Coaches who break NCAA bylaw 10.1 overwhelmingly lose their jobs. Sometimes, it's not fair. Sometimes, it's not right. But that's just the way the game is played, and as a result Tressel has been living on borrowed time for almost three months now.
Finally, that borrowed time came to a close Monday morning when Ohio State announced the resignation of the 10-year head coach.
Tressel won 106 games and one national championship at Ohio State. He advanced to eight BCS games, winning five, while capturing eight Big Ten titles, including the last six in a row to tie a conference record. His players achieved at an astonishing level in the classroom. By all accounts, he was a model person in the community, going out of his way to support the military, visit hospitals and fulfill every request.
Those parts of Tressel's legacy should never be forgotten. In many ways, he was the best coach Ohio State has ever known.
But he made one crucial mistake, and truth be told, he was going to need the political capital of all of the above to survive it. In the end, it just wasn't tenable.
Not disclosing his knowledge of player violations related to sold memorabilia and discounted services to the NCAA is a death blow in most cases. The NCAA does not actively ferret out cheating among its member institutions, but it does require brutal honesty when any violations come to light.
While Tressel erred in not telling superiors in April about the possible violations – likely with the best interests of his kids in mind – he made grave mistakes in signing a September compliance form and then not coming fully clean in December when the violations came to light. Trying to handle the situation in-house might have seemed like the right way to Tressel, but he had to know the NCAA wouldn't view it the same way no matter what his intentions were at heart.
And once that came to the fore, the laughable two-game suspension first announced by OSU and even the eventual five-game suspension were likely not going to cut the muster when the final decision announced by the NCAA came down.
Simply put, when coaches find themselves in this kind of trouble, the ultimate answer is often for the coach and school to part ways. It becomes too hard for the university to rationalize – to itself, the governing body and the public – keeping that coach on staff given his mistake.
And that's the situation in which Tressel found himself. For all the good he did – and make no mistake, there was a lot – sometimes the best answer for all is to make a clean break. That's the way the business is run.
That became especially clear over the past few weeks as the constant drip, drip, drip of new allegations – although none, as of yet, have been proven – about the program. The true cost of having the NCAA snooping into your business is that the various tip-toeing around the rules that happens at any school are much more likely to come to light.
Indeed, OSU seemed to have a bull's-eye on its back as scarlet as its home jerseys as soon as the December news about Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas and Jordan Whiting came out. The chance for reporters to take down one of the blue bloods of the sport – especially one headed by someone who acted as squeaky clean and had such a disdain for the media as Tressel – was too much for many to pass up.
Truth be told, there probably isn't a successful Division I program in the country that is 100 percent clean. That's just the nature of the business when one is tasked with keeping tabs on more than 100 kids with temptation sitting around every turn.
While I tend to believe Ohio State has been cleaner than most under Tressel, there have been disturbing warning signs. Something did seem suspicious about the cars some players were driving, all the way back to the Maurice Clarett era. News that Pryor had been pulled over multiple times in a vehicle that belonged to a dealership was unsettling. Separate assurances by such former players as Antonio Pittman and Ray Small that players were getting hooked up in other arenas fit the same bill.
The final possible bombshell hasn't even hit yet, but the timing of this resignation seems eerily tied to a Sports Illustrated story, rumored to be about more improper benefits and originally set to be published Tuesday afternoon.
Add it all up and it was just too much to survive. The public perception of the program and the men running it was at an all-time low. The specter of what was to come was daunting, and it appears that it was just too much to handle on all fronts.
Hopefully, the timing of the decision will allow all parties to move on. Tressel's transgression will be forgiven by most of Buckeye Nation, and unless concrete info comes out about violations being explicitly encouraged by his program, the good points of his reputation will likely end up outshining the black eye of this controversy. At only 58, he could likely coach again – though nowhere will be as special to him as Ohio State.
As for the school, it now has a chance to move on. The initial decision to stand by its man was admirable if not short-sighted, but now the work of repairing the program's image can begin – work that was going to be very, very difficult in the eyes of the nation as long as Tressel was on board.
It will be difficult to find a coach that brings as much to the table as Tressel in all facets – on the field, in the classroom and in the community. But this is, after all, Ohio State. The Buckeyes will go looking for the best and could very well find it.
It's just a shame it had to end this way.