Men's Basketball

John Clay: Tressel's downfall a familiar, secretive tale

Jim Tressel
Jim Tressel AP

They all have secrets, each and every one of them.

College coaches all have things they don't want the general public to know, things that might be embarrassing, things that might be difficult to explain, things that might be against the rules.

It's not so much the secrets that get college coaches in trouble, it's what they do when the secrets come to light.

Bruce Pearl lied, then tried to rectify but, in the end, it was too late, and the Tennessee basketball coach was gone.

Jim Tressel lied and denied right up to the end, and now the Ohio State football coach is gone, too.

But don't think they are the only ones.

They're just the two who got caught.

It's a dirty game out there right now, whether it be college basketball or football, both full of lies, scoundrels and unscrupulous tactics.

As much as the NCAA has tried to push back against the cheating — its rule book the size of an ottoman — there is still a Wild West mentality in the big business known as college athletics. It's the way the game is played.

And money is the name of that game. It's money that matters. Aside from the name across the front of the jersey, college sports have very little to do with actual colleges, especially where football and basketball are concerned, and a lot to do with fund-raising, publicity and promotion. They're cash cows.

The Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, named for a basketball coach, is giving way to the Wildcat Coal Lodge, complete with a tribute to coal right in the lobby. It's about who pays the bills.

At Ohio State, Jim Tressel helped pay the bills. His teams won Big Ten titles on a regular basis. They beat Michigan on a regular basis. They competed for national championships on a regular basis. They filled historic Ohio Stadium — reserved ticket price $70 — on a regular basis.

You don't do that with regular players. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor came to Columbus with irregular talents, something Tressel knew and protected. The matter that seems to have pushed the powers that be into finally forcing Tressel onto the exit ramp wasn't so much the tattoos, or the selling of memorabilia, as it was the new Columbus Dispatch revelation that the NCAA has started a "significant investigation" into Pryor's rotation of sweet wheels deals.

But it was Tressel's lying that caught the NCAA's attention. He was told a secret — email notification of Ohio State players exchanging memorabilia — and instead of bringing the secret to light, he tried to keep the secret hidden. Trouble is, if you hide one thing, people start looking for others. It's the cover-up that gets them. Every time.

Now more Buckeyes secrets have been revealed — that Ohio State players are mere mercenaries, allegedly willing to sell their love of school to the highest bidder; that boosters were more than willing to help certain players get cars; that Tressel has a history of turning a blind eye to questionable behavior that dates all the way back to his days as coach at Youngstown State.

The best secret: The anecdote in George Dohrmann's Sports Illustrated story in which a former Ohio State assistant claimed Tressel would read the bible with coaches in the morning, then rig camp raffles in the afternoon so that elite prospects would win prizes. Nice.

See, every program has secrets. Some are bigger secrets than others. Some are more egregious than others. It's what happens when those secrets get out that can make the difference.

Bruce Pearl learned that the hard way.

So now, too, has Jim Tressel.

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