CBSSports.com National Columnist

No more use in pretending about priorities at The Ohio State

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CINCINNATI -- Maybe it's because I live here, and my kids might some day go there, but I never liked the way Ohio State referred to itself. The Ohio State University? Really? As if it's the only public school in the state, or the only one that matters? Bad form. Elitist and low-rent, all at the same time.

And now of course the world has learned what Ohio State truly is -- and it's not an institute of higher learning. It's a bottom-line business venture. Nothing more. So let's call this what it is, and while we're at it, let's call the school what it is: Jim Tressel makes a lot of money for The Ohio State Business Venture, and so he will remain its coach.

"Wherever we end up," said (t)OSBV athletics director Gene Smith, "Jim Tressel is our football coach. He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly."

Even though Tressel lied to Gene Smith in December. That's when the news leaked that some of Tressel's best players had been making money off their celebrity, selling their memorabilia to a local businessman. Well, that's when the news leaked publicly. Privately, in Jim Tressel's e-mail basket, it had leaked eight months earlier when he was informed by an unidentified person about the violations.

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Tressel never told a soul. Certainly he didn't tell his boss, Gene Smith, as Tressel's $3.5 million contract states he must when confronted with possible NCAA violations. That was April. Meantime a football season came and went, a Big Ten championship season sparked by those very players, and then came December. The news broke publically, and when Smith asked Tressel about it, he continued to cover it up. Never mentioned the April e-mails.

And yet ...

"He is our coach," Gene Smith said Tuesday night, "and we trust him implicitly."

Trust must be given easily at The Ohio State Business Venture. No wonder Maurice Clarett was allowed to run amok for months. No wonder boosters have been allowed dangerously close to star football players like Heisman winner Troy Smith and Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor. No wonder Pryor has a history of driving dealer cars, for reasons that don't add up.

At The Ohio State Business Venture, trust is given out like kindergarten smiley faces. Nothing to see here, folks. Look at Tressel, with that boyish face and sweater vest. Golly, who wouldn't trust a guy like that?

The president of The Ohio State Business Venture, a silly man named E. Gordon Gee, arrived at Ohio State in 2007 vowing to change the culture of college sports. He positioned himself as the white knight who would rescue this damsel, saying, "I have zero tolerance for those who do not live by the rules of the university or by the rules of the organizing body."

Gee also said in 2007 that he considered college sports to be "broken" but Ohio State has "an opportunity to set the standard for excellence ... I'm determined to make that happen."

That was what Gee said in 2007.

Then there was Gee on Tuesday night, after learning that his coach had broken NCAA rules in April by sitting on violations, and had lied to his AD in December about what he knew about those violations. This is what Gee said when asked if it had ever crossed his mind to dismiss a football coach who would do such a thing.

"Are you kidding? I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me," Gee said.

Ah, levity. Hilarious. And appropriate, considering The Ohio State Business Venture already was laughing about this. A $250,000 fine has teeth, even if is just a few weeks' pay for Tressel, but that two-game suspension is a laugh riot. The two games? Home against Akron and Toledo. No offense to those schools, but The Ohio State Business Venture can beat them by three touchdowns whether Tressel makes it to the sideline or not.

Not funny when he tried to be, Gee then was comical when he tried not to be. He said of Tressel, "His integrity and the body of his work is quite remarkable."

The second half of that sentence is true. Tressel's body of work? At his previous school, Youngstown State, he did the same thing he just got busted for doing at Ohio State: He was told of potential violations at Youngstown but didn't pursue that information, either.

Remarkable.

That news conference Tuesday night, the one where the AD and president lauded the integrity of their truth-dodging coach, was a missed opportunity for OSU. This entire episode has been a disaster, but it was the kind of disaster that can be salvaged. Here was a chance for The Ohio State Business Venture to "set the standard for excellence ... [and show] zero tolerance for those who do not live by the rules of the university or by the rules of the organizing body," as E. Gordon Gee had vowed to do in 2007.

This was a Tennessee moment for Ohio State, but as is usually the case, Ohio State couldn't beat an SEC school. You remember a few weeks back when Tennessee faced a similar disaster. The NCAA had just savaged Bruce Pearl for his lack of ethics, but Tennessee stood behind its men's basketball coach after he broke an NCAA rule, lied about it to the NCAA and encouraged a high school kid's family to help cover his tracks.

Tuesday night, Ohio State aligned itself with Tennessee. By standing firmly behind Tressel -- by saying they "trust him implicitly" and applauding "his integrity and the body of his work [as] quite remarkable" -- Smith and Gee demonstrated that their school will not be part of the solution.

College sports is a dirty business, and The Ohio State Business Venture will continue to be part of the problem.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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