There are a lot of ways to look at Jim Tressel: villain, victim, scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.
The most accurate thing to say about the former Ohio State football coach is that he knew how to win.
It forced him to resign on Monday, but it took a smoking gun to bring him down.
If his players hadn’t traded memorabilia to a tattoo dealer who was eventually arrested on drug charges, Tressel might have survived.
We will never know this man who wore the red vest, sounded like a preacher to some and was called senator by others.
Either he bamboozled us all or was simply a guy trying to win football games!
Tressel had a checkered past at Youngstown State that was known when he came to Buckeye nation in 2001. A Sports Illustrated article, which alleges similar rules violations under Tressel’s reign at Youngstown State and Ohio State, does not help his image.
He seemed to know the dearest way to player’s heart was to give him a set of keys to a new car. His star player, Ray Isaac, admitted accepting more than $10,000 in cash during his time at Youngstown, but says Tressel never knew.
Tressel was human like the rest of us. He just happened to be part of a system called college football.
He took chances like all coaches do on game day and hoped he wouldn’t get too many penalty flags.
Some will see him as a cheater and to others he will be a heroic figure who sacrificed his integrity to save the Ohio State football program further damage.
There is a belief that you have to cheat to win at big time college football though cheating means different things to different people.
We often can’t tell the cheaters from each other because those who make the rules have a distinct advantage. Their perks are camouflaged.
One thing that appears certain is those who “bend” the rules are among the most successful college football programs.
The NCAA Legislative Services Database reveals a pattern hard to ignore. Tracking FBS (I-A) football programs that have been placed on probation gives the impression circumventing, if not outright breaking rules, is a way of life.
What it shows from 1953 through today:
The SEC, which is college football’s most successful conference, leads the country with 27 instances where one of its teams was put on probation.
Only two college football programs have won national championships and never been on probation: Penn State and BYU.
The only SEC football program never placed probation is Vanderbilt, a school that often evokes jokes about its struggles on the football field.
Since 1953, the University of Southern California has six national titles, but has been on some sort of probation for 12 years, second only to the notorious SMU, the NCAA death penalty victim in 1987
Cheating has gotten a little more sophisticated with on line courses and independent studies that have been reported to be the best way to keep athletes academically eligible.
Florida International University (FIU), an FBS football team since 2004, has been on some form of probation in every season but one since it moved up and its football program is blossoming, winning its first Sun Belt Conference title in 2010.
If the NCAA decided to pay football players or allow them to receive some form of compensation for the jerseys and video games that bear that their resemblance, it would cost college football a lot of money and leave them open to a Title IX lawsuit.
It’s cheaper to let the boosters operate their clandestine business. Everybody makes money and legal bills are kept to a minimum. The underground railroad to a national championship has always been the preferred to way to go.
As recent as 2005, there were 15 football teams from FBS schools on some form of probation, which along with 1987, is the most since 1953.
College football is a multi-billion dollar industry and its main product (the players) do not share the wealth they create for others, which is a recipe for trouble.
The three best players Tressel recruited had rules violation issues in Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and now Terrelle Pryor.
Some coaches will see their reputations damaged if they get caught “cheating,” but that can happen if you can’t score on a first and goal inside the five.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.