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Monday, May 30, 2011

Some More Opinions on the Ohio State Scandal


Guest correspondent from community, Matthew Kocsan. Here is his take on the scandal:

Let's start with me, so I can justify this post and prove that I'm credible.

As I said before, I graduated from Ohio State in the spring of 2008. In the interest of full disclosure, I had season tickets for the 2005-2007 seasons; I saw four wins against Michigan; I went to the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and the 2008 National Championship Game. I also never went in for all the rah-rah nonsense. I rooted for the team, but Ohio State was not my football team until I went to school there, in spite of the fact that I grew up in Cleveland, which was split in the '90s between Ohio State and Notre Dame, with a sprinkling of Michigan alumni and fans tossed in to make things interesting. I even rooted for Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl, which Ohio State somehow managed to win despite John Cooper's trolling the sidelines for that game. The Browns left town when I was ten, I couldn't stand Cooper's Buckeyes, and the football team of my childhood was St. Ignatius High School. Ohio State is my university first, and so is my team as a distant second. I root for the football team and the basketball team, I wear a Block O hat every now and again, but it doesn't ruin my day when they lose. Sorry to talk so much about me, but the point is that I'm not so invested in the football team that I'll miss the forest for the trees, or alternatively, the trees for the forest. In any case, I think I have as clear a perspective on this as I can, and it's hard for me not see something ugly in all of this.

I'll start with good news, and that is that Tressel resigned because a civil war would have ensued among the fans had the university chosen to fire him. Based on what I see from my friends and read in the papers, a large segment of vocal Ohio State backers tends not to blame Tressel; that is usually projected onto the young men who sold the merchandise in the first place. Of course it was his handling of the situation that brought him down, but that's not really what's at issue here in people's minds. There have been calls by certain people in the Ohio State community to stop recruiting 'those kinds of players,' and I find them distasteful. Really? What 'kinds of players' would those be, exactly? I think this gets to the heart of the matter, and it's part of why some Buckeye fans continue to identify with Tressel.

The implication of the previous sentence is obvious, and at the risk of getting too political for my own good, it has something to do with the way people look. I floated the theory to a friend of mine, who said it reminded him of a bit on the Colin Cowherd show once upon a time, contrasting opinions of Bobby Knight and Michael Vick among the people you would expect felt represented by each of them. To older white males, Knight was the model coach and a throwback who wanted to instill the forgotten virtue of discipline into the young; to younger black males, the Vick debacle was the product of African-American culture and so they would call and defend him.

Now, this isn't intended to start a race war or to call people in my native state names, though I think race clearly informs those ideas. Here my overall point is that we need to consider the image of Tressel. He's a (publicly) straight-laced, middle-aged white guy who wears a sweater vest. He's outwardly conservative, a convert to Catholicism, and a bit charming in a bland, unremarkable sort of way. Of course, he's a character (or, maybe even a caricature), as is everyone who has as public a profile as he--and he stands in for the all-American monotony that is the state of Ohio in the minds of many. Of course, the place is more complicated than that, and so is he quite obviously. The point is, though, that he represented something and some people. In a time when the state has been kicked down by the new economy (it is true that Ohio has not adjusted well to deindustrialization) and the new century, here was a local boy done good, who had made it without skipping town, the way so many people--including me--have. The state has been hemorrhaging population for over a decade, especially talented sons and daughters who might have wanted to help the place were it not for the suicidal economic policies of their civic fathers. Tressel's downfall is painful for people because a world they don't understand and probably resent for a number of reasons brought down one of their own.

Tressel, though, ultimately bears responsibility, and the thing that makes me pause more than anything else is his lack of a legitimate, full apology for what was done. He's mostly apologized for consequences rather than actions. It may be that he realized all along, given the gravity of the situation and the climate of the investigation, that this was the way that it had to end, so the only card he had left to play was that of the dutiful, stoic martyr. A more cynical interpretation would be that he's so invested in his own image that he couldn't admit to himself what he'd done, much less to the rest of the country. In the fulness of time, I'm not sure how we'll remember this episode or Tressel as a whole. It's both easy and myopic for Pat Forde to write today that Jim Tressel leaves the university with a tarnished legacy. It's worth pointing out that so did Woody Hayes, each of them unrepentant as the university forced one to resign and outright fired the other. So ended the careers of the two greatest football coaches in the history of a university.

It doesn't end there, though. Hayes eventually spoke at an Ohio State commencement, and tried to quote Emerson, telling graduates and the community to 'Pay It Forward,' a slogan which graces university community service campaigns and alumni capital campaigns to this day. He was given the honor of dotting the 'i' in Script Ohio, and in 2005 the university unveiled its tribute to his coaching career on the facing of Ohio Stadium's C Deck.

This is not to say that Tressel will be remembered in precisely the same ways. It is helpful in its own way that Hayes has died. It is easier to forgive the dead because they ask for so much less. This is not entirely true, though, because the requests of the dead are called 'tradition,' which hangs over all of us, and to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, prevents the tyranny of those who simply happen to be alive. Jim Tressel, as a character, tried to stand in for that tradition in a specific place. It must be said, he ultimately failed. Having won so much, though, it is hard to see how the program could turn its back on these days completely and forever.

What I'm saying, of course, is that this is about a lot more than just football. It's not a good thing for the reputation of the university in the short term, and it's certainly not good for the football program. When Cleveland was spurned by the Browns and then by LeBron James, too few people asked an obvious question: when are we going to stop believing that the sum of our city is in our sports teams? There are more important people and things in my hometown than the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers combined. Likewise, there is much more for Ohio State to be proud of than its football program. Anything that makes us--those from Ohio, those still there, and those who want to return--realize that we should pick each other up and that we should stand for more than success on playing fields ought to end as a good thing, no matter how painful in the present.


I concur with a great deal of this.

As another OSU alum, I would like to share a liitle more detail on these points. I was at OSU from 1998 to 2003 and graduated with a duel degree. The National Championship year and game provide a lot of fond memories for me. I am a hardcore fan that rationally tries to balance reality with being a fan. It is easier for me since my family has some Penn State and University of Pittsburgh influences. When people are overly critical of tOSU, I defend it. When the crazy fans defend tOSU with no good argument, I point out how stupid they are acting.

I continue to be amused by people (media mainstream) that keep overstating what is going on with each subsequent story. Ohio State, like every other school in the land, found sanctions BUT then lied about them. Jim Tressel is the one who tried his own cover-up in the interests of himself and a couple of the big-name players involved. It is only natural to have story after story leak out (Ray Small was funny, the kid barely stayed in school and only did so with T's help). Even the student newspaper helped perpetuate the scandal instead of letting the national media handle the scrutinizing. Logic tell us that everything that happened since the sham of a report in December (I mean, five days for an internal investigation, that does not pass the sniff test) has made sense. I have stated on the podcast by distaste for the NCAA and it's policies and silly rules (I mean, I am surprised that these kids can sell their books back). That does not change the obvious lies and ignorance for the system portrayed by Gene Smith, Gordon Gee and Tressel. The resignation was only the next logical step in these events.

There will be a period of time where Tressel will largely go unacknowledged as the team trudges through a couple seasons of sanctions and during the search of a big name coach to save the team from losing it's elite status. Eventually, though, time will allow us to forget this scandal as many others come to pass and time gives away to thoughts of the 10-2 average Tressel season and the underdog Championship win. After all, in the NCAA, if your team isn't getting arrested or being investigated, then your team has not reached the big time.

I have met Jim Tressel. Until a few years ago, his family still owned a house in the town I grew up in. Eventually, the memories will be fond because he does truly care for his players. He does not have the reputation of somebody like Nick Saban. Saban's style of about the understanding that both sides are using each other may be better in some cases, but Tressel's down home bed and breakfast calm makes almost everyone who meets him like him. Tressel is generally a good man who like any big-time coach has some skeletons in the closet (RE: Youngstown St. sanctions) and then tried a cover-up that he failed at. His lies and subsequent statements that did not pass the sniff test reminded me of a guy who tried to cheat on his wife but did not have enough of the street smarts (guile, a-hole-ness, etc.) to pull it off without getting caught.

In the end, it's not all bad. He is just another coach whose career is probably over with millions in the bank and nice house to spend the rest of his life in. He won't be the last and he won't be the last in Ohio State history, either. Besides, maybe Urban Meyer will come home in two years.


Sports Illustrated needs to get off their high horse. While the timing itself may coincide with the release of the article, the reason Tressel is leaving is because he lied to investigators and got caught. It is not because of Besides, there was hardly anything new in the article. It basically was a summation piece.

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