Jim Tressel's Plausibility As Villain Will Make Or Break Ohio State's NCAA Case

Today Ohio State formally performed an auto-auto-da-fe, the act of setting yourself on fire before the Inquisition decides to set you on fire themeslves. Yet instead of doing the whole shebang, Ohio State President Gordon Gee and Buckeyes Athletic Director flourished dramatically, soaked a single toe of their boot in lighter fluid, and then struck a match and expected the NCAA to call it a proper fire.

Ohio State vacated the entire 2010 season and the 2011 Sugar Bowl, the effective equivalent of asking the judge in a criminal trial to accept "time served" as penalty for whatever you've done. Vacating wins is a punishment only the past pays for: there's no refund of bowl loot collected, no taking back the revenue earned by a team knowingly playing with ineligible players. It is the apology of a cheating spouse once it's already happened, and the "we regret the hurt our actions may have caused" of NCAA sanctions. It punishes no past bad behavior, and discourages no future malpractice.

Expecting to get away with the "revoked hall pass" of sanctions is insane, but they have to try. I understand that. You have to ask for the bare minimum here, lest you give the NCAA too much in terms of concessions, or make it appear as if the institution is saying it deserves no punishment at all. I get that.

The part that really confuses in all of this is Ohio State's treatment of Jim Tressel in the case. Tressel will testify at the August 12th hearing before the Infractions Committee, and presumably accept full blame for misleading NCAA investigators and concealing prohibited benefits to Buckeye football players. In exchange for their cooperation, Tressel's resignation is changed to a retirement. Tressel will receive $50 grand or so in vacation time, and will also receive some tail-end insurance coverage for him and his family. He will also not pay a $250,000 fine Ohio State President Gordon Gee said the disgraced coach would pay, a decision Gee explained by not explaining it or responding to media inquiries.

So on the same day, Ohio State publicly confessed to breaking the codes of amateurism governing NCAA football, and simultaneously rewards its coach for taking the fall for them. This turns the entire case at this point into a referendum on Jim Tressel's plausibility as a villain here, turning the man who spent a decade building the Tressel brand into a synonym for virtue, starched clothing, and the moral fiber of the well-placed punt into a convincing bad guy. It will be his villain turn. For Ohio State's sake, they better hope it turns out more like Robin Williams in One Hour Photo and less like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman Forever.

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