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From fall 2002 through last year, first at Dudley'z and then at Fine Line Ink, at least 28 Ohio State players are either known or alleged to have traded or sold memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules. It is a staggering number, a level of wrongdoing that would seem hard to miss for a coach and an entire athletic department—one that includes an NCAA compliance staff of at least six people. Yet the university trusted the coach, and the coach says he knew nothing before April 2010, when the Columbus lawyer tipped him off in an e-mail.
He was ignorant of it all.
In August the NCAA's Committee on Infractions will review the alleged rules violations committed by Tressel and his players. Tressel violated NCAA bylaw 10.1—Unethical Conduct, one of the cornerstones of NCAA rulebook—three times: first by failing to act when tipped off about the tattoo scandal; again last fall, by signing a standard form given to all coaches declaring that he knew of no violations; and then, last December, by not being forthcoming with school officials. Tressel's violations will almost certainly lead to sanctions that will follow him to any school that might hire him, making it highly unlikely that he will coach a major college program again. Like Woody Hayes, the ruination at the end of his Ohio State career will tail him forever.
The university's search for a permanent replacement will surely include a call to former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who like Tressel was an assistant under Earle Bruce. Meyer has bristled at talk that he would become the Buckeyes' coach, and he and other top candidates will probably wait and see what the Committee on Infractions decides. Despite Gene Smith's insistence to the contrary, the school had a systemic problem and is likely to be hit with heavy sanctions, including the loss of several scholarships.
Ohio State officials will argue that the school should be spared, in part because they got rid of Tressel, the head of the program that has been so tainted by wrongdoing. For years, Ohio State benefited from Tressel's choirboy image. Now, the university is likely to paint him as a huge problem that has been eliminated for the betterment of the athletic department.
It is not the noblest of tactics, but it adheres to an axiom of big-time college football, one that Jim Tressel has heeded for years: You do whatever it takes to win.
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For a video interview with George Dohrmann on the story behind this story, go to SI.com