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Catching up on Jim Tressel and the Ohio State mess; more Mailbag


So did anything happen while I was gone?

Good timing or bad timing that Jim Tressel resigned while you were on your honeymoon? Did you have to slap your hands to keep from reporting "on the road"?-- Johnny S, Austin, Texas

Actually, Tressel resigned the morning after my wedding. I was sitting at a late breakfast with some friends and relatives when I happened to check my phone and see an e-mail referencing said resignation -- which had apparently happened hours earlier. I chuckled at the timing but didn't give it much more thought until that evening, when George Dohrmann's SI story came out and it kind of sunk in that, whoa, one of the most iconic coaches of my decade-plus on this beat -- whose team I probably covered in more games than any other -- was really done. And, yes, there was a brief itch to run to the laptop and write something, but that would not have been the most prudent way to begin married life.

However, I was out of the country and 100 percent out-of-the-loop (no phone, email, Internet or Twitter) for two weeks when the following stories occurred: Terrelle Pryor's departure, Bill Stewart's resignation (and all the bizarre events that preceded it), USC's title being vacated and Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton's resignation. (At least the NCAA waited until I got back to drop the North Carolina report.) In fact, it appears that almost all of these broke on the same day -- a Tuesday, June 7. That day, my wife and I were in Seville, Spain, hopping between tapas bars. Stewart resigned on June 10, a Friday, following "a week of drama" (according to the AP account). We spent that day on a beach in Mallorca, following a week in which the biggest drama was Emily accidentally leaving her camera in a restaurant bathroom (thankfully, it was still there a half-hour later). I knew of none of this until our return last Thursday.

Really, I should probably be asking you guys the questions this time. But, hey, you kept asking, especially in regards to that school in Columbus.

I hope you had a nice wedding and honeymoon. I'm looking forward to your return to work, especially in light of everything that's come to light at Ohio State these past few weeks. My question for your next Mailbag is: Should Ohio State immediately self-impose some extremely severe penalties and sacrifice the next year or two to save future seasons? My thought is that they'll be breaking in a rookie coach and QB, and given the suspensions already known and those potentially coming, a lower-tier bowl is likely their ceiling this season regardless. Before the August hearing, why not deem this year's team ineligible for the postseason in addition to anything else they can do to make the NCAA penalties end sooner?-- Jason Kingston, Los Angeles, Calif.

I agree that 2011 will essentially be a lost season for the Buckeyes, and so if the school felt certain a postseason ban was in its future, it might be best to get it out of the way. In fact, that's exactly what the school did with its scandal-ridden basketball program in 2005, voluntarily banning coach Thad Matta's first team from that year's NCAA tournament, which paid dividends two years later when Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Co. were free and clear to reach the national title game.

However, despite what most of the free world thinks, it's not nearly as certain as of today that the Buckeyes are heading toward USC-like sanctions. If you recall, the Notice of Allegations it received in advance of August's hearing contained an unethical conduct charge against Tressel but did not include a lack of institutional control or failure to monitor charge against the school -- usually prerequisites for a postseason ban. Since that time, several media outlets (including SI) have alleged a whole bunch of other potential infractions -- more players trading memorabilia for tattoos, cash and even drugs; details about Pryor's shady golf buddy and excessive use of "loaner cars" -- that lead us to believe the NCAA will eventually push back the hearing and add more charges. But they haven't yet. And until they do, the school is caught in a holding pattern. Do you really want to preemptively punish this year's team without yet knowing what exactly the NCAA will or won't unearth?

Since the day the tattoo story first broke last December, Ohio State president Gordon Gee and AD Gene Smith have constantly downplayed the school's culpability. Only after intense media scrutiny did Tressel's suspension go from two games to five, and then, in the face of Dohrmann's pending story, to resignation. Gee has expressed regret over the handling of Tressel but not over the school's farcical, fast-tracked investigation last December that led Smith to declare, "This is isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular incident. There are no other violations that exist." If they're sticking to their "nothing to see here" mantra, then it's hard to imagine they'd self-impose a postseason ban. But one thing Gene and Gordo should consider: The Infractions Committee came down hard on USC because the school "knew or should have known" that Reggie Bush's parents were living large in San Diego and that Bush was taking free trips to Las Vegas. I have to think they'd feel even more strongly that someone -- a position coach, a graduate assistant, a compliance officer or all of the above -- "knew or should have known" about rampant violations occurring right under their nose in Columbus.

How can Oregon possibly explain away this debacle surrounding the recruiting materials it paid $25,000 for from Will Lyles? Either Oregon was swindled and couldn't get its money back, which looks bad and runs counter to Chip Kelly's smartest-guy-in-the-room persona, or it effectively paid Lyles for access to recruits, which is worse.-- David Wunderlich, Charlotte, N.C.

There is no explanation. I give Oregon credit for releasing the documents (rather than stall and wait for a judge's ruling, like some other schools under investigation), but, man, are they damning. Quite clearly, the original document Oregon paid for was a sham, and only the most blindly loyal Ducks supporter can't see the situation for what it is. At best, the coaching staff did a favor for a guy that's well known at this point to be a friend and mentor to several of their most prominent players. (Lyles attended last year's ESPN awards show as a guest of LaMichael James; text records released Monday show Kelly exchanged 12 texts with Lyles in the two days before James' commitment in 2008.) At worst -- and what most of the public believes at this point -- the Ducks used Lyles' half-baked "recruiting service" as a vehicle by which to pay him for steering coveted prospect Lache Seastrunk to Oregon.

Either way, it's still not clear whether the NCAA can do anything about it retroactively. While the NCAA has been feverishly writing and updating policies about recruiting services over the past year or so to address these very problems, it's not clear what the punishment would be simply for purchasing a service that doesn't fall within its guidelines. And as for proving authoritatively that Oregon paid for Seastrunk -- unless one of the parties involved testifies as such (not likely), that's a hefty accusation to levy solely because "this looks fishy." Ultimately, it may be that Kelly successfully did what a lot of competitive coaches do: found a loophole and exploited it. But there's very little he could say at this point that would convince most rational people that Oregon's dealings with Lyles constituted any sort of legitimate transaction. And whatever the NCAA ultimately decrees, I would imagine his bosses will have something to say about it.

Auburn's Gene Chizik has certainly silenced many of his critics, but what do you make of AD Jay Jacobs labeling him the "best coach in college football" while announcing his contract extension? This was clearly a shot at Nick Saban and Alabama. Do you think the new contract and early success set him up to be a victim of Auburn-Clemson syndrome in a few years?-- Jason, Chapel Hill, N.C.

I've got no problem with Jacobs throwing around whatever hyperbole he wants to over Chizik. He just won a national championship. Why not? But Chizik is without question the least-heralded coach to win a national championship since Miami's Larry Coker. A great segment of the public thinks he simply got lucky, landed a transcendent quarterback and is being propped up by his renowned offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn (though I would argue the head coach's most important job is hiring a great staff). And, of course, there are those who will never be convinced Auburn didn't buy its championship.

On the day he was hired, I offered the now regrettable opinion (one that still gets e-mailed back to me every couple of weeks) that "Chizik has zero chance to succeed." Mind you, this wasn't an indictment of his coaching abilities. (See: "Personally, having observed him firsthand while the defensive coordinator at Texas, I believe Chizik is a pretty good football coach. He's sharp, he's intense and he's got that certain charisma you need to connect with today's athletes.") It was more the overwhelmingly negative reaction among Auburn fans to hiring a 5-19 coach. I had doubts they'd ever fully buy in to him, and thought they'd turn on him at the first sign of failure. Instead, he rendered that moot by setting the recruiting trail ablaze and winning a BCS championship. But now comes the hardest part: sustaining success in the SEC. Ask Les Miles how quickly fans in that part of the country can turn on a national championship coach. And while they'll defend him to the death today, if in fact Auburn goes 8-4 or 7-5 the next couple of years, you'll be hearing all of the above excuses about Malzahn and Cam Newton from Tigers fans themselves.

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So, yes, the bar is now set very high for Chizik. Though to be fair, I renamed it Ole Miss-Clemson Syndrome a while ago now. After two undefeated seasons in seven years, Auburn fans have every reason to hold lofty expectations.

Stewart: It's 1986 and you're a college football fan. Are you more shocked to hear that in 25 years: a) There will be an attempt to annually match up the top two teams in one game and provide four other matchups at prestigious bowls between major conference champions and other highly ranked teams, or b) not a single one of the five games will take place on New Year's Day?-- Brian, Magnolia, Ark.

In 1986, I assume I would have been far more shocked by scenario A, since scenario B had occurred just two years earlier.

I had to chuckle when I saw the usual round of indignation over the recent realization that the Rose Bowl (and other usual Jan. 1 games) will be played on Jan. 2 this year, when in fact the Rose Bowl has been played a day later 12 times since 1922 -- every time New Year's Day falls on a Sunday. The other New Year's bowl games didn't always follow suit but these days they have no choice. NFL is king in this country, and if you want people to watch your bowl game, you don't put it on opposite NFL games. It's really not a big deal. It's still a federal holiday. You'll barely notice the difference. Apparently Brian didn't notice it six years ago.

After seeing how the whole Bill Stewart saga finally played out, do you think that West Virginia pulled off the "interim" label too soon following the '08 Fiesta Bowl?-- Rob Reiter, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I made my feelings on that abundantly clear back on the day it happened, and, lo and behold, the short-lived Stewart era played out almost exactly as predicted (minus the unforeseen Dana Holgorsen muckraking expedition at the end). Yes, sometimes my hunches about these things actually prove correct.

The interesting paradox of the latest West Virginia soap opera is that while AD Oliver Luck is taking a lot of heat for the cockamamie succession plan that ultimately prompted Stewart's alleged back-stabbing mission, he did it in large part to try to erase the mistakes his good 'ol boy predecessor, Ed Pastilong, made by not only handing the job to the obviously unqualified (albeit super duper nice guy, at least to anyone not named Dana Holgorsen) Stewart but literally scratching out the $1 million buyout clause in his contract in those wee hours after the Fiesta Bowl win, leaving WVU on the hook for his entire remaining salary had it fired him. Now Luck has egg on his face for such an ugly transition and for still having to shell out $1.65 million for Stewart's forced resignation, hence creating an even bigger mess than the one he inherited.

Stewart, who has the greater chance of existing in 2016: Abe Vigoda or the WAC?-- Colin D, San Antonio, Texas

Wow. This is an immediate candidate for the Mailbag Hall of Fame.

I hope, like anyone, that Abe remains with us forever, but house money falls on the WAC. Karl Benson is a very determined man. Even if his conference is now competing for members with an FCS league and even though he's had to resort to inviting Seattle (the university, not the Seahawks), Benson simply will not let that league die. He's already had to rescue it from the ashes twice before. This is nothing new for him. Only now, sadly, the WAC has probably seen its last BCS bid for the foreseeable future, and instead will essentially be the West Coast version of the Sun Belt come 2012. Give the league credit, though: It's already hyping the fact that both Dennis Franchione (Texas State) and Larry Coker (UT-San Antonio) will soon be joining its ranks.

On the flip side, Benson, unlike Abe, is not likely to become a regular on Conan.

Drake University football recently went on a foreign tour to Tanzania. I know this is all above board and humanitarian, but what's to prevent an FBS team from sponsoring a "foreign tour" every four years to a nice resort in the Caribbean to face a foreign football team in need of cash? With all of the crazy antics going on these days in recruiting, it seems like someone could turn foreign tours into a nice inducement for potential recruits.-- Jay Schnauzer, Kansas City, Mo.

Actually, college basketball teams do this already. Duke, Kentucky and Kansas all take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows teams to take a foreign tour once every four years, so long as it takes place at least 30 days before the start of practice. Most teams go in the summer, and Italy seems to be the most common destination. It's not a recruiting inducement as much as a chance for extra practice and competition, and for the athletes to experience another culture.

But it's a lot harder to pull off in football, which is why we rarely see it. It costs infinitely more to take a team of 85 players abroad than a team of 13, and most foreign countries are not brimming with American football teams to provide competition. The Drake experience was incredibly unique, but hopefully there will be more like it in the future.

Congratulations on your marriage. Now that you are a relationship expert, perhaps you can give me some advice. My girlfriend knows that I call the 12 Saturdays of Northwestern's college football season my favorite 12 days of the year. Since these apparently trump "her birthday" and "all those days we spend together," do you think this is straining our relationship?-- Michael K, Lincoln, Ill.

If your girlfriend is as cool as my wife, she'll understand. Unless her birthday is the same day Northwestern plays Eastern Illinois, in which case I'm on her side.