During the bowl season, it was widely reported that several Ohio State University (“OSU”) football student-athletes received benefits (i.e., tattoos) for the sale of their equipment and championship rings. Journalists and fans exploded in disgust when it was announced the football student-athletes would be suspended for five (5) football contests, but could compete in the Sugar Bowl. Many argued OSU received preferential treatment from the NCAA. However, OSU took advantage of having a large compliance staff and a rare exception of NCAA legislation to allow the student-athletes to compete in the postseason event. The frenzy finally seemed to have concluded until earlier this week when it was reported that OSU head football coach Jim Tressel had knowledge of the infractions in April 2010, but failed to disclose such infractions to OSU and NCAA investigators.
On March 8, 2011, OSU filed a report with the NCAA indicating between April 2, 2010 and January 15, 2011 that Coach Tressel violated the provisions of NCAA Bylaw 10.1 when he failed to notify OSU officials of information he received beginning in April 2010 relating to potential violations of the NCAA preferential treatment legislation. The report notes Coach Tressel violated NCAA Bylaw 10.1 by failing to inform OSU of potential violations on three (3) separate occasions: 1) on September 13, 2010, Coach Tressel executed the NCAA Certificate of Compliance indicating he was not aware of any unreported NCAA violations; 2) in December 2010, Coach Tressel failed to report to OSU officials that he received emails of the alleged violations prior to OSU receiving a report from the Department of Justice; and 3) on December 16, 2010, Coach Tressel failed to report his knowledge of the student-athletes’ involvement in the alleged violations despite being asked regarding his knowledge of the same by OSU officials. As a result of Coach Tressel’s conduct, he received the following penalties: 1) he is required to attend a 2011 NCAA Regional Rules Seminar; 2) he was issued a public reprimand and must make a public apology; 3) he will be suspended for the first two (2) games of the 2011 season; and 4) he will be fined $250,000.00, which will be used to pay an outside consultant to investigate and represent OSU in matters before the NCAA.
Several members of the media called for Coach’s Tressel’s resignation for his failure to abide by NCAA rules and regulations and his purported knowing disregard of OSU protocol. In accordance with Section 4.1(d) of Coach Tressel’s contract, he is required to report all violations of NCAA rules for which he has knowledge. If he fails to do so, he may be terminated for cause in accordance with Section 5.1(b) of his contract. Although OSU likely has authority to terminate Coach Tressel for cause, OSU officials clearly and unequivocally offered their support for Coach Tressel and indicated he will remain the head football coach at OSU.
Now, the NCAA will be afforded an opportunity to again investigate OSU relating to this matter and may provide for additional or more severe punishment. Based on the punishment handed down to marquee coaches in the last several months, Coach Tressel may receive additional or more severe punishment from the NCAA. Two examples come to mind, 1) Bruce Pearl of the University of Tennessee was suspended for eight (8) conference games for his role in misleading NCAA investigators; and 2) Jim Calhoun of the University of Connecticut was suspended for three (3) conference games for failing to monitor the recruitment of a blue chip prospect. Based on this precedent, I suspect the NCAA will provide for additional punishment for Coach Tressel and likely make his suspension correspond with conference games rather than non-conference games (i.e., Akron and Toledo).
Again, the debate surfaces as to whether student-athletes and coaches are treated equally. The student-athletes involved in this matter were suspended for five (5) games and the coach that allegedly concealed the purported improprieties received a two (2) game suspension. Do student-athletes and coaches have equal rights? According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, he is going to attempt to make punishments equal for student-athletes and coaches. Will Mark Emmert assert his authority in this matter?