Tressel’s unraveling: Should he have studied Carroll?

Knowingly or not, Carroll got out of L.A. before sanctions rocked USC


Ohio State’s football program is in serious trouble with the NCAA. Merchandise was pawned, violations were painted over, blah blah blah. Don’t sweat the details; only the faces change. Even casual sports fans know that the “amateur athlete” image portrayed by the Association, and believed in so passionately by millions, is a sad myth.

Some lay the blame with the student-athlete in situtations like this. When you are 18, you know right from wrong, goes that argument. No disagreement there. By the time a young man or woman reaches university, their personal code is usually well-formed.

But when the adults are culpable, they should be held to a higher standard. And coach Jim Tressel can’t go untouched, since proof of his knowledge is now public. Every time we annoint someone as Mr. Good, you can just about mark that person for a future flogging.

Let’s keep this in perspective: Coach Tressel probably started out trying to help, and slowly got entangled in a web. To be fair, most of us would not stand up well under constant scrutiny. It’s a good reason to be on our best behavior. You can be sure someone out there is watching.

Then again, while he was building his story on a mountain of sand, he might have taken a note from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. By the time the NCAA crashed down on So Cal, Carroll was on the way to Seattle.

The investigations were long and thorough. They resulted in penalties like lost scholarships, a two-year postseason ban, and more. Then Reggie Bush handed back his Heisman last fall. The shake-up came to a head this week, as USC was stripped of its 2004 BCS title.

Put aside the fact that “vacating” the title means nothing to fans–we saw the game, and we saw Bush run all over college football. The NCAA can’t vacate our memories. Just remember that Carroll is long gone, while people years removed are affected. The Trojans seemed to visibly lose steam as the legal inquiries began in 2006. The program under Carroll had clearly peaked at that point (a 34-win streak and two championship appearances were about as good as it gets). As likeable as he seems to be, there will continue to be speculation.

Did he know that the house was about to come down? It could be that Carroll is just savvier, forward-thinking and more intuitive than Tressel, who always gives the appearance that he is in control. He may have thought he was, until this year.