Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
Before news broke Monday that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel had violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1, many would have indicated the coach as one least likely to break the rules.
It’s always the one you least suspect.
Because of Tressel’s unwavering trust in his players and desire to do right by the young men he coaches, this is exactly the type of violation Buckeye Nation could have seen coming.
“We talk about most especially we’re going to take care of these young people, and we’re going to treat them like they’re our own,” Tressel said in his Tuesday press conference. “Admittedly, I probably did not give quite as much thought to the potential NCAA part of things as I read (the e-mail that was not turned over to officials). My focus was on the well-being of the young people.”
It was that focus, the coach said, that led him not to inform his superiors or NCAA officials of an e-mail indicating his players violated NCAA rules by selling OSU memorabilia. Despite this focus on his players and their well-being, this is far from the first violation under Tressel.
Former OSU quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and first game of the 2005 season for receiving $500 from a booster. Former running back Maurice Clarett was suspended for the entire 2003 season after receiving thousands of dollars in improper benefits and misleading NCAA investigators.
While Tressel was at Youngstown State, his quarterback Ray Isaac received nearly $10,000 from a YSU board chairman.
Though the incidents of current players selling memorabilia to Edward Rife, owner of the Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor, are not the first violations under Tressel’s watch, they appear to be the first that the coach knew about before the NCAA.
Some signs might have pointed to the knowledge of these transgressions. With five players suspended, individuals might have looked for more knowledge of the situation within the team.
Nine Big Ten Championship rings, 15 pairs of signed cleats and a handful of signed jerseys were found in Rife’s possession, according to e-mails Tressel received. That this many items were found might indicate that this has been a long practice, a sentiment backed up by former running back Antonio Pittman.
“This OSU tattoo stuff is silly. Cats been gettin hookups on tatts since back in 01,” Pittman posted Dec. 23 on his Twitter account, shortly after athletic director Gene Smith addressed the NCAA’s suspension of the tattooed players.
Though he might not have known for as long as his former players, Tressel did know about these transgressions months before the NCAA. He did not inform it because he thought he was following the rules.
“I needed to keep sight of the fact that confidentiality was requested by the attorney, and so I followed that,” Tressel said, emphasizing his fear of disrupting a federal investigation.
Former players indicated that Tressel would not violate an NCAA bylaw intentionally.
“He is the kind of guy that every single thing he does, he does it by the book,” former kicker Mike Nugent said. “I think at the time, he thought he was doing things right and going over things the right way.”
Tressel’s desire to keep the law in mind probably would not surprise most followers of the seemingly straight-laced coach. Maybe these violations shouldn’t have either.