So this Memorial Day began with a bombshell – the resignation of the embattled Jim Tressel. I am not surprised by the result, simply the odd timing. Ohio State seemed to fight the inevitable for months, so what made them give in now? There must be additional, indefensible evidence, right? What else could explain this abrupt ending? I mean, since December, President Gee had struck a professional balance of sounding like a teeny bopper at an N’Sync concert and a blustering supporter of Sarah Palin. Do you remember his infamous press conference where he joked/hoped that Tressel didn’t fire him? Something had to change for him to grimly accept his resignation now. And something had to force Jim Tressel’s hand for him to knowingly commit potential career suicide.
I have no connection to Ohio State or the Big Ten or even, let’s be serious, competitive college football. But I imagine that the students in Columbus are going through somewhat of an Empty Vest Syndrome right now. I tried to think about what this would be like for me, as a fan and a graduate, if it was (god forbid) Duke and Coach K. The conflicted emotions I would feel. Would I be blind to seemingly damning evidence? Would I make excuses out of passion and loyalty and disbelief? Would I simply hope he executed the cover-up better than Tressel did? Would my initial shock morph into disgust, as the penalties screwed us later? I don’t know. Tressel may be gone, but this mess will (sadly) affect Ohio State for years, if not decades, to come.
I decided to ask my good friend, an OSU grad, who is seriously one of the smartest women I have ever met, as well as a huge sports fan and former Division I athlete. (I am judgmental about such things, so really, she is that impressive). She was on my infamous porn-stealing softball team, we were lifeguards together, she played volleyball and softball in college, she went to law school at Ohio State on a full ride, and now she is a big-shot attorney in New York City. I am so happy that she took the time to respond to my emails, half of which were written while running around the Bronx Zoo.
JHop: May 30th at 10:37am: Just heard about Jim Tressel. I was wondering your thoughts. I have no real opinion on Ohio State football, but you guys are a powerhouse every year and a historic program. I am trying to understand what I would feel like if this was Duke and Coach K. Are you surprised? Blindsided? Was there any way around this without him leaving? I can't help but think the only reason he had to go is because the NCAA has additional indefensible evidence. But I would love to know what you think...
And he's quitting now on Memorial Day? If you wanted to bury the story that badly, you might as well have quit on the Monday after we got Osama. The timing just pisses me off. He should have quit when this first came out so we had time to look for a new coach, but now he's waited until after the spring season and this is a really awkward time to be looking for a new coach (They've already named Luke Fickell as the interim coach. Rumor has it that Urban Meyer wants the job at some point, but this is too soon after his "retirement" for him to come back). Like you, I suspect the NCAA must have lots of other bad documents that we haven't seen yet. [Eleven Warriors has a pretty good post about the resignation today. And The Columbus Dispatch has a nice concise summary of the timeline of events].
JHop: May 30th at 1:30pm: I think that we all saw this coming, of course. We saw it unraveling, getting dirtier, with each passing week and scandalous story. There were reports of free tattoos, sold memorabilia, and illegal car sales. There were leaked emails and narcotics investigations. But at the center of it all, the mirage of Jim Tressel – a coach who disguised himself in a reputation of responsibility and ethics – came crashing down. His book, The Winner’s Manual: For the Game of Life, now reads as a satire of itself. Still, the school tried to get away with a two-game suspension at first. And they voiced their support for Tressel during spring meetings, a few weeks ago. So how did we go from two-game suspension to a volunteered five-game suspension to a forced resignation? I am baffled by this, yet beyond intrigued. Few recent mysteries – other than, say, did Casey Anthony kill her kid? (yes) – have captivated me like this Tressel thing.
Miss Scarlet: : I've been thinking about this more and more today. Honestly, I think I'm starting to blame myself for buying into the whole facade. I think based largely on the family I grew up in (where sports were a major priority), I believe in the myth of the student athlete, and while that myth isn't really true for men's power sports, it is true for the majority of college sports. It is like that cheesy old NCAA commercial about "going pro in something other than _____" (insert sport). The majority of college athletes don't get paid in any form other than scholarships, and for those who make the most of it, that is enough (and means so much – I personally would not be where I am today without college athletics and the NCAA). But will that ever be enough for football/basketball/hockey players who are just buying time until they go pro? Probably not. Yet, I am totally happy to buy into the illusion that they're all playing for the "love of game" or love of school or something equally innocent.
So while I want to believe all of those things, I'm also not blind to what college sports is today: a big business, which is often quite corrupt. And I'm not surprised when it comes out that players are given free rent, cars, etc. I obviously don't want to think any of those things about Ohio State, but I'm sure that with everyone looking into the Buckeyes, we've likely only hit the tip of a very dirty iceberg.
I'm also conflicted because at Ohio State, the football program does a lot for the university. The program makes so much money that it is able to fund the entire athletic department, including all of the women's sports. And I love Ohio State. I love that the school gave me a full scholarship to law school....I love that the faculty are brilliant and also totally approachable....I love that the school is always renovating the campus while maintaining a deep respect for its history...I love that our academic programs have funding to do amazing research projects, including leading the world in the study of climate change.....I love Gordon Gee's bow tie and TBDBITL....I love that no matter where I travel in the world, I will see someone with an Ohio State sweatshirt and I will say "O H" and they will respond "I O." I love tailgating on crisp fall afternoons before screaming at the top of my lungs with my 105,000 closest friends and then singing "Carmen Ohio" along with the team after a victory. Buckeye football is quintessentially Ohio State, but the school is so much more than just football.
And I guess I feel that sense of defensiveness you feel when someone attacks your family. You wish you could just keep the corruption in house and handle it internally, but you know that the dirty laundry is getting ready to go out on the line. I honestly just wish this information could be released like a flood....let's get it all out in the open and get it over with. But as these things go, I am SURE that it will be a slow trickle of bad info every day for the next 6 months. I'm not looking forward to any of it.
JHop: : I think that was really well-said. I am not sure how I would be affected if my school was tarnished like this. But I know that I would most likely sound like a crazy person. I would clearly be disappointed, shocked, and probably angry. I would be ready to go toe-to-toe with any Carolina fan, armed with a treasure trove of Butch Davis facts. But can we even compare Butch Davis to Coach K, in terms of historical significance? No, we cannot. But Jim Tressel is a champion. He has a .828 winning percentage at Ohio State. He has lost only 22 games in 10 years. He has won a national championship and seven Big Ten titles – in 2002, and then every single year since 2005. And he has a 9-1 record against Michigan since he began coaching at OSU. He is adored by Buckeye Nation for a reason. And until now, he had earned his seemingly flawless reputation, very much like Coach K. I mean, I think I would be heartbroken. Almost as much as if I ever found out Derek Jeter did steroids, if not more. So I appreciate your rational response because, quite frankly, I think I would be incredibly defensive, while also sort of infuriated at the incompetence of it all.
Miss Scarlet: And now I'm going to say something really partisan, which you can take with as many grains of salt as you please (although I think you might be able to relate, because I think the anti-Duke basketball sentiment is similar to the anti-Ohio State football sentiment).
I'm not sure when it happened, but I think it is related to people feeling that OSU did not deserve to beat Miami in the 2002 National Championship game, which happened to coincide with the changes in the media cycle in the 2000s....but people across America LOVE to hate on Ohio State. They hate the scarlet and gray, they hate the sweater vest, they hate the stories about Woody Hayes, they hate that Ohio State always makes it to bowl games. I think with the 24-hour sports news cycle and constant coverage of EVERY moment from spring games to practice, Ohio State is quite often in your face....and fans of other schools hate that (especially SEC fans). If you look at those pre-game polls that ESPN does, no matter who OSU is playing in a bowl game, everyone in Ohio thinks OSU is going to win and every other state on the map will be cheering for their opponent. Given that context, I think the piling on in the coming weeks is going to be out of control.
Also, dear Ray Small: STFU. XOXO, Buckeye Nation.
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Undoubtedly, there is much more to come in the Ohio State saga. And with the magnitude of the coach and the program, it will certainly be out of control. Again, a big thanks to Miss Scarlet. As a short anecdote, Miss Scarlet was one of the very first people I met when I moved to North Carolina. When I was miserable and depressed in high school. And, from the start, she impressed the hell out of me, helped me get involved in school and sports, made me laugh, and has not stopped impressing me since. Happy early birthday, Miss Scarlet; go out and fork something, steal some porn, mime an “O” from across the pool, and keep kicking ass. You are the best.