Monday, April 25, 2011

The Clock That Struck 13

I consider myself a trusting person. That's not exactly right: I think that, most times, when people do something wrong, it's either from mistake or ignorance of the rules or because they ended up in a situation they did not anticipate, rather than malice or immorality. I trust people, and I trust their fallibility to be of the sort that none among us can disclaim.

Eventually though, these attempts at rationalizing mistakes must fail. That point in the Jim Tressel Saga, for me, came at around 10:00 AM this morning when I read this:

Documents obtained by The Dispatch also show Tressel called an FBI agent within days of getting the first email warning the coach of the potential NCAA rules violation and a federal drug investigation. 
But OSU records don't show a single call or email from Tressel to the Ohio State compliance office in which he could have reported his players' apparent violations of NCAA regulations. 
Tressel did not send athletic director Gene Smith emails about the issue, either. 
Tressel's phone logs from last April and his emails from April through January, obtained through a public-records request, shed new light and more detail on the coach's communication with others.

I thought the reasons for Tressel's missteps were understandable, though inexcusable in the sense that there should be some punishment for both the coach and the school. People send coaching staffs crazy-sounding e-mails all the time, and I don't expect head football coaches to investigate every "tip" they get from an overfrothed fanbase (or overfrothed rivals). The confidentiality argument was also plausible, especially when dealing with a federal investigation that only tangentially involves current students. As for the punishment, the involved players and head coach would be suspended for five games to begin the 2011 season, enough to extinguish any realistic national championship hopes, along with Terrelle Pryor's chances of winning a Heisman Trophy. Extending as it did into the Big Ten season, the suspensions would also imperil Ohio State's chances of winning a conference championship.

All of those excuses are blown now. The tipster was not just some unknown e-mailer, but an attorney with long-held ties to the athletic department. Whatever confidentially concerns may have legitimately existed were ignored as Tressel sent e-mails to almost everyone except his putative superiors at Ohio State and in the compliance department.

As for the punishment? Even with the latest disclosures, I'm not one to get histrionic about college sports. Tressel didn't, say, tell his players to frame a murdered player as a drug dealer to keep recruiting and academic violations from being revealed. We're not dealing in the world of real outrage, the world where people are murdered, abused, and otherwise violated on a daily basis while children go hungry and without shelter. We're dealing in the world where a football coach sought to gain advantage over rival programs, and while that's immoral because we should all follow the rules and not cheat, it's not jeremiad-worthy. I'll save my outrage for other things.

Still, I'm now in 13 o'clock territory with Jim Tressel. Not only was he incorrect, but he was incorrect in such a way that I can no longer trust any of his explanations, past or present (and there has been a lot of things to explain during his tenure). Of course, I'm just a pantsless blogger. But I'd reckon that NCAA investigators feel the same way, just as the fatal moment in the Bruce Pearl investigation came when he told the obvious lie that he didn't recognize his own home in the photographs admitted as evidence. As always, it's rarely the crime that will finish you; it's the cover-up.