In College Football, Cheating Pays -- Handsomely

June 3, 2011

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The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State started on Thursday, January 18, 2001.   

The Buckeyes happened to have a basketball game that night against Michigan, so it was a good opportunity to introduce their new football coach.  When Tressel stood up to speak, he knew exactly what they wanted.   

He was hired on the heels of John Cooper, whose record at Ohio State was second only to that of Woody Hayes.  But in 13 seasons, Cooper’s teams lost to Michigan a stunning ten times.  Can’t do that.  And you can’t say, “It’s just another game,” either – which might have been his biggest mistake.   

Knowing all this, Tressel told the crowd, "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”   

The place went crazy.  “At last,” they said, “somebody gets it!” 

Tressel got it – and he proved it, beating Michigan nine out of ten times – and the last seven in a row, a record.  The Buckeyes have also won the last six Big Ten titles, another record, plus a national title.   

Jim Tressel is clearly one heck of a coach.  He was also pleasantly professorial, famed for his sweater vest, not his temper.   

But smoke always billowed up behind him.  His previous team, Youngstown State, won three Division I-AA national titles, but one of his stars got in trouble for taking money from a wealthy booster.  The school got in trouble, but not Tressel.  At Ohio State, another star was suspected of academic fraud and taking money, too.  The player got in trouble, but not Tressel.  

Last spring, however, a few of Tressel’s players traded signed jerseys for tattoos.  Yes, it was against NCAA rules, but it was still relatively small potatoes – until their coach lied about it to the NCAA.   Not once.  Not twice.  But three times.   As usual, it’s not the crime, but the cover-up that always does them in.  But no one ever seems to learn this.   

Tressel committed his third lie right before the Buckeyes’ big bowl game against Arkansas.  The Big Ten, the NCAA and the bowl officials were only too willing to play along.  There was money to be made.    

But after the Buckeyes’ victory, reporters dug a little deeper and discovered an oil spill of corruption -- money, cars, you name it.  With more to come. 

The Jim Tressel era at Ohio State ended on Monday, May 30th, 2011, when he “resigned.”  But don’t worry: Tressel will be fine.  He’ll get to keep his national titles and his severance package and he’ll probably end up on TV as a color commentator, because the networks seem to prefer hiring only the most corrupt or incompetent coaches for those cushy jobs.  

The mess Tressel leaves behind will be for everyone else to clean up: the players, the school and the next coach, for years.  A few former opponents – like Michigan – might get some of their losses to Ohio State erased from their records.  But it’s unlikely they’ll storm the field after getting the news.      

And that’s why coaches like Tressel cheat: It works -- for them.   

The Big Ten and the NCAA don’t want to catch you, and when they finally have to, it’s the guys who come after you who will pay the price.  A few years from now, when the Ohio State Marching Band is performing their famed “Script Ohio,” it will be Jim Tressel dotting the “i,” while John Cooper looks on from the press box. 

Cheating is excused.  Losing is not. 

Winning is rewarded.   

Following the rules is for suckers.      

Wish I had a better story to tell you. 


Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio

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  • 6/3/2011 10:58 AM Peggy J wrote:
    Now that's a lead I should have used!
    Reply to this
  • 6/3/2011 11:02 AM Greg Shea wrote:
    I continue to advocate for the university presidents to push the Big Ten into a policy that blacklists coaches that put their programs on probation.

    If that led to reciprocal policies in the other major conferences, I think it would be an interesting and perhaps effective first step in cleaning up intercollegiate athletics.
    Reply to this
  • 6/3/2011 12:35 PM JJ Watts wrote:
    As usual, you are 100% correct. It is sad to admit, but thta is the sign of the times!
    Reply to this
  • 6/3/2011 12:49 PM Bryan Bentley wrote:
    Well said Mr. Bacon. Those who follow scum like this always have the mess to clean up. The coach shamed the university for his own gain. He disrespected every player who actually follows the rules, and the majority did follow the rules. I hope he loses lot's of sleep over this.
    Reply to this
  • 6/3/2011 2:24 PM Kurt wrote:
    I am waiting for the ceremony to present the 2006 national championship trophy to us, as our two losses were to cheating schools, USC now on probation, the Buckeyes soon to join them.
    Reply to this
    1. 6/4/2011 3:24 PM John U. Bacon wrote:
      Kurt --

      Ha -- good one. But I hope you don't plan on waiting too long -- or expect too big a crowd. Sad, but true: you can never get the games back, of course.

      Reply to this
      1. 6/8/2011 1:23 AM Jerry wrote:
        Why don't they say his stats are wiped out and so are the victories. He took money for his autograph. And what about those who paid him! They are weird. 

        Note quote: "No one wins in this thing," Ray Reitz, Pryor's former coach at Jeannette High School in western Pennsylvania, said Tuesday. "That's the sad part. You've got a great coach that goes down, and now Terrelle, who I think is a great player. That's not the way he wanted to go out."

        You don't have a great coach. You have a sham of a coach and a corrupt QB. See. It is not that hard to say.
        Reply to this
  • 6/3/2011 2:24 PM Edward Seiler wrote:
    If wildly tattooed Terrelle Prior came to your door at midnight would you open the door for him? No. What about Tressel? Yes. And that is why corrupt to the core Tressel got away with it for so long: he looks like a Sunday school teacher.
    Reply to this
  • 6/4/2011 3:01 PM Jay Woods wrote:

    There was always something fishy about the level of talent at OSU for the last decade. During his time they had more NFL draft picks than any other NCAA team, even the SEC schools. If we have learned anything recently about public figures, the most obvious must be that people often don't have anything in common with the image that they present. Tressel offers us one more opportunity to learn this lesson. He wrote a book about integrity. Not a fan of censorship, but I hope that one gets burned.
    Reply to this
    1. 6/4/2011 3:25 PM John U. Bacon wrote:
      Mr. Woods,

      I'm afraid I expect sales of this classic tome of moral leadership to sag in the wake of this news.

      Tough business.

      Reply to this
  • 6/5/2011 2:49 PM Wm Wilson wrote:
    More fundamental conclusions need be stated: nothing done by Tressel or the players was a crime. They all (apparently) violated arbitrary rules made up out of thin air by a private business which: a) grosses billions per year; b) gives virtually none of that money to the kind of "best of a generation" talented athletes who carry the business on their talented shoulders

    If, say, you endorse free markets in politcs (Tea Party, or conservative), then you must admit that these (often poor) special athletes ought to be allowed to get paid just like any other free market worker or performer, particularly within a wildly profitable (if not cultural flagship) business. Even if you aren't conservative, though,
    one has to keep in mind, when judging these kids, what life teaches us all: that our "days in the sun" - moments of good economic or other fortune or good grace are, for most of us, often short or at least in constant fluctuation. Pryor, for example, is a national name, and should be getting "national pay" - millions -- now, not later.

    One's idealism increases in proportion to one's distance from a problem. These guys who make up the zany NCAA rules (what kind of bizarre system tells people: here, we are giving these momentoes to you, they are yours -- but you can't sell them? Huh?)are nowhere near the poverty level, so they can be as idealistic as they want (particularly when their pockets are being stuffed because of their desperate efforts to continue to prop up this monopoly which is the NCAA. E.g., Tressel at $5mill, or Mark Emmert @ $1 mill. annually.)

    In contrast, Pryor, Newton, Reggie Bush, Tractor Traylor -- all of them poor, single-parent kids -- had the problem of no money right smack dab in their faces, their whole lives; looking up from their bottom of the barrel, the whole NCAA looks like one more fraud.
    I don't blame the players one bit for selling trinkets; I blame the NCAA et al for maligning their professional reputation. As Posey's Mom said, "I look around, and everyone except my son is going to the bank."
    Reply to this
  • 6/5/2011 6:04 PM Faith Bailey wrote:
    Cheating is Cheating is Cheating - it is NEVER a good thing ask ole Mr. Sweater vest whose career is ruined. Looks like Ohio State is going to hire another coach with a cheating past. Hummm!!!
    Reply to this
  • 6/6/2011 9:26 AM Alan Knaus wrote:
    1) Why doesn't the NCAA or Ohio State sue Jim Tressel to recoup the wages paid him while he was cheating? That would be a real penalty.
    2) The five game penalty should be changed top the four non-conference games and any bowl game. The players should have missed last years Sugar Bwl and Michigan State should not get a competitive advantage.
    Reply to this
  • 6/17/2011 6:00 PM Wm Wilson wrote:
    Michigan’s ‘Retro’ Jersey Look: They’re Not “Throwback”, Denard’s Still Working for Free, and David “Branding” Fails to Lead. Wake Up Michigan. See posting at
    Reply to this
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