Not long after I moved to California, Jim Tressel was hired to coach the Ohio State football team. I was a fan (and a student) before that of course. But everything pre-California has faded to some degree. That was before and here is now. For 10 of my 11 years here, Tressel has been the coach and the face of the team. And now he has been forced to resign.
Sports journalism is so infantile and I pay attention to very little of it, especially on a national level. Local coverage is often better. The guys in Cleveland and Columbus provide good information about Ohio State. By following local (albeit online) coverage of Jim Tressel for 10 years now, I believe I know a lot more about him than national journalists do. And I'd like to take a shot at diagnosing what is wrong with college football and the Ohio State situation.
the real problem: lack of a minor league
Here's the real solution: we need minor league football. Players need to go from High School to a commercial league where they make money. Forced amateur status on athletes who make millions of dollars for their bosses is not a sustainable solution. And of course these athletes are local celebrities who are too young to have developed an adult level of restraint. But according to the NCAA they are just normal students who can't exploit their hard work for any financial gain of any kind. What a ready-made disaster!
Of course the minor league solution will never happen. There are too many entrenched interests. So let's move back to reality.
a sisyphean task
What is involved in keeping a program in compliance? More than I'll ever know. The former athletic director at Ohio State said it is an impossible task. When large numbers of dollars are involved, outside interests come calling. If some of your players are not on board with the importance of compliance, you can not succeed.
There is more talk this offseason about providing stipends to players. I have two things to say about that. #1 I absolutely support it and #2 they will not impact the compliance problem one bit.
I support stipends but don't believe we will see that happen either. Most athletic departments run a deficit already. Now we want to add more costs? And what about Title IX? The reason I say they won't help with compliance is players still won't be rich. Which means they will still be susceptible to the temptations to take the shortcuts that cause issues today.
doing things the old school way
Why did Tressel try to handle this in house? Why did he lie to the NCAA when he said he was unaware of potential violations? It's simple really, that's the old school way for coaches.
I'm going to borrow a great analogy that I read recently. When a kid in a classroom misbehaves, you can send him to the principal for a whippin or you can deal with it yourself. The principal doesn't know the kid like you do. He doesn't know the specifics of the wrongdoing and how it is related to previous behavior. But he can bring the whip and sometimes that's what you need. But other times, you, the teacher in the room, know better how to handle it. You are the one who is there, know what is mostly likely to reach the problem child.
That is how coaches have preferred to deal with problems for dozens of years. Call the kid's mother and have mom scold him. Make him do extra pushups. Suspend him from a fun activity. Have the team captains (his peers) pressure him.
Doing things that way is inconsistent. Some coaches care about the right way of doing things more than others. Some are disciplinarians and some are loose. So it's not fair. But it's the "old school" way and when it's done right it is the most effective way. The principal (NCAA) only does a couple of things:.embarrass the player or suspend him. These actions aren't always best in the judgement of some coaches. They weren't this time in the mind of Jim Tressel. Andy Geiger confirmed that "inside the family" is how Tressel prefers to handle problems. He said in this situation it was "both admirable and the wrong thing to do."
what do we conclude
The way I see the situation some problems needed cleaning up. I don't want to try and guess what alleged wrongdoing is true and what is not. (Some of it is clearly untrue.) I'll just assume some of it is true and Coach Tressel needed to make some changes. As did the compliance department. I'm also not going to sort out who had the greater responsibility here. I don't believe he needed to be fired for what he did. That was politics. I think this article explains why he "had to be fired" if you want to know.
Twitter and the web are full of former players defending Tressel's character, his actions, and their teammates. I notice nobody is coming out to say, "yeah, I always thought he was shady." I think Tressel got a raw deal and is a victim of losing an impossible game. Against the Maize and Blue? The SEC champs? No, it's those suits at the ncaa that nobody can beat. I will always have great memories of Coach Jim Tressel and I wish him a happy retirement.