Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
Jim Tressel’s first decade at Ohio State included a National Championship, seven Big Ten crowns and nine wins against Michigan. He won’t be on the sideline at the start of his second decade at OSU.
OSU has suspended its football coach for the first two games of the 2011 season for violating provisions of an NCAA rule when he failed to report information involving two Buckeye football players.
As part of its self-report, submitted Tuesday to the NCAA, the university also imposed a $250,000 fine, a public reprimand and apology and attendance at a compliance seminar.
Tressel, OSU President E. Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith addressed the media Tuesday evening at the Jack Nicklaus Museum.
Tressel said he never considered resigning.
“The most pathetic thing is a leader looking for self-pity,” Tressel said, quoting President George W. Bush. “So at no point in this time … am I looking for anything other than doing what needs to be done.”
Smith said the NCAA still has to provide feedback on the self-imposed sanctions, and additional penalties “could happen.”
“All the speculation about him being terminated is pure speculation,” Smith said. “This case, in my view, does not warrant it. When you think of the body of work that this gentleman has put into this program and into this profession, when you think about who he is, there’s no question in my mind that his decision was from the heart.”
An unnamed attorney e-mailed Tressel on April 2, 2010, “with information pertaining to football student-athletes’ alleged visits” to Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor, according to copies of an e-mail chain released by the university. The initial e-mail suggested that the parlor’s owner, Edward Rife, possessed OSU football memorabilia, that one student-athlete had received discounted tattoo services and that Rife was the subject of a criminal investigation.
In the e-mail, the attorney states that the “federal government raided (Rife’s) house” April 1, 2010, seizing $70,000 in cash and “a lot of Ohio State memorabilia.”
Tressel responded the same day with “I will get on it ASAP.”
On April 16, 2010, the attorney informed Tressel that Rife told him he had “about 15 pairs of cleats (with signatures), 4-5 jerseys — all signed by the players” and nine Big Ten Championship rings.
Tressel responded with “keep me posted as to what I need to do, if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up.”
The attorney sent Tressel another e-mail later that day, telling the coach that two student-athletes were in contact with Rife.
On June 1, 2010, Tressel e-mailed the attorney, asking if he had any additional names of student-athletes involved. The attorney replied that he did not.
“Our rings arrive this week for 2009 Big Ten … any names from our last discussion? I would like to hold some collateral if you know what I mean,” Tressel wrote.
The attorney responded that other than the two players, he had no additional information.
According to a university press release, OSU became aware of Tressel’s prior knowledge Jan. 13 when OSU’s Office of Legal Affairs came across one of Tressel’s e-mails while reviewing information on an unrelated legal issue. At that time, the coach shared with university officials why he didn’t previously disclose the information during the school’s investigation into the players selling memorabilia to the tattoo parlor.
“I think that your No. 1 critic is yourself, so you spend time thinking about how you can do things better,” Tressel said. “I don’t think less of myself at this moment. I felt at the time as if I was doing the right thing for the safety of the people and the overall situation.”
After further delving into the situation and questioning Tressel on Jan. 16, OSU notified the NCAA on Feb. 3 that Tressel had violated provisions of NCAA Bylaw 10.1. The NCAA interviewed Tressel on Feb. 8.
Yahoo! Sports reported Monday that Tressel was made aware that quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other juniors sold memorabilia to the owner of Fine Line Ink tattoos in Columbus in April. OSU reported the violations to the NCAA on Dec. 8, 2010. The NCAA handed down five-game suspensions to the five juniors on Dec. 23, 2010.
The NCAA granted the players eligibility for the Sugar Bowl, which Tressel only allowed the suspended juniors to attend after they pledged to return for their senior seasons.
“I want to be clear,” Smith said. “(Tressel’s case) is separate from the case that involves our student-athletes. There is no intertwining of the cases.”
OSU beat Arkansas, 31-26, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4. An interception by defensive end Solomon Thomas — one of the five juniors facing a suspension — ended a Razorback drive in Buckeye territory with less than a minute left, sealing the victory.
Smith, chair of the men’s NCAA Tournament selection committee, left meetings in New York to fly back to Columbus. Smith said he had hoped to file the self-report to the NCAA by the end of the week, but urged his co-workers to speed up the process when Yahoo! Sports reported Monday that Tressel had prior knowledge he didn’t disclose.
“There’s no question; we had a leak,” Smith said, “and we wanted to be as responsive as we could.”
Gee said the thought of firing Tressel never crossed his mind, adding that he and Tressel discussed the situation at Gee’s house for “about three hours.”
The $250,000 fine will cover “direct costs of the investigation,” including travel and collaboration with an “outside consultant,” according to the press release.
Should the NCAA uphold OSU’s sanctions, Tressel will miss the Buckeyes’ first two games of the 2011 season — home contests against MAC opponents Akron and Toledo. OSU plays at Miami (Fla.) in Week 3.
“I asked for a little advice as to how I should’ve taken this forward,” Tressel said. “I’ve learned that I probably needed to go to the top legal counsel person at the university and get some help as to how you handle criminal investigations and confidentiality and perhaps gain the protection you need in the process.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed that this happened at all. I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously.”
Besides Thomas and Pryor, the other juniors suspended for the first five games of next season are: offensive lineman Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey.
This isn’t the first time Tressel has faced scrutiny for NCAA infractions while part of the OSU football program.
Running back Maurice Clarett was suspended for the 2003 season for accepting improper benefits.
Quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and 2005 season opener after accepting money from a booster.
Tressel was scheduled to sign copies of his book, “Life Promises for Success,” at Barnes & Noble on OSU’s campus Tuesday night. The store confirmed to The Lantern that the event was postponed until Spring Quarter.
OSU football historian Jack Park said despite the immediate hit to Tressel’s image, down the road, the coach will be remembered for his accomplishments on the field.
“I think in a few years as you reflect on everything and the rest of this comes out,” Park said, “unless there’s more of the story that we don’t know about, based on what we learned tonight, I don’t think it will have a major impact on coach Tressel’s legacy. He’
s just been too good for too long.”