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Friday, March 18, 2011
OSU suspensions same in length only

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel's decision to sit out as many games as the "Tat Five" provides the appearance of humility and penitence, a good thing after the public-relations fiasco of a week ago. Yet there is less to his announcement Thursday night than meets the eye.

Tressel may have made the decision in a fit of conscience or an attack of remorse. But he also waited until the NCAA denied the players' appeal, a textbook example of leading from the rear. Let's say the NCAA announced Thursday night that it had reduced the players' suspension from five games to two. Let's say that Tressel followed with his decision to extend his own penalty. There would be no doubt of Tressel's contrition.

Instead, the coach will serve the same punishment as his players. He framed it as a show of solidarity, "so that the players and I can handle this adversity together." It's like "The Breakfast Club," only Mr. Vernon is sitting with Bender instead of threatening him.

Jim Tressel
Jim Tressel won't be on the sideline for the Buckeyes during the first five games of 2011.

But no, really, it isn't. In the case of the Ohio State suspensions, equal punishment isn't equal at all.

Think about it. The terms of the suspension dictate that Tressel and the five suspended Ohio State players may not participate in the game on five Saturdays. For quarterback Terrelle Pryor, tailback Boom Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the suspension will reverberate throughout the Buckeyes' preparation for those five games.

The coaches surely won't have Pryor, Herron, et al, practice with the first team. They likely will practice for the first team. They will give the Buckeyes' starters a better look on Tuesday and Wednesday than they will see on Saturday. For those five weeks, Ohio State will field the most talented scout team in the nation. In fact, for the season opener, Vegas could make the Buckeyes' scout team a seven-point favorite over Akron. No one would blink.

But Tressel? He won't assign himself to coach the Ohio State scout team. He won't be pushed to the side for the people who will coach on Saturday. Tressel will participate in the game plan. He will participate in the preparation of the Buckeyes. He will do what he is paid very handsomely to do.

"If someone told me I had to miss 'the game' or could have the whole week to prepare," an FBS head coach told me Thursday night, "what would help the team win? Obviously, me being there the whole week. Our job is during the week. That's when we're winning and losing games."

Head coaches do carry responsibility on Saturday. Some call plays. Some, like Tressel, are quite adept at making in-game adjustments. All of them must decide whether to accept or decline penalties, how to manage the clock and how to manage their players.

"You never know how the players will react to it," the head coach said of the suspension. "I'm the one talking to the players before the game. I'm the one talking to them at halftime. I don't know if the suspension is a rallying cry. 'Coach isn't here. We're in this dogfight. We're all accountable for our coaches.'"

It's hard to imagine that a rallying cry would sustain itself over five weeks. Emotion only works for so long.

Tressel will dole out his game-day duties. There is plenty of gray hair on his staff. On the other six days of the week, there's no reason to assume that Tressel will coach any differently than he ever has.

That's not the case for the five players. In a career that lasts about 50 games, a five-game suspension means surrendering 10 percent of it. The five players will spend five weeks unable to fulfill the passion that has driven them to make the significant commitment that college football demands.

Tressel's suspension is the same in length only. He will continue to fulfill his passion during the week, when the real coaching is done. Missing the games will hurt. And it is certainly possible that it will take its toll on the Buckeyes. But Tressel's five-game suspension is nowhere near as strong as the one handed to his players. If the NCAA wants to make his as strong, it will ban him from his office for five weeks, not just five Saturdays.

Gen. George S. Patton, as depicted in the 1970 film "Patton," was reveling in his defeat of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel at El Guettar ("Rommel, you magnificent bastard. I read your book!") when he was told that Rommel hadn't been there at all. The Desert Fox had been in Germany when the battle took place.

Patton was crushed to learn that he defeated "some second-stringer." His aide consoled him.

"But General," the aide said, "he undoubtedly planned the German battle. If you defeat Rommel's plan, you've defeated Rommel. Isn't that true?"

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.