One week ago tonight the façade of Jim Tressel as the virtuous, detail-oriented rule-following ambassador of doing the right thing was splintered by the news that he sat on information that could have ruled several star players ineligible ahead of the 2010 season. It’s been a difficult seven days that won’t get any easier until some sort of resolution is reached by the NCAA, and even then the prospect of comfortably stomaching this crisis that was entirely preventable – by the one guy at Ohio State you would want to prevent it – should still be vexing.
You’ve had a week to let it fully marinate that Tressel deliberately cheated and obscured the truth about what he knew – with multiple opportunities to disclose his knowledge – before getting caught. Whether you buy into the unsubstantiated tales of Feds telling him to keep quiet while they went after bigger fish in their investigation or if you truly believe his consideration for NCAA rules was secondary to the gravity of a Federal drug trafficking investigation ultimately doesn’t matter. Cheating, albeit with an asterisk, is cheating. No matter how silly you think the rule against players selling their own stuff is, covering it up is a foul by any classification.
You would have thought that these past seven days which culminated with a second-consecutive Big Ten tournament title and the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament would have been austerely superb. Unfortunately that was indirectly tainted by this unresolved scandal; Gene Smith’s coincidental visibility as the head of the NCAA selection committee only elevated the shame, and Kirk Herbstreit’s disgraceful exit from Central Ohio helped make last week one of the worst in memory for Buckeye fans despite the confetti in Indianapolis.
It’s a lesson from history as well as from any entry-level criminal justice class: The punishment for the crime is potentially minor compared to the retribution for covering it up. It’s a lesson from Watergate that shouldn’t have been lost on a head coach who was quarterbacking a college football team while Richard Nixon’s onion was being very publicly peeled.
It’s also a lesson you learn as a child when you lie about a relatively minor offense. Had Tressel acted immediately upon reading the email he received about the Tat Five back in April, certainly there would have been fallout. Those repercussions would have felt like love tap by comparison to what covering them up has already and will continue to spawn. Tressel metaphorically told the cop who pulled him over that he ‘just wasn’t thinking about the speed limit.’ That’s the best way to guarantee you’re getting a ticket outside of being under the influence.
Unfortunately it’s been a magnificent week for what Shakespeare used to refer to as the sneering shit-talkin’ hater brigade (I didn’t say which Shakespeare) and you’ve been forced to take a position that could only be made more uncomfortable if you were in a Prius at a biker rally. You’re not allowed to tell these people that Tressel does things the right way anymore, because despite all of the good that he has and will still do, this is one of those blemishes that you can’t ever cover up.
Over the course of one terrible week, you’ve had to hear repeatedly about how crooked and smarmy Tressel is while being told how lousy your fan base is to have driven Herbie out of Ohio. Your coach is a liar and Ohio State fans suck on a level that actually produced a reluctant home state exodus. It’s not an unprecedented earthquake of immeasurable catastrophic tragedy, but it still kind of sucks.
As a public service you should consider helping these unhelpful, hating assbags understand that while Tressel is certainly guilty by his own admission, Herbstreit’s public swipe at Ohioans on his way out of state was simply one last cheap shot at Buckeye fans who had the audacity to take exception to his seemingly unending hypocrisy, not be taken by his celebrity or mindlessly slurp up his empty Mad Libs analysis when it came to Ohio State football.
Herbstreit blamed the “vocal minority” of Buckeye fans for driving him out of Ohio while reiterating the hyperbolic claim that he is the world’s most ardent lover of Ohio State (that’s what “no one loves Ohio State more than me” means, in case you’re having trouble believing he said that). He cited five to 10 percent of Buckeye fans at fault for pushing him to relocate.
Let’s pretend he was talking about just the Buckeye fans of Columbus, which is a town of about 788,000 per the most recent census. Now let’s pretend only half of Columbus’ population are Ohio State fans, and we’ll use Herbie’s low percentage figure for the haters who drove him out of town. You, the overzealous 20,000 Buckeye fans he was talking about – you drove Herbstreit out of his home. Shame on you, vocal minority.
Shame on the one out of 20 Buckeye fans who hurt Herbstreit’s feelings so badly that he had to pack up and move to Tennessee. You have to consider the state of Herbie’s emotional intelligence or lack thereof; this is a 41-year old millionaire whose Twitter feed reads like it’s written by a star-struck teenager. Regardless of the criticism from his home base, criticism and scrutiny are an integral element of celebrity. It comes with money and fame; it’s part of the lucrative package that comes with having your opinion aired on television, radio and print.
He has taken so many unwarranted swipes – not critiques or criticisms; swipes – at Ohio State that it became increasingly difficult to tolerate him on the national stage; his last swipe on his way out of town illustrates how poorly Herbstreit handles critics, whether their criticism is valid or not. For someone whose self-proclaimed love of Ohio State is greater than anyone else’s, it screams of thin skin and a meager ego incapable of handling being challenged.
It’s a lesson you learn as a child when you’re incapable for accepting blame or apologizing for things that you’ve said. Had Herbstreit apologized after saying he would ‘never send his son to play for Jim Tressel’ on ESPN in the midst of a frustrating three-game losing streak, certainly Buckeye fans would have understood (October 2004 for frustrating for all of us).
Had he apologized for stupidly dropping the Buckeyes three spots in his final AP ballot after Ohio State beat Arkansas, certainly he would have been forgiven. Had he uttered one peep in defense of his most beloved university while his network committed full-blown character assassination on virtually every element of his football program for the entire second half of the 2004 Alamo Bowl, or had he simply apologized for staying quiet, he wouldn’t be widely viewed as a traitor or a sellout.
Herbstreit’s last swipe at Ohio State fans came during the most challenging week that they’ve had to face in years, probably going back to Troy Smith’s aforementioned $500 handshake. On top of what he said, he has been trying to sell his Upper Arlington house for years – moving isn’t something he hastily decided to do last week. It’s impossible to selectively throw just the unruly minority of any fan base under the bus, and he knows it. By implicating the fans for his move out of Ohio, he threw everyone under the bus, with impeccable timing to boot.
Predictably, the unfortunate events of this past week overshadowed the accomplishments of the basketball team. Just as everyone associated with Ohio State benefits from the football team’s triumphs, everyone also has to pay the price for its misdeeds. This is everyone’s penance, not just Tressel’s for being at the center of it.
Both Herbstreit and Tressel have possessed and punted much of the goodwill that they were long entitled to in just being who they were. You’ve got two legacies here; one that has been completely destroyed from the inside out and is on its way to Tennessee, and the other that has taken on significant damage, also by its own doing. There are 37 painful weeks in the college football offseason and you’d be hard-pressed to cite one that’s been worse for an Ohio State fan. Hopefully sometime over the next few weeks, we’ll get some relief in the form of the best offseason week possible.