Spielman on Jim Tressel

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Last updated: 04/26/2011 12:06 PM
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Spielman Offers Honest, Sobering Opinion of Tressel
By Brandon Castel

Few people love Ohio State football more than Chris Spielman.

Jim Tressel
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jim Tressel

 The former NFL linebacker didn’t just wear the scarlet and gray, he lived it. His passion for the Buckeyes runs deep, as does his admiration for head coach Jim Tressel.

“Everybody knows that Jim Tressel is a great guy and a man of character, but he’s also the head football coach at the Ohio State University, which carries a tremendous responsibility,” Spielman said Monday as a guest on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“Along with that comes accountability, and I think if you’re a true fan of Jim Tressel and a true fan of Ohio State, you understand that there has to be action taken against the mistake that he made.”

Spielman played for the Buckeyes from 1984-87. He was an All-American and a captain. He won the Lombardi Award. He is friends with Tressel and said Monday he would want his own son to play for the man if he were good enough to play at Ohio State.

He can even sympathize with Tressel’s motives, but one thing Spielman still cannot do is bring himself to look the other way.

“I do believe his intention was to protect the players first and foremost, however, he still lost track of his contract and what he’s obligated to do,” Spielman said.

“Every college football coach is put in this situation on a daily basis, and they are trained. According to the college coaches I’ve talked to, any time they get a phone call or email of player misconduct, they hand it over to compliance. That’s where he went wrong. I think his intent was pure, but his actions justify the punishment that’s coming his way, in my opinion.”

The 45-year old Spielman is a college football analyst for ESPN during the fall, but unlike some other former Buckeyes in the booth, he has not tried very hard to conceal his love for all things Ohio State.

That’s why it has been hard for him to come to some of these sobering conclusions.

“I’ve just got a bad feeling from a fan perspective, not from an analyst perspective, that this is going to be bad,” he said.

“I keep going back to the fact that bothers me more than anything about this: when you knowingly put ineligible players on the field.”

Assuming Tressel had reported the information to Ohio State’s compliance department prior to last season, the players in question likely would have been suspended for at least four games during 2010. Instead, the Buckeyes went 12-1 with a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but they may have to give some of those wins back.

“He’s admitted that he’s made a mistake and I think the NCAA is going to come down hard,” Spielman said of Tressel.

“I don’t think you can have a coach who knowingly put ineligible players on the field, and you’re not going to take those games away from them last year.”

That is not exactly what Ohio State fans want to hear right now, especially from one of their most beloved alums, but Spielman was clearly offering an honest, serious look at a situation that has been otherwise sensationalized by most of the mainstream media.

This was not another columnist taking the easy road by piling on Tressel. This was not a “hater” or a “Benedict Arnold,” as some OSU fans have labeled ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who played quarterback for the Buckeyes in the early 1990s.

Spielman is a Buckeye in every sense of the word, but even he sees the possibility of a day where Ohio State could part ways with Tressel over the incident. 

“Yes, I can, unfortunately, although I do believe in accountability. If that’s what needs to be done, then it’s going to be done,” Spielman said reluctantly.

“I would say this, I don’t know if Ohio State takes more action in maybe suspending coach Tressel for the season, or if they fire him, to lessen the penalties that come down on Ohio State football for the future.”

In his 10 years in Columbus, Tressel has put together one of the most successful resumes in school history. His accomplishments rival even those of legendary coach Woody Hayes, but even Woody, winner of three national titles and 13 Big Ten championships, couldn’t escape the axe when his time came.

No one is comparing what Tressel did to hitting a player. Quite the contrary, but it is proof that consequences are a very real part of life, and football.  

“When you know that they’re ineligible and still let them play, that’s tough to get by,” Spielman said.

“Again, I love him, he’s a friend of mine and a man of honor, in my opinion, but you still have to be accountable for knowingly committing a violation.”

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