Ohio State’s Jim Tressel reinvigorates use of the word ‘smarmy’

In the wake of the Jim Tressel scandal at Ohio State, it is hard to know which target to fire at. We must choose between the smarmy world of big-time college football or the smarmy Tressel.

Either way, it’s fun to use a great word like “smarmy.”

Out here among the palm trees and the skateboards at Venice Beach, we probably don’t care all that much. The sun is out and we’ve already had our own recent fill of cheating players (Reggie Bush) and head-in-the-sand-until-I-depart coaches (Pete Carroll).

We already know that these guys who make millions to coach football teams for the greater glory of Rah-Rah U., and its adoring alumni, do so under the pretense of preparing young men for excellence in later life through the discipline and rigors of football. Unless we are a chipmunk or a third-grader, we pretty much know that’s a fraud.


Just win, baby.

No need to belabor this. The hypocrisy has smelled so bad for so long that we’ve just gotten used to the odor.

Tressel’s bio says he makes $3.5 million. It also says he is active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They’ll have to add the part about his failing to inform school officials about being told in an e-mail from a local lawyer (and former Ohio State football player) that some of his Buckeyes had sold OSU jerseys and memorabilia to a local tattoo-parlor owner, who was being investigated by the feds as a drug dealer.

Players selling memorabilia is against NCAA rules, but then, isn’t everything? Selling it to a tattoo-parlor-owning drug dealer is against the rules of basic intelligence.

Tressel knew last April and didn’t say a word, even when the problem came to light just before Ohio State went off to the Sugar Bowl. Nor did the cat release its grip on his tongue when Ohio State imposed the rather bizarre penalty, with the nod of the ever-bizarre NCAA, of having the five players sit out for five games in the 2011 season, but allowing them to play in the bowl game.

Ohio State only found out that the revered CEO of its revered football program had this dirty little secret when school lawyers went through his computer and found e-mails from the well-meaning lawyer, Christopher T. Cicero. Cicero was trying to save OSU football some embarrassment. Tressel was trying to save himself.

The school came down hard, whipping Tressel with a feather. While the five players will sit out those first five games of the season, Tressel will miss the two opening-season showdowns against vaunted Akron and vaunted Toledo. His absence on the sideline will move the odds at least a half-point. Oh, yes. He also got fined $250,000. When you are making $3.5 million, that could mean cheaper Christmas presents for the gardener.

At a news conference, Tressel said something about not knowing whom to tell when he got Cicero’s e-mails. Athletic Director Gene Smith, who should have been red-in-the-face furious, said of Tressel, “We trust him implicitly.” School President Gordon Gee, asked whether Tressel might get fired, giggled and said, “I hope he doesn’t fire me.”


There you have it. The Three Stooges of Ohio State. Moe, Curly and Smarmy. Buckeye pride, baby.

You get the drift. There really is no need for our extended commentary, nor is there any local angle, other than to say that this guy makes ours, Lane Kiffin and Rick Neuheisel, look like altar boys.

Besides, our sportswriting brethren have pretty well covered the territory, making us proud.

Yahoo ran a picture of Tressel’s reply to Cicero’s first e-mail, back on April 16. “I will keep pounding these kids, hoping they grow up,” Tressel wrote.


Bob Wojanowski of the Detroit News wrote that Tressel’s news conference defense of his actions was “comical and fake and borderline insulting.”

Christine Brennan of USA Today called Tressel’s longtime image “his Eagle Scout act.”

Mike Lopresti of Gannett led his column with: “The nattily-dressed Jim Tressel comes across like a banker — and we know what happened to some of our bankers lately.”

David Jones of the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News wrote that Tressel was a “slick little con man” and added, “He didn’t know who to tell? Beaver Cleaver wouldn’t have tried that.”


Tressel even got slapped around in his own backyard. Bob Hunter of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, to his credit, captured the essence of things when he wrote that the percentage of e-mails from fans defending Tressel was lower than might be expected, which could be clearly traceable to Tressel’s failing to win a BCS title in the last eight years.

Tressel, of course, had defenders in the fraternity. None other than throw-a-chair Bob Knight went on ESPN radio and said nobody could know all the NCAA rules and Tressel’s penalty was “too harsh.”

Reading accounts of Knight’s rationalization on behalf of Tressel felt smarmy.

(OK. We couldn’t resist, just one more time.)