not terribly long after they occurred. He did not receive partial information, but rather was presented with the damning truth. He knew what happened, and all of what happened.
3. Upon learning what happened, Jim Tressel tried to brush the problem under the rug. That is, rather than taking the issue to the athletics department and its compliance division, he took actions consistent with an administrator who assumed this could all be kept out of the public light.
4. The transgressions did come to public light, and Jim Tressel was questioned about his knowledge of the incidents. Jim Tressel lied, not only failing to disclose the actions he did take, but purporting not to have known about them at all.
5. When email records made clear that Tressel did know about them, he had a second chance to come clean, but revised his story, stating that while he had heard about the allegations, he simply did not handle them exactly as he should have.
6. Email records made clear that Tressel's subsequent story was also a lie. He not only knew about the transgressions, but he did much more to try and keep them buried than he had let on in his first mea culpe.
Now imagine if we redacted Jim Tressel's name, substituted "Coach X" in its stead, and asked everyone whether the coach in question should be able to keep his job. First of all, you'd point out that every other coach who had violated the same NCAA bylaws that Tressel did with his cover up had been fired. And second of all, you'd probably wonder, "Well, if we know how Coach X handled this situation, what does it suggest about all the situations that we know nothing about? About which there is no evidence? About which he succeeded in keeping the dirty laundry away from the public eye?"
Is that not the situation that we're in with Jim Tressel? That is, even if we can somehow concoct a justification for Jim Tessel not getting fired for this incident, does it not damningly suggest that we should wonder whether there are other incidents that he has successfully covered up? Personally, I think his actions in the present case warrant a dismissal, but even if one were to conclude that these particular violations are not, on their own, enough to fire him, what about the way that he tried to cover them up? And much more damningly, the way that he then lied about them?
Are we really to believe that this was it? That this was a lone incident? Even if it was, how can we know? How can we know when Tressel demonstrated his willingness to lie? And then when confronted with new evidence, to lie again?
Isn't that game over? Shouldn't it be? That's the question I'm struggling with, and that's what I was getting at in my original post when I argued that this is, ultimately, a referendum on Ohio State athletics. Because while the NCAA's sanctions may be limited to that which has been clearly established in the present instance, the totality of the facts make it hard to believe that Jim Tressel is to be believed.
Jim Tressel didn't just screw up. He screwed up, and then lied about it. And then in getting caught in that lie, lied about it again. It is, I can't help but conclude, the actions of a man who we shouldn't trust to have done the right thing in the past. What else is there that we don't know about? Jim Tressel clearly has had no qualms about keeping it from us. As far as I'm concerned, the actions suggest -- strongly -- that we should conclude there's lots more to Ohio State football under Jim Tressel that we don't know.
And that is what seems to be eluding Ohio State supporters. They are mounting a defense of Tressel based on the limited facts of this case. And to the extent that this case was limited just to the player transgressions and a sincere, but improper, response from Jim Tressel, perhaps I could agree.
But he lied. And then he lied again. Everything about his actions suggests that he treated this as just another inconvenience to be swept under the rug. He acted as a man who had done it before, gotten away with it before, and was surprised to get caught. That's the problem.
And that's why he wouldn't keep his job almost anywhere else. He's surviving on his past accomplishments.
Except those have nothing to do with anything that I just said. Which makes this whole thing a referendum on Ohio State athletics. I get why they want to support him. I just don't understand how they can.