Jim Tressel And George Steinbrenner

Books, College Football, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Uncategorized

What would one of the most famous alumnus of Ohio State University think of the Jim Tressel scandal and resignation?

Would said individual have joined the brigade of those who leapt off the Tressel bandwagon of success as soon as the allegations of impropriety and rule-breaking forced him to step down?

Or would he have defended his friend?

What would George have done?

The George I’m referring to is the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner—a man who, like Tressel, knew his fair share of scandal and punitive measures being taken against him; and who, like Tressel, had reasons for doing what he did. Whether they were good, bad, self-serving, nitpicky, mean-spirited or politically motivated reasons is irrelevant—nothing was done just because.

If Steinbrenner fired his manager, it was because he wanted to make a change.

If he contributed to Richard Nixon’s presidential re-election campaign illegally, it was because he wanted his candidate to win, circumnavigated legality and was convicted and punished.

If he tried to dig up dirt as a vengeful act against one of his own players, Dave Winfield, and got involved with a sleazy hustler like Howie Spira, it was because he was irate at having been essentially taken in a contract negotiation to sign the star outfielder.

Steinbrenner was friends with Tressel.

In fact, when the college football game dubbed The Boss Bowl was staged at Yankee Stadium last December, Bill Madden wrote about Steinbrenner only being seen wearing one ring other than a Yankees championship ring; that ring was the 2002 Ohio State National Championship ring given to him by…Jim Tressel—NY Daily News Story, 12.28.2010.

How would Steinbrenner have reacted to this mess in which Tressel is embroiled? The mess that cost him his job and sullied his reputation?

I think we know the answer.

As a total outsider and college football neophyte with no connection either way, I have to ask: Considering some of the things that are going on in big, massive moneymaker college sports programs, was Tressel helping his kids make some extra money and gain perks such an awful thing?

So they were trading memorabilia for tattoos—so what?

In 1989, Barry Switzer was forced out at the University of Oklahoma for a series of transgressions by players that included a shooting, drug dealing and allegations of rape—Sports Illustrated 2.27.1989.

Because Switzer won and won and won during his run at Oklahoma, his personal behaviors were never scrutinized to the point where he was either told to rein in his players and himself or he’d have to go. Many winked and nodded at Switzer, envying him for the way he lived his life without pretense or restraint.

But once the scandal erupted and the team wasn’t winning National Championships, it was easier to dump Switzer to show that the university was “serious” about cleaning up its act.

Were they?

Or did they want to put on a show of zero tolerance to get the media and angry public—and donating boosters—off their backs and continue the financial and practical support for the school?

Switzer’s personal life dovetailed with the way he ran his programs, college and pro. He was proud of his lack of hypocrisy as a poor kid who made good; a drinker, partyer and womanizer; the stories of his generosity with money and time are prevalent.

Because Switzer didn’t live with the preferred conservative, made-for-public-consumption face that many like to associate with football coaches, there was always a risk of something terrible happening; after the series of incidents related in the SI story, he was no longer viable as the leader of Oklahoma’s massive football program and once the threat of money no longer coming in from supporters was issued, it was easy to force him out.

How does this relate to Tressel?

The overwhelming sense I get from reading the articles and editorials is that Tressel is viewed as a wily politician who played the angles. If that meant looking the other way when he knew there were violations going on, helped his players line their pockets with feigned ignorance as his personal protective shield, or behaved in a manner that the public Tressel would consider immoral while the private Tressel shut his eyes and ignored what he knew in the interests of winning, so be it.

Part of Tressel’s problem appears to be that image that was so carefully crafted with the ends justifying the means. Quite possibly, in his mind, the young men he was in charge of weren’t doing something so awful that it was a detached brick in the foundation of a downgrading of society; in essence, “it’s just tattoos and the trading of collectibles”; “they’re getting no-show jobs and cars to drive and no one’s getting hurt”.

No harm, no foul. Just don’t get caught.

They got caught.

The integrity of the public and the games weren’t harmed by this as they would with the dealing of drugs or shaving points.

In comparison to some of the stuff the players could’ve been doing, was what they were doing worthy of this outrage?

I find it laughable at the speed in which those who were supposedly ardent supporters and “friends” of people who get embroiled in these types of circumstances abandon them when they’re no longer of use. Tressel wasn’t going to get past NCAA sanctions; his position was impossible to maintain; and the team wasn’t going to be as successful as OSU fans are accustomed with him staying.

That, more than his lying, is the reason he had to go.

Tressel’s rectitude was probably partially real, partially a salesmanship persona. In order to function in that world, it’s necessary. Those aghast at the dichotomy between the public Tressel and the private Tressel need to examine their belief systems. Switzer was the same guy privately as he was publicly; Tressel was being a politician as his “senatorial” image suggests.

Switzer’s players acted with the tacit acknowledgement of the coaches and university supporters, it was okay as long as they won and didn’t wind up in jail or the morgue.

It’s like this everywhere.

Was Tressel being a self-interested liar with ends justifying the means? Or was he functioning as anyone who wants to run a big time college football program has to function in order to win and keep the money rolling in?

George Steinbrenner understood how these things worked and would most likely have supported his friend.

And he wouldn’t have been wrong.

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