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Are Jim Tressel's rewards coming too soon?

1/9/2015

Minutes before he was officially selected to the College Football Hall of Fame, Jim Tressel tweeted his daily #QuietTime quote, courtesy of author and religious leader Clarence E. Hodges.

For today and its blessing, I owe the world an attitude of gratitude.

But many have a different attitude about how much the world owes Tressel at this particular time. Youngstown State drew criticism for naming Tressel as its president last spring. The College Football Hall of Fame will take some heat for including Tressel in its latest class of inductees.

Tressel is, after all, still serving a show-cause penalty for NCAA violations stemming from his role in tattoo-gate at Ohio State. He resigned under pressure as Buckeyes coach May 30, 2011. Tressel's five-year penalty expires Dec. 19, 2016.

There's no doubt Tressel's on-field qualifications merit a place in the Hall. He won four national championships at FCS Youngstown State (then Division I-AA) and another at Ohio State in 2002. He boasts a career record of 229-72-2 and claimed six national coaching honors. Tressel's defenders, and there are many, passionately vouch for his talents as a coach, mentor and teacher.

Still, it looks odd for someone who in 2011 was found to have engaged in unethical conduct with the NCAA to be given one of college football's highest honors barely three years later. The National Football Foundation, which manages the College Football Hall of Fame, is independent from the NCAA and has its own criteria for selecting Hall of Famers.

The lone criteria for coaches: "A coach becomes eligible three years after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years old. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age. He must have been a head coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage."

Tressel has been "retired" from the game for four seasons.

In a statement, Tressel called his selection "an extraordinary honor" and thanked his former players, coaches and mentors.

"To join the same College Football Hall of Fame that my father, Dr. Lee J. Tressel, is already a member, is so, so meaningful," he added.

Lee Tressel, the longtime coach at Baldwin-Wallace, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Don't delude yourself; there are no saints in any sport's Hall of Fame, including college football's. Brian Bosworth was among the former players selected to the Hall on Friday, and his Oklahoma career featured more than a few bumps along the way. Ricky Williams also was selected to the Hall.

Tressel's transgressions, while bad, certainly aren't the most egregious we've seen from decorated college coaches, some of whom are Hall of Famers. The squeaky-clean image he projects hasn't worked in his favor when there's some shadiness to the contrary. But is he the worst of the worst? Someone who should never be in any Hall of Fame? That's going too far.

The real question here is timing. When powerful people fall, we tend to want to see them suffer for a while. Jim Tressel isn't suffering. He's in charge of a public university in Ohio and just became a College Football Hall of Famer. Along with five other Hall of Famers, he will participate in the pregame coin toss Monday before Ohio State takes on Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

That doesn't minimize what he lost at Ohio State, the opportunity to lead one of the nation's premier programs, in his home state, at massive stadiums and on national television. Although Tressel has enjoyed his post-football life, as I found out last year visiting him at Akron, he misses the game and the competition.

Would the reaction be any different if Youngstown State had waited a few more years to hire Tressel, or if the Hall of Fame had waited until after his show-cause penalty had expired to admit him?

On Thursday, Tressel selected another #QuietTime quote on Twitter: To everyone who endures the storm, there awaits a crown of victory.

Today, Tressel can wear the crown as a Hall of Famer.

But did he endure a storm or just a passing shower?