College Football Analysis: The Fall of Tressel, Pryor and Ohio State


By Michael Felder

Jim Tressel has resigned and while I was getting weird over the weekend I did have some time to take some inventory of the situation and do a lot of thinking. As I said in a recent "Friday, It's So Fetch!" there's a difference, for me, between "right and wrong" and "against the rules." To be clear; I don't really have an issue with the car dealer game, I don't care much about guys selling their gear and any other sort of perk/benefit ordeal doesn't irk me either.

In the grand scheme of things I think that players in this sort of situation get away with, what they are allowed to get away with. For Ohio State that meant guys were able to get the tats, the cars and cash and go, for the most part, undisciplined. Doesn't mean that I think the players are right in taking advantage of the opportunities afford them, just that breaking those rules doesn't get me riled up beyond a "you caught us, what's our punishment" feeling.

But as we watch this continue to unfold we're now seeing the investigation and the narrative itself travel down several paths.

Over at Recruitocosm a former Texas walk-on took some time to outline some compliance situations from the players' standpoint. While I'm not a fan of the finger pointing tone I can say that is pretty much standard across the board as far as the goals and approach of compliance. Doesn't necessarily take into account how car dealers circumvent compliance issues but good read none the less. 

Meanwhile at ESPN Tim Keown takes a look at the Tressel situation through the quickly developing Terrelle Pryor angle, asking if this crumbling of what Jim Tressel helped build is an impetus for change.

As Joe Schad reported last night at least one current player at The Ohio State is pointing fingers at the players involved in the scandal. Most notably of course, Terrelle Pryor.

Pryor and Tressel. Tressel and Pryor. The coach and the player. The two roots in this Ohio State-NCAA scandal tree. Neither is in the right. Neither is wholly responsible. The biggest issue here and for the narrative is that folks love Tressel and hate Pryor. It is slowly evolving into a fingerpointing situation among folks on both the inside and outside. The idea that Tressel is somehow "taking the fall" and the possibility, hell probability, that Pryor would be wise to leave Ohio State because he's not exactly welcome.

But here, in this moment is where things get distorted for me. Not because I've got this massive drive to absolve Pryor of any guilt. He's the player who appears to have done the most wrong, at least that is how it is being reported given the new car investigation (On the car front, that racket isn't a new one, it works well because they have to cross t's and dot i's). If rules were broken then all the guys should face the consequences, simple as that.

No, the distortion isn't due to a wish to clear Pryor's name, he's already been suspended and found guilty by the NCAA, no argument there for me, that's what happens when you break rules. The distortion comes as blame is assigned, as fingers get pointed and the story gets written. This story has got major players; Pryor is just one of many Buckeye football players past and present associated with this mess. Ring leader? Um, maybe currently but ultimately, as I stated before, they were all just guys getting away with what was allowed.

That said, as the head football coach Jim Tressel is the major violator here for me. No, not because he couldn't stop his guys from pimping the system to get cars and tats. If you've followed long enough you know I'm a full believer in "plausible deniability" and if there is no proof that a coach knows then I'm just going to assume the players were able to sneak it past them. As for the lying, meh, I don't care too much about that either, they're not the feds and if he thought he was going to get away with it more power to him. I'm not an NCAA fan so I'm fully on board with the whole "we ain't telling them shit" approach to things.

No, the reason I point the finger at The Sweater Vest is he clearly knew and did nothing. He didn't make the preemptive suspensions or dismissals to protect the Buckeye name or reputation. He allowed it to go on, not just doing the "I don't want to know" dance we've seen from Pete Carroll, Butch Davis and others but also deciding not to do anything.

And for full disclosure I will admit that his image, something he constructed for himself, on his own, is part of the biggest issue in all of this mess. I've got no problem with Tressel's actual actions, they're a bit amateurish, obviously he kept kids eligible to win but he also helped some guys out and I'm good with that. Hell, I'm a guy that lists Barry Switzer and Danny Ford as his favorite college football coaches.

The difference between those guys and Tressel?

Nothing disingenuous about them. Maybe it is the southern angle. Maybe it is the larger than life persona each still possesses. Largely it is just the fact that neither of those guys went through the trouble to pretend to be anything more than what they were, guys who liked to win and were helping kids out along the way.

Tressel set himself up. The image helped him as things were crumbling early. It caused fans and observers to give Tressel the benefit of the doubt. Now it should ultimately have the finger pointing back at him. Not because I'm so offended or put off by the events themselves but rather because in the grand scheme of things he's not only broken and allowed the breaking of rules, those are "hey, it happens" situations; he's been playing the game as long as anyone and been attempting to look as if he was above all that is the underworld of college football.

More power to Jim. He games the system for quite some time and got the results the folks were looking for, now it is falling down around him and he's lost his job because of it. I don't hate the guy, hell if he was doing this because he felt the kids deserved it or he disagreed with the rules, and it wasn't just wins and losses motivated then I respect the hell out of him quite honestly.

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