Catching up on Jim Tressel and the Ohio State mess; more Mailbag
Should Ohio St. self-impose sanctions in order to avoid harsher NCAA punishment?
Oregon's deal with Will Lyles looks fishy, but the NCAA may be unable to act
After national title, bar may be set unreasonably high for Auburn's Gene Chizik
So did anything happen while I was gone?
Good timing or bad timing that Jim Tressel resigned while you were on your honeymoon? Did you have to slap your hands to keep from reporting "on the road"?
-- Johnny S, Austin, Texas
Actually, Tressel resigned the morning after my wedding. I was sitting at a late breakfast with some friends and relatives when I happened to check my phone and see an e-mail referencing said resignation -- which had apparently happened hours earlier. I chuckled at the timing but didn't give it much more thought until that evening, when George Dohrmann's SI story came out and it kind of sunk in that, whoa, one of the most iconic coaches of my decade-plus on this beat -- whose team I probably covered in more games than any other -- was really done. And, yes, there was a brief itch to run to the laptop and write something, but that would not have been the most prudent way to begin married life.
However, I was out of the country and 100 percent out-of-the-loop (no phone, email, Internet or Twitter) for two weeks when the following stories occurred: Terrelle Pryor's departure, Bill Stewart's resignation (and all the bizarre events that preceded it), USC's title being vacated and Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton's resignation. (At least the NCAA waited until I got back to drop the North Carolina report.) In fact, it appears that almost all of these broke on the same day -- a Tuesday, June 7. That day, my wife and I were in Seville, Spain, hopping between tapas bars. Stewart resigned on June 10, a Friday, following "a week of drama" (according to the AP account). We spent that day on a beach in Mallorca, following a week in which the biggest drama was Emily accidentally leaving her camera in a restaurant bathroom (thankfully, it was still there a half-hour later). I knew of none of this until our return last Thursday.
Really, I should probably be asking you guys the questions this time. But, hey, you kept asking, especially in regards to that school in Columbus.
I hope you had a nice wedding and honeymoon. I'm looking forward to your return to work, especially in light of everything that's come to light at Ohio State these past few weeks. My question for your next Mailbag is: Should Ohio State immediately self-impose some extremely severe penalties and sacrifice the next year or two to save future seasons? My thought is that they'll be breaking in a rookie coach and QB, and given the suspensions already known and those potentially coming, a lower-tier bowl is likely their ceiling this season regardless. Before the August hearing, why not deem this year's team ineligible for the postseason in addition to anything else they can do to make the NCAA penalties end sooner?
-- Jason Kingston, Los Angeles, Calif.
I agree that 2011 will essentially be a lost season for the Buckeyes, and so if the school felt certain a postseason ban was in its future, it might be best to get it out of the way. In fact, that's exactly what the school did with its scandal-ridden basketball program in 2005, voluntarily banning coach Thad Matta's first team from that year's NCAA tournament, which paid dividends two years later when Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Co. were free and clear to reach the national title game.
However, despite what most of the free world thinks, it's not nearly as certain as of today that the Buckeyes are heading toward USC-like sanctions. If you recall, the Notice of Allegations it received in advance of August's hearing contained an unethical conduct charge against Tressel but did not include a lack of institutional control or failure to monitor charge against the school -- usually prerequisites for a postseason ban. Since that time, several media outlets (including SI) have alleged a whole bunch of other potential infractions -- more players trading memorabilia for tattoos, cash and even drugs; details about Pryor's shady golf buddy and excessive use of "loaner cars" -- that lead us to believe the NCAA will eventually push back the hearing and add more charges. But they haven't yet. And until they do, the school is caught in a holding pattern. Do you really want to preemptively punish this year's team without yet knowing what exactly the NCAA will or won't unearth?
Since the day the tattoo story first broke last December, Ohio State president Gordon Gee and AD Gene Smith have constantly downplayed the school's culpability. Only after intense media scrutiny did Tressel's suspension go from two games to five, and then, in the face of Dohrmann's pending story, to resignation. Gee has expressed regret over the handling of Tressel but not over the school's farcical, fast-tracked investigation last December that led Smith to declare, "This is isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular incident. There are no other violations that exist." If they're sticking to their "nothing to see here" mantra, then it's hard to imagine they'd self-impose a postseason ban. But one thing Gene and Gordo should consider: The Infractions Committee came down hard on USC because the school "knew or should have known" that Reggie Bush's parents were living large in San Diego and that Bush was taking free trips to Las Vegas. I have to think they'd feel even more strongly that someone -- a position coach, a graduate assistant, a compliance officer or all of the above -- "knew or should have known" about rampant violations occurring right under their nose in Columbus.
How can Oregon possibly explain away this debacle surrounding the recruiting materials it paid $25,000 for from Will Lyles? Either Oregon was swindled and couldn't get its money back, which looks bad and runs counter to Chip Kelly's smartest-guy-in-the-room persona, or it effectively paid Lyles for access to recruits, which is worse.
-- David Wunderlich, Charlotte, N.C.
There is no explanation. I give Oregon credit for releasing the documents (rather than stall and wait for a judge's ruling, like some other schools under investigation), but, man, are they damning. Quite clearly, the original document Oregon paid for was a sham, and only the most blindly loyal Ducks supporter can't see the situation for what it is. At best, the coaching staff did a favor for a guy that's well known at this point to be a friend and mentor to several of their most prominent players. (Lyles attended last year's ESPN awards show as a guest of LaMichael James; text records released Monday show Kelly exchanged 12 texts with Lyles in the two days before James' commitment in 2008.) At worst -- and what most of the public believes at this point -- the Ducks used Lyles' half-baked "recruiting service" as a vehicle by which to pay him for steering coveted prospect Lache Seastrunk to Oregon.
Either way, it's still not clear whether the NCAA can do anything about it retroactively. While the NCAA has been feverishly writing and updating policies about recruiting services over the past year or so to address these very problems, it's not clear what the punishment would be simply for purchasing a service that doesn't fall within its guidelines. And as for proving authoritatively that Oregon paid for Seastrunk -- unless one of the parties involved testifies as such (not likely), that's a hefty accusation to levy solely because "this looks fishy." Ultimately, it may be that Kelly successfully did what a lot of competitive coaches do: found a loophole and exploited it. But there's very little he could say at this point that would convince most rational people that Oregon's dealings with Lyles constituted any sort of legitimate transaction. And whatever the NCAA ultimately decrees, I would imagine his bosses will have something to say about it.