Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that lov'd not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplex'd in the extreme. . . .
Passion is a curious thing. People are capable of the most heinous crimes and the most heroic sacrifices in the name of love; whether love of family, love of country, love of money and power, or simply love of the game. Passion makes us, and it ultimately ends us.
And in truth, it was Jim Tressel's passion for football, and his love of Ohio State that allowed him to achieve everything he did in his decade as Head Coach. That passion, plain to see to anyone who meets him, gave him the dedication necessary to succeed, and it carried over to the players on his team. From the moment he stepped onto the court back in 2001 for "The Speech" he's been the very embodiment of Ohio State tradition.
When word leaked of his knowledge of the Tat-5, it was not a betrayal of the university and evidence of a duplicitous and conniving con-man who lied to everyone for an entire decade. You cannot fake the kind of sincere admiration and respect that Jim Tressel has for Ohio State, nor can you deny that most every person the man has touched claims they are better people for it.
So when people start tossing around words like "immoral" with regards to Tressel's recent actions, I cringe. The reality is, following or breaking rules is not an inherently immoral action. Motivation matters.
I cannot claim to know the mind of the man, by all accounts Jim Tressel tried to act in what he considered the interests of his team and his university, rather then for himself. And if the university and team are suffering for his sins, he certainly bore the brunt of the resulting response.
That's not to say that Tressel's conduct had to be entirely unselfish, himself a martyr to the evil NCAA empire. The rules are in place for a reason, and what is good for the Buckeyes and The Ohio State University is not necessarily good for all of the other Universities in the country, or College Football generally. As admirable as love of family/clan/team/whatever is, the greater good is more important than any constituent part.
We can blame Pryor for being an entitled and spoiled punk, we could blame Christopher Cicero for his self-serving reveal of his correspondences, or we could blame the NCAA for it's Kafka-esque rulebook that seems to have more to do with appearances than fairness. But Tressel bears the ultimate responsibility for his demise.
In Shakespeare's play, Othello's passion for Desdemona ends up destroying both of them in the end. In much the same way, Tressel's dedication to those he cared about the most ultimately led to his demise, and significant hardship for those connected.
I don't know whether Tressel deserves any sympathy. I don't know if he's merely the latest in a long line of ignonimous exits. What I do know is that he had to leave the program, and what I do know is that Jim Tressel has made many young men better people for working with him.
As with all things in life, the exit of Jim Tressel is a messy, complex, and entirely gray thing. What can you call a good man whose passion both destroyed himself and cast down his house? It is the essence of tragedy; that love can destroy.