Great Divide in the Buckeye Nation.

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 06/02/2011 7:10 PM
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Tressel Resignation Leaves Buckeye Nation With Great Divide
By John Porentas

The recent resignation of Jim Tressel and the events leading to that resignation have polarized the Ohio State fan base in a way that I frankly did not think possible until now.

Andy Geiger
Andy Gieger

There now exists within Buckeye Nation two camps; one that thinks Tressel's conduct clearly demanded a coaching and general culture change, and another that think Tressel's conduct merits something akin to canonization.

The schism is disconcerting, not because exists, but because of what may be the underlying cause for it.

For the Tressel doubters, the assumption is that those who still support Tressel have on Scarlet and Gray glasses, that they were duped by the man into thinking he was something that he is not. They are blinded, the theory goes, by wins over Michigan, by Big Ten championships, and by overall success on the field.

That is the easy conclusion, the one that "big picture" writers and commentators have helped put forth, because their jobs, after all, are to get the big picture and not get mired in the tiny details. Most of the time, that big picture view is good enough, but even the big picture people are beginning to wonder about the extremes of opinion on Tressel. ESPN commentators are wondering aloud how Tressel's image can be in such conflict with what is being reported as unethical conduct. The overwhelming support of former players flies in the face of much of what is being shouted about Tressel's character.

In trying to make sense of it all, it occurred to me that discovering Tressel's personal flaw, the one that led him to the conduct being called unethical, would go a long way toward understanding why there is such deep divide. Then I realized that approach sounded like a bunch of boring, trite psychobabble, and beside, I would hardly call myself qualified to make that kind of analysis

I was at a standstill, when it occurred to me that while my premise might be right, it was my approach that was all wrong. Instead of trying to figure it out for myself, I ought to ask somebody who might have some special insight. That's when I called former OSU Director of Athletic Andy Geiger.

The Right Man for the Job

Though he is now long-removed from Ohio State athletics, Geiger is still remembered with fondness and respect in Columbus. He was a tough but fair leader who oversaw not only excellence on the playing field, but incredible fiscal and facilities development. During his tenure, Bill Davis Stadium was built, the Schottenstein Center was built, Ohio Stadium was totally revamped, and the Steelwood Building was developed. Additionally, the groundwork was laid for the refurbishing of OSU's softball, tennis and rowing facilities, all of which was accomplished after his retirement from OSU.

His reputation for adherence to NCAA compliance was impeccable. He was a task master in that area, and demanded the utmost effort in keeping OSU athletic programs as clean as was humanly possible. He acted swiftly and decisively when he even suspected that former basketball coach Jim O'Brien had seriously breached NCAA rules, and very much took a no-nonsense approach to NCAA enforcement.

Geiger is also the person who hired Jim Tressel, the man who is now accused of flaunting those rules that Geiger holds in such high regard. If ever there was a man who could give me an objective view on Jim Tressel, it was him, so I made the call.

Some Surprising Comments

In a recent "Around the-Ozone Water cooler" discussing whether our views of Jim Tressel had changed, I took the position that mine had not. That was interpreted by some as support of Tressel which made them very happy. It made others very angry. Those responses very much highlighted for me the divide within Buckeye Nation. People saw that they wanted to see in the piece, not what was really there, and what they saw was a reflection of their position on the great divide.

What almost everyone missed is that my comments addressed only the question of whether my opinion had changed. I was not surprised by Tressel's actions. He is extremely consistent and predictable, and had acted in a way that I would have expected, and therefore my opinion was not changed. That is neither support nor condemnation, simply an observation.

What surprised me in talking with Geiger is that he seemed to be in total agreement with that thought on Tressel, that he is predictable and in this case acted in an entirely predictable manner.

"I agree that his first instinct is to protect,' said Geiger, who then took the thought a step further.

"He is, in my view far more than a football coach. He is in many ways a mentor, and would try to correct the problem from within and rectify the situation rather than have it become a 'cause celebre'. That fact is at once admirable, and (at the same time) the wrong thing to do."

Geiger's pronouncement that it was "the wrong thing to do" will certainly please those militating for the removal of Tressel, but Geiger then followed up his statement by stating the very dilemma that is causing "the great divide."

"It's not something to castigate the man over," said Geiger, "or to immediately declare that he is a dishonest person."

On the surface, that is an endorsement of Tressel, and should make happy those who remain on the supporter side of the divide. It also illustrates the reason for the divide. Tressel did break rules, but most likely did it (according to Geiger) with good intentions. His statement also leaves you wondering if Tressel might still be at Ohio State if Geiger were still around. Geiger's next comments put that thought to rest.

"What happened in my view from 40,000 feet away, as you know, I'm not there, I'm 3,000 miles away, but what happened was it became in the world of college football, in the instant news cycle and non-stop kind of look at these kind of things, it became paralyzing.

"It became a situation from which they couldn't extricate themselves and Jim became the absolute focus. I don't think The University could effectively move on with him in the chair as football coach."

The pragmatic side of Geiger agrees with the decision to ask Tressel to resign, but there is another side of him that is obviously saddened by that reality.

"I really believe this whole situation is heartbreaking for everybody involved," Geiger said.

"I don't think there's very much happiness anywhere about this. The folks that had to do this feel worse than everybody else. This one simply mushroomed to the place there was no option. That's my take from here."

Geiger's comments leave little doubt that he too would have asked for Tressel's resignation. His final pronouncement, however, underscores the reason for the great divide following the reality of that resignation this week.

"These are really good people and this is too tragic, because these are all really, really good people." Geiger said.

"I told USA Today yesterday, I haven't looked at the paper, I don't care that much in terms of that stuff (what the paper may have said), but I said if I had a young son who was getting ready, and was talented to be a program like that, there isn't anybody in the country I'd rather have him play for and be associated with than Jim Tressel. This doesn't change my mind on that."

Andy Geiger looks at the breaking of NCAA rules as anathema. Of that I am certain, but I can also say that I had the privilege of getting to know him some while he was in Columbus, and can tell you categorically that the one thing he took more seriously was the raising of his children. For Geiger to say he would send his own child to Tressel despite the NCAA transgression is nothing short of remarkable, and nothing short of the perfect illustration of the great divide that now exists in and about the state of Ohio.

Part Two - Controlling the Uncontrollable

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