Tressel spun web of lies, deception
Even when he was trying to explain Tuesday why he lied in the first place, Jim Tressel was still lying.
He lied and deceived his bosses—all of them—for months. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, university President E. Gordon Gee and NCAA investigators who came to town in December looking for the answers he refused to supply.
Typically, lying to all of those people is a fireable offense—it’s even written into his contract as such. But Tressel is returning to work today as the head football coach at Ohio State University because of six consecutive Big Ten championships, a 9-1 record over Michigan and a national championship soiled in the same stains that cloak the program again today.
Tressel should have been fired for lying to his bosses. Not Tuesday, when OSU officials finally came clean because of a Yahoo! Sports report that forced their hand, but back in January when they first discovered Tressel’s lies and cover-up.
Tressel learned last April, through an e-mail from a local attorney giving him a head’s up, that the federal government raided a local house and at least two current players were involved in a memorabilia scam with a convicted felon (Eddie Rife) and receiving free tattoos from him.
He lied to everyone about it and pleaded ignorance—the same ignorant excuse he used in 2002 when Maurice Clarett was driving around town in free cars, in 2004 when Troy Smith was taking money from a booster and previously in the late ’80s and early ’90s when Ray Isaac’s pockets were stuffed at Youngstown State under his watch.
For Smith and Gee to suspend Tressel for two games (against Akron and Toledo) and fine him $250,000 (14 percent of his salary for next season) is a snub of arrogance at the rest of college sports.
When Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators, he was suspended half of the conference season by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. When Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel lied to NCAA investigators, he was fired by the university.
Pearl lied about hosting potential recruits at his house and Neuheisel lied about a March Madness office pool—hardly the same as lying about playing ineligible athletes.
And let’s be clear: Jim Tressel knowingly played six ineligible athletes all of last season.
According to the self-report the university filed with the NCAA on Tuesday, Tressel lied to Ohio State at least three times about his knowledge of the case—twice when pressed about it by school officials in December and prior to that on Sept. 13, when he signed an NCAA Certificate of Compliance indicating he had reported any knowledge of possible violations to the institution.
Tressel did reveal, according to the report, that he had received a “tip,” but couldn’t recall from whom and he claimed he did not know that any items had been seized.
The whole time he was telling those lies, he had multiple e-mails in his university account from that Columbus attorney with intricate details of the entire case.
School officials didn’t discover the e-mails until stumbling upon them while investigating a separate matter. Otherwise, it’s fair to assume Tressel never was going to come forward with his knowledge or the e-mails.
He would’ve simply strolled through life and pleaded ignorance, just as he did when Clarett was cashing in with cars and Isaac and Troy Smith were taking cash payments from boosters.
Tressel received the first e-mail on April 2 and replied to it four hours later. He could’ve forwarded it onto the compliance office or, at the very least, mentioned it to his boss, Gene Smith.
Instead, he tried Tuesday to hide behind a bogus request for confidentiality that didn’t exist.
In the initial e-mail Tressel received, which the university released copies of Tuesday night, there is no mention of keeping the e-mails confidential. That request for confidentiality
didn’t come until April 16—exactly two weeks after Tressel received the first e-mail.
Lies. All lies.
He could’ve suspended the two players he knew were involved, but chose to continue to play them.
“The focus of mine was to not interfere with a federal investigation,” Tressel said. “If you all of a sudden sit down some players that have earned the opportunity to play, it’s a whole new set of questions that arise.”
Only one problem—they hadn’t earned the opportunity to play. They had violated NCAA rules and he knew it. Beyond that, college athletes are suspended every season for a broad “violation of team rules” infraction and no further explanation is ever offered. Tressel could’ve sat the two players he knew were involved for a nonconference game early in the season, but his arrogance and ability to slide out of so many previous scandals infused in him a sense of entitlement to do it again.
This time, he finally got caught.
This isn’t over.
Just because Ohio State thinks a pathetic two-game suspension and hefty fine suffices, the NCAA doesn’t have to agree. It can assess more sanctions, such as a longer suspension and in more meaningful games.
Pearl didn’t play any ineligible players. Tressel did.
And for once, he can’t plead ignorance about it.
“The integrity of this program,” Gee said, “and the integrity of this coach is absolutely superb.”
Lies. All lies.