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MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on June 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm

In my last post, I offered a list of eight big-time jerks around the wide world of golf, reprinted from my new book, Golf List Mania, written with Ed Sherman. This time, I’ll counter that with a last of class acts.

You know them when you see them – professional golfers who definitely go above and beyond. They may throw themselves into charity work, set up foundations to help the underprivileged, offer free clinics to inner city kids, donate money to good causes without ever letting anyone ever know. They definitely do not curse into a camera after a badly struck shot, cheat on their wives and/or mistresses or blame the media for invading their privacy.

The best of the best will sign autographs after a round until their hands ache, flip a ball to a child walking from green to tee, banter with the galleries and linger in the press room until every question is asked and answered, maybe even rather thoughtfully. They’re the good guys, women included, and the following are among the classiest of them all.

Tom Lehman (10) He got to the PGA Tour the hardest way imaginable, earning and losing his playing privileges several times, trying to scratch out a living on the mini-tour circuit, travelling to the far corners of the world to compete and one winter, even renting cross country skis out of the pro shop at the University of Minnesota golf course. Maybe that’s why, when he hit it big in the 1990s, actually gaining No. 1 in the world for one week, he never lost sight of where he had come from, and how many people had helped him along the way. Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion and a former Ryder Cup player and captain, remains one of the most approachable and accommodating players in the game, a man who still hears the slogan “Nice Pants,” from galleries who remember he once was sponsored by Dockers.

Fred Funk (9) Maybe not making it on the PGA Tour until he was 33 convinced the former University of Maryland golf coach to enjoy the moment and figure out that nice guys really can finish first more than occasionally. In 2004, he took on the task of raising funds for J.T. Townsend, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury playing high school football in his home town of Jacksonville. Funk’s no punk. He helped raise enough money for after care expenses and building a wheelchair accessible home for a young man he and his family virtually adopted.

Jay Haas (8) All you need to know about the mild-mannered, soft-talking Haas is that he was the recipient of the 2005 U.S. Golf Association Bob Jones Award given to a player who exemplifies great sportsmanship. A year later, the Golf Writers Association of America presented him with the Jim Murray Award, honoring him for his career-long cooperation with the media. The 1975 NCAA individual champion from Wake Forest never won a major title on the PGA Tour, but his affable demeanor and never-ending accessibility marked him as one of the game’s great gentlemen. His nine wins on the PGA Tour and double digit triumphs on the Champions Tour also speak volumes about his talent.

Lorena Ochoa (7) The native of Guadalajara, Mexico, attained the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf in 2008, but long before that success she was regarded as a hero to workers grooming golf courses all around the LPGA Tour. Early in her brilliant playing career, Ochoa made it a point to spend time behind the scenes thanking the men, many of them from her home country, who were mowing, raking and weed-eating the course she’d be playing that week. Sometimes, she even stayed and had lunch with them. Golf writers covering her events knew the first words out of her mouth before dissecting her round would always be a cheery “Hello everyone!” Hola and muchas gracias to one of the most gracious champions of any sport.

Kenny Perry (6) Perry never wept or wailed after botching two major championships in heartbreaking playoffs, one of them not far from his old Kentucky home at the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville. At the age of 48, he had a two-shot lead with two holes to play in the 2009 Masters, then lost in a two-hole playoff to Angel Cabrera. When it was over, he said, “I may never get this opportunity ever again, but I had a lot of fun being in there. I had the tournament to win. I lost the tournament. But Angel hung in there. I’m proud of him.” Be proud of Kenny Perry, too.

Ben Crenshaw (5) They call him Gentle Ben for a reason, perhaps because it was short for gentleman. One of the game’s all-time great putters, a scholarly golf historian and a winning Ryder Cup captain on a team that staged the greatest comeback in the event’s history, Crenshaw won twice at Augusta National. He endeared himself to golf fans around the world when he knelt down and broke into tears of joy obviously from the heart on the 72nd hole after winning the 1995 Masters by a shot over Davis Love III.

Nick Price (4) This three-time major champion from Zimbabwe came a long way from the days when he flew helicopters in his nation’s military. After that occasional life-threatening experience, no question facing the media ever seemed to faze him, and Price became a favorite go-to guy for every golf writer in the business. He never ducked a query no matter how controversial, and always made it a point to provide an astute, well thought-out analysis of any subject he was ever asked about, a trend that continues as he plays the senior Champions Tour.

Nancy Lopez (3) She grew up in Roswell, N.M. and became one of the most beloved figures in the history of women’s golf. Lopez won nine times her rookie season in 1978 and 48 LPGA events overall, with three major titles. She also finished second four times in the U.S. Women’s Open, the only major blemish on an otherwise sterling playing record. Fans loved her passion on the course and her friendly, accessible style outside the ropes. She became a role model for young female athletes in an era just before the explosion of women’s athletics. She was the approachable, smiling face of the LPGA Tour for many years and, as the doting mother of three daughters, she also demonstrated to her fellow players you really could have it all.

Padraig Harrington (2) When the Irishman was honored at a dinner by the Golf Writers Association of America as the 2008 Player of the Year, Harrington gave an impassioned speech on the importance of a strong media presence at golf tournaments and bemoaned the shrinking newspaper business on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s a gallery favorite who makes himself available to support all manner of good causes and a hero of Ireland not only for his passionate play (oh, those blazing Irish eyes) and three major championships, but humble demeanor on and off the course.

Arnold Palmer (1-tie) With his great gusto for the game, The King changed the face of the sport when he charged out of Latrobe, Pa., in the 1950s to lead his own Arnie’s Army of followers, totally enamored with his go-for-broke, hitch-up-your-pants and stride-with-a-swagger march up the fairways of the world. Some of Palmer’s best pals were the newspaper guys who covered his almost fabled exploits, and he gave them all plenty to write about, even to this day as one of the most colorful and cooperative players of all time.

Jack Nicklaus (1-tie) The year was 1993 and The Golden Bear had just made the cut at the U.S. Open at Baltusrol at the age of 53. As he chatted with reporters after his second round, a young production assistant for ABC Sports kept telling him he was wanted in the television tower to provide commentary on the round. Finally, Nicklaus looked at the pesky young fellow and shooed him away, saying, and we’re paraphrasing here, “some of these guys have been covering me my entire career, and you tell them I’ll be up there as soon as I answer every one of their questions.” For Nicklaus and Palmer, it’s been that way every step of the way over two of the grandest careers in golf history, by far the two classiest acts of all.

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SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on June 25, 2011 at 9:27 am

Only one thing truly matters in the Jim Riggleman saga – how he feels when looking at the “man in the glass.”

Sure, it was rash to quit when his Nationals had vaulted to third place in the NL East after winning 11 of 12. Had his team sustained that pace, Riggleman could have written his contract for 2012 and beyond. Of course it was insulting and senseless to give GM Mike Rizzo a 24-hour ultimatum regarding a “meeting.” And the ordeal was panic-driven for him to flee his post three months shy of getting the answer he so craved.

Nobody understands or respects quitters, especially in the macho world of sports. Most consider them weak. Nats’ pitcher Drew Storen offered, “I understand he needs to take care of himself.” Even his family and friends can’t be counted on as a support system. Each will think, “We love you dad but what were you thinking?”

But none of that matters. All that does is how Riggleman feels since his decision. He’s the one that couldn’t sleep, eat or look himself in the mirror. He’s the one who felt cold shoulders in the locker room due to a “short leash from management. Clearly, it bothered him. No one understands this unless he has walked away from a job – especially a well-publicized one with a sizable paycheck.

At least one of his players understood. Said Jerry Hairston, Jr. ”It’s one of those things where I never want to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.” And he’s right.

For Riggleman to claim, “I’m 58 and that’s too old to be disrespected” is whining – but not to Riggleman. He wasn’t or isn’t the only sports official to work on a 1-year contract. Lots have and would take his deal tomorrow for the chance at the “big-time.” But standing on principal, he added, “In my heart, it (leaving) is the right thing to do.”

Riggleman was peeved. Felt betrayed. Angry. Insulted. Belittled. Embarrassed. Probably sick to his stomach. Who knows if his health was suffering? Ivory-tower and glass-house dwellers say he lacked mental toughness. Rizzo claimed his manager was selfish. Others may suggest the ex-manager seek counseling for an “anger problem.”

And all of them are right. But none walk in Riggleman’s shoes. I know because I have, though my footprints were smaller.

I felt as frustrated as did Riggleman in a job I once held in sports 20 years ago. A 3-year rift with my boss caused me so much angst, I ended up in the emergency room one night. The next day, I resigned.

The only way to re-claim my self esteem – and health – was to quit. Few understood. I lost “friends in the business” who refused to return phone calls when I wanted “back in” the field. I was labeled a quitter and that was my problem – just like Riggleman will learn once his frustration ebbs and he yearns to again, manage a ball club. The red, curly ‘W’ on his chest has morphed into a script, scarlet ‘A.’

When all the columns cease on the Riggleman story, the only thing that matters is the man’s peace of mind. It’s up to Riggleman to find a career “plan B.” In his case, that shouldn’t be hard, considering his close contacts in the bigs, namely Bruce Bochy, the Padres manager.

With his sudden resignation on everyone’s radar screen, Riggleman may never again make out a lineup card. But you may see him flashing signs in a third-base coaching box.

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on June 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Tiger Woods WAS watching as Rory McIlroy did the best impersonation of Tiger we’ll likely ever see; totally dominating the field at the U.S. Open, winning by 8 shots, and in record-setting fashion.

The injured Tiger was not present at Congressional, but his presence was certainly felt as the inevitable comparisons with Rory began. The youngest this… the youngest that… the lowest this… the lowest that… ad infinitum.

The question is, “Was this the best thing that could have happened to Tiger right now, or the worst?”

Tiger has largely been out of action since the Masters when he injured the MCL in his left knee and strained his left Achilles tendon while hitting a shot during the third round in Augusta. Since then, he managed a mere 9 holes at The Players Championship before withdrawing; further damaging the knee on his opening tee shot.

The 22-year-old McIlroy’s performance at the Open is clearly a shot right over Tiger’s bow at a time when Tiger’s in no condition to fire back. But, Tiger let everyone know he got the message when he sent one of his own congratulating Rory on his sensational win. That message also had an underlying tone. Beneath the “Hey, great job!” was a subliminal reminder that Tiger, at least in his mind, is still lurking and, theoretically, the two could go head-to-head in mid-July at Royal St. George’s in the 2011 British Open.

This, naturally, will require Tiger to get healthy and fast. The worry is that Rory’s show in Bethesda might make Tiger feel the need to get back into action too fast.  Frankly, the 35-year-old Woods hasn’t been physically 100 percent since he won the 2008 U.S. Open. Sure, he was second at the ’09 PGA Championship and tied for fourth at this year’s Masters. But, something’s missing. He’s not as feared as he once was. He seems to lack that killer instinct where if he was in the hunt Sunday, the prize was his for the taking. I guess sore knees will do that to a guy.

The 13-year age difference between Tiger and Rory is even more pronounced in the light of Tiger’s health. The power and torque generated by a golf swing can apply serious stress to a golfer’s knees, tendons, joints, etc. And, if a golfer doesn’t have his “legs”, he has a problem. And Tiger definitely has a problem that may not be so easily fixed by a few weeks of rest.

Tiger’s tentative schedule calls for him to play at Aronimink outside of Philly in his AT&T National tournament beginning June 30th and then turnaround on July 14th for the first round at the British. Will Tiger stick with this plan? Should he? Can he afford to skip his own event to continue to rest, and then enter a major tournament with roughly 3 months of rust and a knee that might not enjoy the overnight flight to London?

Tiger keeps saying he’s “committed to his long-term health.” But, could the sudden emergence of McIlroy jeopardize that commitment? In other words, can Tiger keep his ego in check long enough to get a new bill of health before tackling an opponent who literally might be what Tiger himself was at age 22?

For now, let’s just say that Tiger’s decision-making has been in question ever since that infamous 2009 SUV accident.  And, patience might not exactly be Tiger’s strong suit at a time when he’s watching his own records fall to a guy who some are already predicting is capable of duplicating the “Tiger Slam.”

The British Open’s own website has declared Rory McIlroy the odds-on favorite to win. (And, not just because Rory ran away with our Open.) McIlroy has shown flashes of great potential; at this year’s Masters (before the disastrous final round 80 cost him a 4-stroke lead), at last year’s PGA, and at last year’s British where he carded a stunning opening round 63 at St. Andrews, blew himself up with an 80, then rallied to finish tied for third.

McIlroy also has a “Tiger-esque backstory” which includes the tale of him driving a golf ball 40 yards at age 2, and the story of his dad betting friends that the then 16-year-old Rory would win the British by age 25. And, add to that, his “Silver Medal” (low amateur) performance in his 2007 British Open debut, and his first major victory before age 23.

Rory also has that “IT” factor going for him. He’s got a great swing, a great swagger, and an affable personality. He’s also got the golf media singing his praises, “never hits a bad shot,” “plays quickly and confidently,” and “he’s shown he can handle adversity” in the aftermath of the Masters’ disaster.

That said, it needs to be pointed out that Rory’s record 16-under 268 performance at Congressional actually pales in comparison to Tiger’s show at Pebble Beach in 2000 when he carded the former U.S. Open record 12-under 272 to win by 15 shots (!) on a much tougher layout. Tiger followed that with an 8-stroke win at St. Andrews (tying the post-1900 victory margin record), and then with wins at the PGA and ’01 Masters to complete the “Slam.”

Let’s see if Rory McIlroy can match that feat (or come close to it) before we permanently label him “Tiger II.”

Let’s also see if “Tiger I” can keep “Tiger I” focused on his health long enough to truly be the 100% “Tiger of Old,” and then, and only then, turn to face golf’s newest threat to his supremacy.

Somehow though, I just can’t picture Tiger postponing his comeback until 2012. Not with “Tiger II” in the hunt.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on June 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

It’s another “He found God” story. But in these cases, they’re social causes, not religion that’s “changed the man.”

Plaxico Burress – recently released from prison after being charged with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and a single count of  reckless endangerment in the second degree — both felonies – is now counseling at-risk youths about gun safety. How charming.

Just like Michael Vick became passionate about animal welfare after being convicted and having served time on dog fighting charges.

I don’t buy either’s cause. Look no further than the player’s agent for these Houdini acts, complete with a media entourage and under the watchful eye of Roger Goodell. Think Burress is passionate about gun safety? Think Vick gives a hoot about animal welfare? How much time did either invest in these causes before their convictions? Zero, that’s how much.

These “for everyone to see” charades insult those who earnestly volunteer their time on weekends for causes without a media sideshow

Burress carried a loaded weapon into a nightclub and proceeded to party. One freak move and someone is dead. Why couldn’t he connect those dots? In Vick’s case, he watched animals torture each other, suffer and die for the fun of it, not to mention profit.

The very minute Burress was released from prison, the public was hammered with headlines like “Free Plaxico Gunning for NFL Return”…”Burress Rocks Retro Phillies Cap at Prison Gates”….and this gem from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning: “Plaxico Has Served His Time Plus Some.” This last one makes no sense. “Some what” Eli? Maybe he’s miffed he lost his target on offense. Talk about shallow-mindedness.

I tried to sympathize with Burress but then I read his criminal biography.

-Two restraining orders regarding domestic disputes in New Jersey

-Defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania car dealer who claims Burress reneged on a contract regarding public appearances

-Faces civil lawsuit in Florida from woman who claims Burress drove his car into hers’, causing her permanent injuries

-Ticketed for four separate moving violations in Florida

-Then the accidental shooting in New York City two years ago

Somehow, I don’t think this guy gets it, despite serving time and missing two years of his football career. This guy is a train wreck waiting for yet another criminal charge to manifest.

Yet, all sportswriters care about is silly redemption. They don’t recall that January night when a stray bullet from Burress’s gun could have easily killed someone. No, they just want to see him in back in uniform like Vick, where the fantasy world of sports shields one from acts of contrition.

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on June 7, 2011 at 6:05 pm

It’s almost U.S. Open week at Congressional, and in a shameless effort to spur sales of my latest book, “Golf List Mania” co-authored by Ed Sherman, here’s a list of big-time golfing jerks, some of whom might even be in town for golf’s big show. If so, avoid them like the plague.

It’s really easy to find the nicest guys and dolls on the men’s and women’s tours (we’ll offer our class acts later in the week), but any golf writer worth his laptop also can identify more than a few pluperfect horse’s rear ends, at least in locker rooms, executive suites and interview areas where the general public rarely has access. If they did, they might not appreciate the following:

Rory Sabbatini – He’ll be here, and hopefully won’t humiliate his playing partners the way he did at Congressional a few years ago in Tiger’s annual tournament, the AT&T National. Paired with slower than slow Ben Crane, Sabbatini walked far ahead of Crane on the 17th hole, finished out and stormed over to the 18th tee while he was still was in the fairway.

Steve Elkington The often uncooperative Aussie’s post-round demeanor might best be illustrated by an exchange with a writer from the Australian AP a few years ago. After playing poorly, Elkington headed to the parking lot with steam coming out of his ears when the poor fellow from the wire service approached. The reporter’s first words? “Do you want to tell me to bleep myself now, or later?” To his credit, this time Elk smiled and actually answered.

Scott Hoch – He once went into no-comment mode for several years over who knows what, declining to speak with reporters no matter how well he happened to  play. Maybe he never liked his “Hoch as in choke” label after he missed a 2 ½-footputt in a playoff that cost him the 1989 Masters. One year, a representative of theGolf Writers Association approached him at Riviera to tell him he would behonored at an upcoming  GWAA dinner for his charitable work in supporting a local hospital. Hoch, as in mope, saw the man’s press badge and simply walked away.

Carolyn Bivens – She never played the game as a pro, nor was she particularly professional in her disastrous three-year stint as commissioner of the  LPGA. Bivens began her reign of error by announcing ridiculous new media regulations for a tour that desperately needed all the coverage it could get,  alienated many sponsors and tournament directors by imposing onerous new fees  and caused a huge uproar when she threatened to throw players off the tour for not speaking passable English. At her own LPGA Championship in 2009, she declined interview requests and refused to show up in the press room. Within a month, she was fired, and hasn’t been heard from since. What a relief!

Colin Montgomerie – While the Scotsman, runner-up in the ’97 Open atCongressional,. can be quite the charming fellow at times, Monty can sulk with the very best of them, particularly when things are not going very well on the golf course. A spectator moving in his line of sight 250 yards away has been known to distract a rabbit-eared man who surely must have eyes in the back and side of his head, for all the distractions that put him in a dither. Caddies, marshals, scorekeepers and pesky photographers have often drawn his considerable wrath, and it’s never Monty’s fault when things go awry.

Christie Kerr – One of her playing colleagues once said of the LPGA star and former U.S. Women’s Open champion: “She was a bitch when she was fat, and she’s still a bitch skinny.” Since her marriage a few years ago, Kerr has mellowed somewhat, but catch her on an off day and it’s every man/woman for himself/herself.

Leonard Thompson – When Thompson, now a senior golfer, said during a news conference that he’d had some injury problems over the previous few years, a reporter asked him exactly what those injuries were. “None of your goddamned business,” Thompson growled. Marshalls all around the Champions Tour know it’s a good idea to head for the closest available rest room or duck behind a nearby tree when Thompson is approaching their hole. His rotten disposition is known far and wide.

Sergio Garcia – Cried in his mama’s arms when he didn’t break 80 in his first British Open, constantly whines about bad breaks and blames everyone but himself when things aren’t going his way, which is usually the case in major championships. He’s too good a player not to win a major championship or two, but champagne toasts in the press room are never going to happen.

Steve Williams – Tiger Woods’ long-time caddie fancies himself as a bag-man and a bodyguard, a surly presence inside and outside the ropes who berates spectators, badgers, press photographers and once purposely knocked a camera out of one shooter’s hands at a U.S. Open, bruising the poor fellow’sye. Just stay out of his way or face the consequences.  Talk about a bully pulpit.

Vijay Singh – The day he clinched the $10 million prize for winning the FedEx Cup in 2008, he never bothered to show up in the press room to talk about the accomplishment, just as he constantly refuses interview requests and media sessions, even when he’s the leader at a major championship. When an Associated Press reporter quoted him as saying Annika Sorenstam shouldn’t have been invited to play in the 2003 Colonial, he moaned to the world that he’d been misquoted, at least until the reporter played the tape for anyone who wanted to listen revealing that’s exactly what Singh had said.L

 

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on June 1, 2011 at 8:16 am

Jim Tressel had us all fooled. I mean those bright red sweater vests, the smart white shirts, and the studious, bespectacled look sucked us all in. Articles written about him called him “senatorial” and praised his “integrity.” Admit it, outside of Joe Paterno, you thought that Jim Tressel would be the last coach on earth caught up in a titanic NCAA scandal. And yet, here we are. The man. The myth. Gone.

Tressel’s career at Ohio State is over. Done in by what the Columbus media has dubbed “Tattoo-gate,” and maybe soon to be “Car Deal-gate.”

Ten years, 106 wins (9 vs. Michigan), and the Buckeyes only National Championship in football in the post-Woody Hayes era. Big numbers in a town that’s big on football. Ironically, Tressel may have followed too closely in Woody’s footsteps. Both men were wildly successful coaches who went down in flames fanned by their own stupidity — Woody’s temper and a nasty right hook, and Tressel’s “Nixonian” refusal to face the truth as the evidence piled up in front of him.

Although, in the end, Tressel’s failure to be truthful with OSU officials and NCAA investigators may not have been enough to save him from himself, or the downward spiral that has brought the Buckeye football program to its knees.

And horribly for Ohio State fans, the worst is yet to come. The NCAA investigation doesn’t simply end with the Tressel resignation. Oh no. It will gain new momentum as folks who remained quiet to protect Tressel turn on him now, possibly to save themselves. And, while the NCAA might look favorably on the OSU decision to remove Tressel, the sanctions could still be severe. Think forfeits of entire seasons, lost scholarships, lost TV revenue, lost bowl appearances. All of which could add up to staggering damage to recruiting, and even to the head coach hiring process. (Does Urban Meyer really still consider this a dream job?)

The newest revelations are clearly the most damaging and very likely proved to be the tipping point in Tressel being forced out. OSU officials had heard the rumors of Sports Illustrated’s cover story planned for its June 6th edition. And, last Friday, when SI called seeking comment, those same officials learned the awful truth. SI never got a comment from OSU or Tressel. And within 72 hours, Tressel was out.

Tressel’s Memorial Day ouster was so sudden that it literally forced Sports Illustrated to publish it’s investigative piece on-line Monday night (May 30th).

In a nutshell, SI reports the improper sale and/or trading of Buckeye memorabilia and autographs by current and former Buckeye players reaches all the way back to 2002 (Tressel’s second season at OSU), and involves more players (28) than either Tressel or the university itself had previously revealed. The five players (including star Terrelle Pryor) currently facing 5-game suspensions next fall for their involvement in accepting tattoos in exchange for Buckeye memorabilia are really just the tip of the iceberg. And, both SI and the Columbus Dispatch are reporting that the NCAA has opened up an investigation that solely focuses on quarterback Pryor and his use of anywhere from six to eight different expensive cars since arriving on campus in 2008. And folks, Pryor’s deals are just a small part of some 50 auto purchases involving other players, family and friends that have caught the eye of the NCAA, so far.

Tressel, of course, is not new to the scandal scene. Ohio State knew this when it hired him in 2001. Questions followed Tressel from his previous job at Youngstown State where his star quarterback, Ray Isaac, received cash and a car allegedly without Tressel’s knowledge. Similar stories involving Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith later played out at Ohio State. Again, allegedly without Tressel’s knowledge.

And, those are just some of the bigger problems that have dogged Tressel along the way.  SI’s story indicates that Tressel was involved in questionable activities dating back into his days as an assistant under Earle Bruce at OSU.

Here, courtesy of the Sports Illustrated expose’, is a perfect example of the Tressel you really didn’t know until now.  The story was told to SI by an unidentified former colleague of Tressel at OSU in the 1980’s:

“One of Tressel’s duties then was to organize and run the Buckeyes’ summer camp. Most of the young players who attended it would never play college football, but a few were top prospects whom Ohio State was recruiting. At the end of camp, attendees bought tickets to a raffle with prizes such as cleats and a jersey. According to his fellow assistant, Tressel rigged the raffle so that the elite prospects won — a potential violation of NCAA rules. Says the former colleague, who asked not to be identified because he still has ties to the Ohio State community, “In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That’s Jim Tressel.”

That, my friends, is hypocrisy with a capital you-know-what!

The bottom line, of course, is that Tressel’s image and his reputation are shot.  Totally shot.  All the rumor, all the innuendo, all the behind the scenes ugliness will now surface. And there’s little Tressel can do to save even an inkling of the schoolboy facade behind which he used to hide.

Sadly for Tressel, he is in a way the victim of a system that is inherently unfair to the players and, hence, to the coaches who are charged with policing them.  Cars, cash, contact with people of questionable character, and illicit drugs are the bane of every college coach’s existence. Players know the rules and some – the selfish ones – will tell you they just don’t care.  We’ve read several recent interviews with former Buckeye players that said they just wanted their piece of the college football pie.  The school’s making a mint off me, so where’s my cut? What’s one championship ring when you have 3 or 4 of them? What’s the big deal with swapping an autograph or a jersey for something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford?  Like an expensive tattoo.

Coaches, naturally, have to care about the rules.  They don’t have a choice. NCAA rules can be unfair, even unreasonable at times, but you’re stuck with them. If one is broken, no matter how much it might hurt, the coach needs to fess-up and face the consequences.  Jim Tressel knows exactly what lying to his superiors and the NCAA leads to.

28 players and 9 years of various alleged NCAA violations are hard not to have some knowledge of. Right, Jim?

And, why after you were informed of the “tattoo problem” in a former player’s email did you stubbornly continue to let athletes play in games when you knew they were ineligible? Was winning so important that you were willing to lose it all in the end? I guess so.

All that said, however, there’s still plenty of blame to go around here.

Where were Ohio State’s NCAA rules compliance people for the past decade? The Sporting News quotes a car dealer as saying that OSU compliance director, Doug Archie, knew players were buying cars, and even sent them to the dealership in question.

Where was the Buckeyes’ Athletic Director, Gene Smith?  Did he just put all his trust in Tressel?  Was he really blind to all the stuff going on in his department?

And, where was the university’s president? Gordon Gee was cracking jokes about this matter during the “Jim Tressel Apology Tour” back in March with lines like, “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”  I guess it’s not so funny anymore.  Especially since some folks
are beginning to call for the heads of Gee and Smith next.

So, where does leave Ohio State football?  Luke Fickell is the interim head coach. And, let me emphasize the word INTERIM here, so recruiting for 2012 will be interesting. Fickell, of course, was due to coach the first five games of the 2011 season anyway thanks to the initial suspension of Tressel for his attempted cover-up of his players’ actions. Pryor and four other returning players will also miss the the first five games for their transgressions.

Or will they?

CBS Sports.com has hinted that the suspended Buckeyes will re-consider turning pro.  But, with the NFL in a lockout mode, a supplemental draft might not happen in time for a 2011 season.  If there even is a 2011 season.

As for Tressel?  Well, he is permanently stained by this mess and serious NCAA sanctions could, and should, follow him to a new school that might hire him.  There’s always the NFL for him, too.

But, one thing that needs to happen is everyone needs to stop referring to Tressel as a “future Hall of Fame coach.” He didn’t play by the rules – intentionally, or not. Would he have gotten the star recruits to play for him at Ohio State had he truly been as strict as his former image seemed to suggest? Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe Terrelle Pryor passed on playing for Penn State because he knew that Paterno would demand that he play by the rules.  No extra benefits for anyone.  We’ll never know.

It’s funny how times and perceptions change.  Three years ago while I was writing about the Joe Paterno-Bobby Bowden career wins race for another website, the Tallahassee-based writer for the Associated Press chuckled to me about the PSU and FSU fans who got so worked up over Joe’s and Bobby’s won-loss records. He assured me Jim Tressel would win more than both of them when it was all said and done.  I think most folks would have agreed with him, at the time. Currently, Tressel is 160 wins behind Joe.  Fifteen, or so, more strong years at OSU and, who knows, Jim might have equalled Paterno’s record.  Assuming Joe ever retires.

Now, I wonder if Jim Tressel will ever coach anywhere again.  Period.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com