With six players facing NCAA suspensions after having sold Big Ten championship rings and other personal items following the 2008 season, the coach had two options. Tressel could either keep the five juniors and one redshirt freshman within the program and allow them to participate in the bowl game, or he could revoke their right to play for the Buckeyes.
In the process of making his decision, Tressel first sought input from others within the program. That included the team's 24 seniors, who first had to voice their desires to keep the band together for one more game.
The response was reportedly overwhelming.
"They were with us in battle all year this year, so why not let them play?" senior linebacker Ross Homan said. "We love all of them. They're our brothers and we have their backs no matter what."
Although Tressel pointed out that the program is not a true democracy, he said the feedback from his upperclassmen was important. Seniors take on expanded leadership roles in Tressel's program, which is geared toward rewarding those who are going through their final seasons with the program.
Still, a number of the seniors said they were honored to be asked for input on the situation.
"That's not something we really want to talk about much but it was kind of iffy, having guys' lives in your hands," senior linebacker Brian Rolle said. "It's something that we just took in and talked about a little bit and got over real quick. Coach asked us to make a decision on those guys' behalf and it was the right one."
Of the six suspended players – Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas and Jordan Whiting – only redshirt freshman Whiting lacks the option to leave early for the NFL following the season. He faces a one-game suspension to start the 2011 season while the others will miss five games unless an appeal is successful in reducing the punishment.
Had the five juniors expressed a desire to leave the program after the bowl game, Tressel said the suspensions would have started immediately and prevented them from playing against Arkansas.
But to get to that point, the seniors first had to decide that it was a good idea to let them back on the team. Senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said the decision was a no-brainer once the juniors apologized to them in person.
The lineman credited the punished players for showing leadership through the situation.
"They're sorry for what they did and I don't think there's much leadership that needs to go into it because they are truly sorry and they know what they did," Larimore said. "It's not like, ‘Hey, you did something wrong' and they're saying, ‘That's not true.' That takes leadership. What happened here is they know what they did and they are getting punished for it."
Not only the seniors have shown support for the suspended players. Sophomore fullback Zach Boren said he made a point to tell Herron that he was there for him through it all after noticing that the junior was not quite himself during practice after the news broke.
"I just wanted to let him know I was there," Boren said. "When all the stuff came out I'm sure he felt left out and out of place a little bit. You tell anyone that when they're hurting and they know they're in the wrong. You tell anyone that you support them and you have their back."
Herron was scheduled to be available for Saturday interviews but was replaced by Boren with no explanation was given. Pryor, on the other hand, said he appreciated knowing that his teammates had shown him such support.
"I think they viewed it as we're a part of the team," he said. "We are with them the whole time. I don't think they wanted to go without us. We were a part of them the whole season."
And while some feel that allowing the players to play in the bowl game negates the sting of the punishment, Larimore begged to differ.
"You're going to pay the price with five games of your senior year, which if it was for me would be devastating," he said. "To those guys, I'm sure it is devastating. Let them play this game. Let's get this one out of the way and let them serve their punishment. Hopefully it will make them better and hopefully it will make them better people and better men and they can go on from there."