Thursday, June 02, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Jim Tressel's fall is a caution for Frank Beamer

When Jim Tressel resigned at Ohio State on Monday, Frank Beamer ascended to No. 2 on the active list for Division I coaching wins. He trails only Joe Paterno. Many Virginia Tech fans were quick to note this Monday.

Something they weren't quick to note but ought to keep in mind: Beamer also just moved up another list. This, too, is a product of his success.

It's the list of coaches who'd better work overtime to ensure their programs are clean. The roster of men who, because they've dwelled in the top 25 for years, can't afford to take chances that might lead to next big scandal.

Attention, esteemed college coaches: Welcome to the guilt-by-association world of the major league slugger. Tressel is your Alex Rodriguez, your national myth-buster, your albatross that chirps a mantra to the masses: If he could cheat so effectively, so might you.

By no means am I suggesting that Beamer is shady or duplicitous or anything other than the wholesome man the majority of us believe he is. What I am suggesting is that winning is hard, and the more you win, the more people are going to wonder how you're doing it.

Beamer needs to be prepared for that and safeguard his program accordingly -- and you can bet he and his staff know that.

Ask Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista how the actions of others can color your achievements. Of course, ask him that only after you ask him whether steroids helped him swat 54 homers in 2010 and have him on pace for nearly 60 this year. After all, everybody else is asking him that.

Is it fair? No. It's sad. The questions have to be asked, though, because sports fans are tired of being played for suckers. And the more this stuff pops up in college football -- at USC, North Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State, etc. -- the more obvious it becomes that nobody is immune.

If Lane Kiffin is the Barry Bonds of college coaching -- essentially winking right at you as he tests the limits of NCAA rules -- Tressel was A-Rod.

Sure, there were whispers, questions and signs of trouble before. But the scandal that has rocked Columbus is akin to the Yankees star's failed drug test. Both cases stripped decorated men of a carefully constructed facade and underscored just how ubiquitous the problem is.

This week, Sports Illustrated reported that Tressel used to rig raffles at his summer camps to ensure the top athletes won prizes -- ostensibly so they'd be more inclined to play for him.

The magazine quoted a former Ohio State colleague as saying: "In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."

Really? Mr. Sweater Vest would actually do that?

As "Other John" noted on the blog Tuesday: "It would be like watching Mr. Rogers -- thinking he's just this nice, friendly, honest guy -- and then finding out that he's really dealing black tar heroin and meth in the neighborhood and that's why everyone wants to be his neighbor."

Of course, you don't have to have sinister motives to step in the neighborhood scat pile. As much as people might think Beamer kept giving Marcus Vick chances solely because he wanted to win games -- and I don't doubt that was a factor -- I think there was an even stronger force at work: The coach honestly thought he could help the troubled quarterback turn things around. It didn't happen, and Tech's image suffered because of it.

The parallels between Beamer and Vick and Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are hard to miss. Both coaches defended their misguided quarterbacks to their own detriment. Tressel lost his job, in part, because he chose not to see what others did.

Beamer escaped back then with a few gut shots and a good lesson. Monday's news should provide him another admonition: In this volatile climate, risks that were once worth taking no longer are.

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