The Sporting Discourse: The reason Ohio State won't fire Jim Tressel

BY IAN MARTIN | MAY 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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The reason Jim Tressel hasn't been fired as the head football coach at Ohio State is actually because of the Ohio State basketball program.

Ever since it was revealed that Tressel knowingly covered up five players' indiscretions when they exchanged Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos, the national sentiment has called for his firing. And while the NCAA enforcers haven't finished their official investigation yet, Ohio State has simply accepted a five-game suspension for both the players and Tressel, and the school hopes that will be the end of the issue.

One speculation has been that Tressel's probable termination payout is a hesitation for Ohio State, although he is only under contract until 2014 (so four more seasons), which in college football terms is a pretty standard length — meaning the payout wouldn't be terrible. Besides, the Vest's contract has a stipulation in it that he may be fired without compensation if it he is found committing "fraud or dishonesty in performance of his duties or responsibilities."

So why the hesitation after Tressel has admitted to one of the more serious NCAA violations in boldly lying about the status of ineligible players? It's because of former Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien.

O'Brien was fired in 2004 after admitting to a severe recruiting violation in 1998, in which he paid a foreign recruit $6,000, even though the recruit did not ultimately sign with the Buckeyes. But after his firing, O'Brien sued and eventually won $2.4 million for wrongful termination after the court deemed that complying with the NCAA was just one part of his contract, and there needed to be more breaches to rightfully let O'Brien go.

This saga likely has Ohio State understandably hesitant about pursuing another controversial firing.
Now, it's often observed that if this had happened to anyone besides Tressel, said coach would be fired. This is also probably true.

Fred Mims, the Hawkeye associate athletics director for student services and compliance, said each school's stance on a firing can be completely different.

"Each [coach's] contract will be based on what each individual university has had happen," he said.

However, I may be giving too much credit to Ohio State.

Tressel has a checkered history that is oft forgotten.

While the head coach at Youngstown State, he set up a meeting between a major booster and his star quarterback Ray Isaac, and eventually the booster gave thousands of dollars to Isaac. The NCAA never punished Tressel because by the time the incident was discovered, it was after the statue of limitations had expired.

But this was public knowledge, and Ohio State officials certainly had to consider this past when they hired Tressel in 2001.

Now, 10 years later, there are calls for Tressel's firing after another blatant violation. But because of precedent, and because he runs a successful on-field program, he remains Ohio State's coach.

The Buckeyes basically can't fire him now.

Well, you get what you pay for.

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