Ohio State's self-imposed penalties seem light, but are reasonable

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The reaction was immediate and predictably indignant. As soon as the Columbus Dispatch revealed the self-imposed penalties Ohio State reported to the NCAA on Friday -- two years of probation and vacation of all 2010 wins, but no scholarship losses or bowl ban -- the cries of incredulity raced across Twitter.

lol. Is that a joke??? If anything they need to get hit harder than usc did (@godawgs4)

Yeah right. Let me know how that works out for them. #majorsanctionscoming (@stuartmark)

There's no way to predict how the NCAA's notoriously inconsistent Committee on Infractions will vote following Ohio State's scheduled Aug. 12 hearing on former coach Jim Tressel's cover-up of known violations by his players. But while the masses may not believe it, the school's response is completely reasonable.

While numerous media outlets (including Sports Illustrated) have reported a bevy of new allegations involving Ohio State football players over the past few months, nothing has changed since the NCAA sent an April 25 Notice of Allegations that contained two rather narrow charges: preferential treatment for the six players known at the time to have received impermissible benefits from tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife and Tressel's unethical conduct violation (which the school self-reported) for covering up those violations.

There was no Lack of Institutional Control charge (as USC received) or Failure to Monitor charge (as North Carolina recently received). No school employees besides Tressel were implicated of any wrongdoing. The school has no incentive to impose heavier penalties than it issued Friday because the NCAA itself has not indicated anyone other than Tressel and the suspended players should be punished.

The school reinforced that notion in Friday's response by mercilessly painting Tressel as a solitary and brazen culprit. Passages include: "The responsibility is upon Tressel. No other institutional personnel were aware" of anything amiss, and "The institution is embarrassed by the actions of Tressel." Tressel has been widely attacked over the past four months, but one can't help feeling a little sorry for him after seeing just how deep his former employer is burying him under the bus.

(In exchange for Tressel serving as Ohio State's all-encompassing scapegoat, the school was kind enough to waive his previous $250,000 fine and change his "resignation" into a formal "retirement." Isn't that nice.)

From the get go, his former superiors' reactions to the developing scandal have been repeatedly mystifying and clunky. The players in Tattoo Gate were suspended before the Sugar Bowl, but for games that would take place in 2011. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany (who lobbied for the deferred punishment) expressed regret after the fact, and now the school is voluntarily requesting that its bowl victory over Arkansas be stricken from the record.

Tressel was initially suspended just two games for an admitted unethical conduct violation that gets most coaches fired. Asked how he came up with the number, AD Gene Smith called it the "sweet spot." Nearly three months later, Smith reversed course and asked Tressel to resign (a detail he finally owned up to in an interview with the Dispatch on Thursday).

And for all the reports of Terrelle Pryor's loaner cars and discounted used cars for other players, Smith and the OSU compliance department decreed everything fine and dandy last month after a cursory investigation. Yet on Thursday, they told the Dispatch they're significantly beefing up their oversight of both issues going forward.

Of course Smith, with the blessing of former Tressel idolizer Gordon Gee, remains gainfully employed.

Those who read George Dohrmann's exposé published the night of Tressel's resignation know OSU officials had to be living under a rock not to know how deeply involved many players had become with Rife, who was all but advertising his ties to the Buckeyes. Pryor alone was apparently a walking, talking NCAA violation, allegedly signing autographs for as much $40,000 and golfing with his purported benefactor.

But it doesn't matter what SI, ESPN or Yahoo! report. It's what the NCAA can prove, and that task became much more difficult when Pryor bolted for the pros, freeing him from any obligation to cooperate with NCAA investigators. As of today, the NCAA has not notified the school of any additional allegations. If it does, the Aug. 12 hearing would presumably be delayed, and OSU would be given another opportunity to respond.

Until then -- if "then" even happens -- none of that other noise bears any relevance on the proceedings. The only charge of import is Tressel's lie, for which he will likely be given a healthy show-cause penalty. Theoretically, the Committee can still tack on extra charges (two scholarship reductions for each ineligible player used seems within the realm of possibility). But without a broader charge against the institution, Ohio State may very well escape the massive sanctions everyone seems to think are inevitable.

When that day comes, Twitter might want to employ some extra servers.