My (very late) take on Tresselgate

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
9:00
AM ET
So, did I miss anything?

Two weeks ago, as my wife and I waited to board our flight from Chicago to Singapore (via Hong Kong, otherwise known as The Longest Flight Ever), I had a suspicion a huge story would break in Big Ten Land while I was vacationing on the other side of the world.

And boy did it ever.

Ohio State's two-game suspension of coach Jim Tressel for violating NCAA rules by failing to notify the school of players' involvement in memorabilia selling certainly qualifies as the story of the Big Ten offseason. The correspondence between Tressel and Christopher Cicero from last spring was quite illuminating, given how Tressel acted after the players' violations came to light in December.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
AP PhotoOhio State coach Jim Tressel apologized for the lapse that resulted in his suspension and fine.
At long last, here's my take on the Tressel situation (some of you thought I'd already weighed in, but colleagues Mark Schlabach and Ivan Maisel were admirably holding down the blog fort in my absence).

Like most folks, I was surprised to learn what Tressel had done. For a guy who so often puts the institution first, Tressel's decision to withhold vital information from key in-house officials, especially athletic director Gene Smith, comes as a shock. It's not as if Tressel and Smith have a strained relationship. Just the opposite, they're very close and communicate well. Why would Tressel put himself at personal risk by clamming up?

Tressel's explanation at last week's news conference didn't seem to reach its mark, and The Vest is now being grouped in with other coaches who stray from the rules.

(It's worth pointing out that although the NCAA didn't officially get involved until December, there long had been talk around the Ohio State program about players selling memorabilia items. I first heard buzz about possible memorabilia selling in December 2009. So when did this issue truly make its way onto Ohio State's radar?)

Although Tressel could have been fired for what he did (or didn't do), Ohio State's strong defense of the coach came as no surprise. His on-field record is superb, and these things always trace back to results, including last season's co-Big Ten title and Sugar Bowl championships. He holds tremendous equity with both Smith and Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, which shined through at last week's news conference.

Like many, I feel a two-game suspension is pretty soft when the players are looking at five -- Ohio State should easily handle Akron and Toledo despite all the absences -- but let's not underestimate how tough it will be for a coaching lifer like Tressel to be away from the sideline. The big question going forward is whether the NCAA adds to Tressel's punishment. The NCAA doesn't like being lied to and has come down hard on those who are less than truthful.

Ohio State has been so consistently dominant under Tressel, but all of these distractions will really test the Buckeyes this coming season.

Ultimately, this is about Tressel's image and the larger issue of how fans view their coaches (and how they want others to view their programs).

I get hundreds of e-mails from fans each year wanting me to do two things: praise their team for performance and praise their coach/program for "doing things the right way." I have no problem with the former, when it's deserved, but I'm skeptical of placing halos around a coach or a program. Does Tressel do a ton of good things away from the field? Absolutely. Do most coaches? No doubt. But football coaches aren't saints. And no program has the perfect moral compass.

Tressel has worked hard to craft his image, which took a hit with last week's revelation. But a clean image without winning doesn't get you too far.

No matter how this turns out, Tressel will be regarded as a Hall of Fame football coach who has dominated the Big Ten and archrival Michigan like none other, won a national championship and five BCS bowls.

How he'll be viewed beyond that? Time will tell.

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