The Worst: Tatgate Was Stupid When It Happened and Has Only Gotten More Absurd Over Time

By Johnny Ginter on June 12, 2020 at 10:10 am
Brutus Buckeye

Jim Tressel deserved to be fired. By the conditions of his contract.

By every other standard (moral, logical, etc.) Jim Tressel should have a statue in front of Ohio Stadium because his "misdeeds" amount to approximately a third of a hill of beans, especially in comparison to... well, literally almost every other college football scandal that followed afterwards.

And that's what this week's The Worst is about. I'm not particularly interested in rehashing every single element of Tatgate, in part because I had the displeasure of having to do it in real time as it was happening:

I want to make clear that these are extremely serious allegations that cannot be dismissed as minor. Not reporting a known rules violation to the NCAA and/or his superiors is a huge violation itself, a lie by omission, and also a specific violation of Tressel's contract with Ohio State. [...] If true, what Tressel is now accused of could very well end his coaching career

Oh cool, I was right. Great.

At the time I was convinced that this was the college football version of Ragnarok. The world was ending, the sun was going out, waters rising and covering the earth... you know, standard apocalyptic crap.

And of course, in the end, Jim Tressel did get fired. Nominally for lying to the NCAA but in actuality for rigging a raffle in the 1980's and also not caring that his players were getting discounts (discounts!) on tattoos via selling their own property. The bastards! MGoBlog breathlessly recounted all of Tressel's sins if you're really interested in walking down an extremely dumb memory lane, but let's get right to the point.

Tatgate is now an infuriating example of how misplaced our priorities are when it comes to college sports.

Around the same time that Terrelle Pryor and company were using their own property like any other person might, Bobby Petrino was busy hiring his mistress to a university position and misleading authorities about a motorcycle crash. A few years after Tressel was sent packing at Ohio State for lying about something no one should ever care about, Hugh Freeze decided to use his Ole Miss-issued phone to call escort services.

Art Briles and Baylor mishandled sexual assault claims, seemingly allowing the football program to take precedence over the safety of women. Videographer Declan Sullivan's death might've been prevented had Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly brought practice indoors. Instead, the Irish practiced outside on a day with gale force winds, which would then knock over Sullivan's video tower, killing him. Joe Paterno allowed a child rapist to abuse with impunity right under his nose for years at Penn State.

Even Ohio State isn't without its own, much more devastating issues: the university just last month paid more than 40 million dollars to settle 12 lawsuits involving Richard Strauss, which echoes Michigan State's handling of Larry Nassar's abuses. And on and on and on.

Jim Tressel

Jim Tressel and his players were laid low by the NCAA's antiquated and arcane rules supposedly crafted to protect some thin guise of amateurism, or at least whatever "amateurism" looked like in the 1950's. That their NCAA violations and punishment occurred and were given similar attention and weight as actual, horrific crimes goes beyond ridiculous and into outright offensive.

I think that Tatgate persists in the collective memory of football fans because it's a juicy story: "Sweatervest-Wearing Nice Guy Coach Is Actually A Lying Cheater" might have been just too lurid of an angle for the sports world to ignore.

But what we choose to remember says a lot about what our priorities are for the future.

Jim Tressel was given a five year show-cause that effectively ended his coaching career. Hugh Freeze was back as a head coach in college within two years. Art Briles, who should never be allowed to be within 1000 feet of any place of learning, is now coaching high school kids (and, predictably, breaking rules). The incidents that have happened during Brian Kelly's watch were barely a speedbump to him.

So ultimately, Tatgate is The Worst not just because it's stupid and absurd that Ohio State players and coaches would face literally any punishment for selling their own property and then fibbing about knowing about it.

No, it's The Worst because all of the real abuses of power, the ones that broke lives, continue unabated as the sports world at large can't stop itself from lumping "scandal" in with "injustice." And if we want the latter to end, we need to stop conflating the two and learn to take action before people get hurt.

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