I admit I thought the NCAA was going to hammer Ohio State with penalties. It sure doesn't look that way anymore.
As reported by The Columbus Dispatch on Friday afternoon, the NCAA has told Ohio State that the dreaded "failure to monitor" tag will not be applied in the case that has already led to the resignation of coach Jim Tressel. That means the Buckeyes will almost certainly avoid the harshest of penalties, such as bowl or TV bans.
The NCAA also said it has not uncovered any additional violations. That's huge, because although there have been several reports and rumors of wrongdoing around the program in the past six months, the only charges Ohio State must answer are the original ones involving Tressel and the sale of memorabilia. The Buckeyes already have vacated their wins from last season, put themselves on two years' probation, and of course gotten rid of Tressel and suspended players for next season. The NCAA said it interviewed the players and figures cited in the Sports Illustrated story published the week Tressel resigned but could not find enough corroborating evidence. (Which doesn't make the report less true, necessarily, since the NCAA has no subpoena power.)
I still believe some scholarship reductions could be on the table after the Committee on Infractions meets with school officials Aug. 12 and later doles out its punishment. But Ohio State can easily survive the loss of a handful of scholarships, if it even comes to that point. A bowl ban would have been much tougher to swallow.
That great news for the Buckeyes came on the heels of an earlier TV report that said Tressel had informed school compliance officials in December about the violations involving tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife. If true, that would mean the school falsely claimed a month later that it had no knowledge of the situation. Ohio State officials forcefully denied the truth of that report, however.
Ohio State's strategy was to lay blame for this whole mess on Tressel and a handful of players, whether you believe that's fair or not. The NCAA appears to have bought that argument pretty much wholesale, and indeed, it must be said that investigators have no other evidence saying otherwise. Ohio State also released the transcript of a five-hour interview of Tressel by the NCAA in February. Tressel said he knew NCAA sanctions were "inevitable" when he first learned what his players were doing but that his "heart was torn out" out of concern for his players. He said the NCAA case didn't have as much ramification, to him, as a federal drug investigation.
The Buckeyes aren't necessarily out of the woods yet, because the NCAA infractions committee can be unpredictable. Until the Aug. 12 date comes and goes, fans have to continue holding their breath to make sure no new, damning or documented allegations come to light.
But the outlook sure seems a lot better now than at any other time in the past few months for Ohio State. The Buckeyes might just get through this without any further serious problems, which means the current coaches, players and entire program can move forward with a lot more confidence.