Tressel Wanted Players to Miss Sugar Bowl
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel told NCAA investigators he was “disappointed” when he found out they were going to let his players participate in the Sugar Bowl back in January.
Tressel had known since April that at least two of those players had likely committed NCAA violations that included selling memorabilia and would have preferred to see the guilty parties pay a steeper price for their misconduct.
“I would (have) felt a little bit better if they’d said, ‘Don’t play in the bowl game,’ because then I would know for sure that there’s no such thing as getting away with something,” he said during his Feb. 8 meeting with the NCAA.
It was during that interview with the NCAA where Tressel revealed the fact he knew Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey had likely committed violations, but he was also worried they might be involved in criminal behavior with Edward Rife.
Tressel allowed both players to participate in the 2010 season without asking questions because he believed the federal investigation took precedence over the possible NCAA issues created by their involvement with Rife and his tattoo parlor.
According to his testimony, Tressel believed a day of reckoning would be coming.
“All along we’ve known that one of the things that we’ve gotta be preparing ourselves for is we gotta find away to keep these guys here. Now when the NCAA, after all the reinstatement discussions and all that, decided that the guys could play in the bowl game and then they would be sanctioned later, okay, at first, I was really disappointed,” Tressel told investigators.
“I remember walking out the door talking to him. I said, ‘Gene, you know, I got mixed emotions about this because, you know, sanctions are needed.’”
Tressel said he wanted to teach his players a lesson. Letting them play in the bowl game and then potentially leave without facing the consequences of those actions was not the message he wanted to send.
“The more I tried to think through what I had been thinking about for some time, which was there’s gonna be an inevitable day for whoever – for whatever,” he said.
“And we have got to find a way to make these kids be in school because they can’t run from their problems. They can’t run from their mistakes. You know? The worst thing they could do is flee and think that the world would be better over there.”
The Ohio State coaches first went to the seniors to see if they wanted these guys to play in the bowl game. Recognizing how difficult it would be to defeat a team like Arkansas without Pryor, Posey, Boom Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas, the seniors decided the needed them out there.
Which initially put Tressel in a bind.
“And then it dawned on me, you know what? I think the NCAA did me a favor, because now I can say to those guys – it just so happened, none of ’em were seniors. And I can say to these guys, ‘If you wanna play in the bowl game…you know, you have to sign this sheet of paper,” he told NCAA investigators in February.
“Which is not a legal document, but you have to sign this piece of paper telling me that you’ll live up to these things at the bowl game, which is earlier curfew, go to the community outreach project, all the boloney, okay?”
Tressel also made the players agree to sign a document saying they would return to Ohio State for their senior seasons so that they could serve their five-game suspensions. He wouldn’t even let them on the plane to New Orleans until he had a signature from each one of them.
“So in my mind, the NCAA ended up doing me a great favor ’cause five guys signed the letter,” Tressel said.
They also did them a great favor because Ohio State won the game basically on the backs of the five players in question—along some significant help from seniors like Dane Sanzenbacher and Cam Heyward.
Pryor tallied more than 220 yards through the air and over 100 yards on the ground while Herron and Posey each scored touchdowns. The most unlikely of the group even made the play of the game as Solomon Thomas intercepted Ryan Mallett on what looked to be the Razorbacks’ game-winning drive.
One of them almost missed the excitement.
“We had some moments at the bowl game where had to tell one guy I was gonna put him on the plane and send him back ’cause I had heard rumors,” Tressel said.
“I had heard rumors that he said, ‘I ain’t sticking around. I’m gonna play this game and have a great game and get drafted high. I’m outta here. I’m not sitting out five games.’”
That didn’t sit well with Tressel, obviously.
“I said, ‘We’ll put you on a plane tomorrow morning if you wanna think about going out early,’” he added.
“I can’t look at the NCAA in the eyes and not have any sanctions. Can’t do it. I can’t. Ohio State can’t. You know, can’t do it.”
Tressel wanted to make right the wrongs his players had committed, but he never stopped to think of his own mistakes. At least not until it was too late.
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