Coach Tressel, E-Mails, And NCAA Violations

Tonight’s disclosure about Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is disappointing news, indeed, for Ohio State fans.  Tressel failed to promptly report information about potential NCAA violations to institutional officials.  As a result, Ohio State has self-reported an NCAA violation, has suspended Coach Tressel for two games, has fined him $250,000, and will issue a public reprimand and require Coach Tressel to make a public apology.  The NCAA, of course, may impose additional sanctions or require additional actions.

I’ve read the Ohio State letter self-reporting the violations and listened to parts of tonight’s press conference about the matter, in which OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith, Coach Tressel, and OSU President E. Gordon Gee spoke.  I have some questions about what happened, but I’d prefer to reserve judgment until more information comes out.  I think a big part of the puzzle will be the e-mails between Coach Tressel and the attorney who advised Tressel of the potential NCAA violations — and who apparently requested confidentiality because the information was obtained in the context of a federal drug trafficking investigation.  How were the e-mails phrased?  Did their contents reasonably suggest that Coach Tressel should be concerned about the safety of the unnamed players who allegedly were involved?

Sometimes I think we expect public figures — and in Ohio, the head football coach at Ohio State obviously is a public figure — to make snap judgments that stand up to the most rigorous 20-20 hindsight examination.  In life, it rarely works out that way.  For all of Ohio State’s focus on NCAA rules compliance, I doubt that Coach Tressel or anyone else has received training on what to do if they receive an email from an attorney reporting on potential rules violation information obtained during a federal criminal investigation, when the attorney requests strict confidentiality.  Let’s at least wait until more information becomes available before we reach ultimate conclusions on the propriety of Coach Tressel’s conduct.

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