Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will be suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season, pay a fine of $250,000 and receive other punishments as the result of a self-report submitted by the university to the NCAA.
At a press conference attended by university president E. Gordon Gee, athletics director Gene Smith and Tressel, the three expressed both their disappointment in the situation and their support of the head coach.
The situation began April 2 when Tressel received an e-mail from an attorney as part of a federal drug trafficking investigation. In the correspondence that followed, the coach learned that two of his current players were involved in the ongoing probe.
Out of concern for their safety, Tressel said, he kept the exchanges secret with the knowledge that it would eventually be brought to light. Inside the Jack Nicklaus Museum adjacent to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, a teary eyed Tressel said the situation frightened him.
He did not disclose the e-mails to officials and vocalized no plans to ever share them, citing confidentiality concerns. Tressel said he never had contact with federal investigators and that he first realized he had done wrong in January.
“Admittedly I probably did not give quite as much thought to the potential NCAA part of things as I read it,” Tressel said. “My focus was on the well-being of the young people.”
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Both Smith and Gee expressed their support in Tressel as their coach, citing the overall body of work he has put forth during his decade at the helm of the program. Tressel said he never considered tendering his resignation and his bosses said they never considered relieving him of his duties.
“All the speculation about him being terminated was just speculation,” Smith said. “There’s no question in my mind that his decision was from the heart. We’re obviously disappointed that we’re here but I will tell you that Jim Tressel is a coach of young men and we support him 100 percent. He is our coach and we trust him implicitly.”
Said Gee: “Are you kidding me?”
Gee said he spent three hours speaking candidly with Tressel on the situation and also voiced his concern for the coach.
“There is a great deal of grief in this man,” the president said. “He feels very sorry about this and it has been very difficult for him because this is a man who by every fiber and every action believes in the law of integrity and has also lived that way. I know that you have heard him say that he made a mistake and indeed he did. He has learned from that mistake, as we all have.”
In December, six Buckeyes received suspensions for part of the 2011 season after it was revealed that they had sold personal items and received discounts on tattoos at a local parlor. Five of them – Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas – received five-game suspensions to open the season while Jordan Whiting landed a one-game suspension. That matter will remain closed, Smith said.
The two players Tressel was alerted to in April were among the six to later be suspended. The coach said that while he was disappointed in the violations that were uncovered in December, he was relieved to see no drug trafficking charges.
Allegations first broke during the evening of March 7 thanks to an article on Yahoo! Sports. The article cited an anonymous source who had alerted Tressel of the transgressions as early as April, 2010, but that he did not report them to the compliance office. According to the article, Tressel was troubled by the information and promised to look into it.
In e-mails released by the university, Tressel responded in e-mails saying he would "get on it ASAP" and that "I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up."
The university’s investigation into the situation began Jan. 13 when OSU’s office of legal affairs discovered an e-mail from Tressel that pertained to the December investigation. Once the information was leaked in the Yahoo! article, Smith said the university had no choice but to discuss the situation publicly. The initial plan was to try and be finished by the middle of this week, Smith said.
However, the investigation is ongoing and Smith said further punishments could be in the offing should the NCAA decide that OSU’s self-imposed punishments are not strict enough.
In a Dec. 23, 2010 press conference to announce the suspensions, Smith told reporters that the athletic department had first been informed of the situation involving the sale of memorabilia Dec. 8. He then walked reporters through a timeline that culminated with an NCAA decision being reached Dec. 22.
Tressel's contract specifically stipulates that he must report any possible rules or legal infractions to compliance immediately after beginning the investigation himself. The word “any” is underlined in the contract, which mentions that his salary this year is $3.5 million.
Under section 4.1d of that contract, Tressel must immediately report any possible violation of Big Ten or NCAA bylaws immediately. The report states that the coach shall “Know, recognize and comply with all federal, state and local laws, as well as all applicable policies, rules and regulations of Ohio State, and governing athletic rules, including but not limited to, the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA ..."
Smith, who also serves as a member of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, was supposed to be in Indianapolis in preparation for five days of deliberation that begin Wednesday. He was recalled to Columbus earlier in the day.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that this happened at all,” Tressel said. “I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously and for the game of football. Obviously I plan to grow from this and I’m sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and didn’t do things as well as I could possibly do.”