Jim Tressel’s Fall – Integrity, Rules and the Gray Area

I am not sure what is more devastating, the potential sanctions and associated pain to come for my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes or having to read all the bashing of Jim Tressel’s integrity. I am actually leaning toward the latter. A football program can be rebuilt, but a man’s integrity sticks with him forever.

Tressel resigned as head football coach at The Ohio State University after allegations of a cover-up surfaced regarding a memorabilia-for-tattoo scandal was made public in December 2010. Tressel found out about the deals in April 2010 and failed to report the infractions to the NCAA as is the required according to NCAA rules. Tressel said he did not report the allegations because the informant, a Columbus lawyer, told him there was a federal drug investigation and he wasn’t supposed to say anything to avoid interfering with it. Tressel also claimed he was ignorant of what players were doing and who they associated with outside of his program. Moreover, details of a career-long pattern of bending NCAA rules has been made public and tarnished the coaches reputation.

 Jim Tressel photo by Erik Thureson via ookaboo Creative Commons

Tressel made his bones in coaching by being “the man of integrity.” With trademark sweater vest and his politically correct answers to tough questions, he gained the nickname of “Senator.” Just like United States Senators, who start out wanting to save the world, many get caught up in the moment and their integrity takes a hit with a bad decision in a perceived private moment. These perceived private moments have been the downfall of many men. The shock is that if you could pick any coach at any level and say “yes, with 100% assurance, this guy will make the right decision when he believes no one will find out,” most people would’ve picked Tressel. I would still pick Tressel.

A man’s personal core values, whether he has identified them or not,  are universal truths that he uses as a yardstick for decision-making and lives his day-to-day by. Similar to the phrase “a leopard doesn’t change his spots”, personal core values do not change. The sooner you sit down to identify your’s the quicker you will be in-tune with the universe around you and begin to make decisions that are right for the real you and not the you you think you are. Often a person’s environment may dictate his decisions instead of his core values. This person can never be happy until he makes decisions for himself and not others. Tressel’s personal core values were different than what the world assumed they were. Tressel did not believe that rules were meant to be followed and he did not believe that rules were always right.  The world was ignorant of Coach’s true personal core values and in turn, surprised by the decisions he made.

It is obvious now that as great a football coach as Tressel is, coaching was not his top priority. Tressel is a developer of men before anything else. He worked to develop better human-beings no matter what it took. He obviously did not agree with the rules and regulations passed down by the NCAA and that he agreed to operate by or else he would have made decisions accordingly. It wasn’t the job, the prestige, the money or else he would have made sure he followed the NCAA and ensured he kept his job. He knew these kids were not in a good place and agreed to look the other way so the players could get a little extra help. Now, I am not saying he knew about championship ring sales and autograph empires, but he knew some things were going on with boosters and allowed the activity if in the best interest of the kid. Coaching was merely a way Tressel could mentor kids and develop young men. Tressel operated in a gray area.

The claim above seems contradictory in light of the recent headlines, but I truly believe Jim Tressel is a great man and a man with integrity. I believe he put his career on the line at times by making decisions he believed were right. Its true, Coach Tressel agreed to operate with the NCAA rules and regulations and he failed to do so. These actions were wrong but consistent with his core value of developing young men.

I know that Tressel is a great man and we have not seen the last of him. He may return to coaching, but I think it is far more likly that Tressel will emerge as a leading lecturer, author, teacher or even consultant to the NCAA. I would not be surprised if Tressel’s coaching career was the price paid to develop a better system for student-athletes to operate in. I see Tressel working with the NCAA to create a better system. A system that awards student-athletes fairly. A new system should align their personal needs as college students and creators of vast income for Universities with the NCAA wish that these athletes remain amatuers. Instead of Tressel helping Ohio State football players, Tressel would then be improving the life of every student-athlete in every sport at every Univeristy. Tressel would emerge as a hero for fixing the system that most coaches and athletes would agree is broken. Most importantly, this would align exactly with Tressel’s personal core value of developing young people – which is the equilibrium that we all return to when we learn about ourselves. Then again, maybe I am ignorant.

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