After Jim Tressel resigned in disgrace as the football coach at Ohio State, Buckeyes fans gathered outside of his house.
They did not carry pitchforks. They carried a tune.
“We don’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan,” they sang, and Tressel sang right along with them.
They preferred mentioning the state of Michigan to the state of turmoil created by Tressel’s regime. They would have been better served whistling past a graveyard, because the NCAA is about to bury their favorite team.
To these fans, Tressel remains a winner, even if his willingness to bend rules or overlook violations contradicted everything he said he stood for.
What your mother told you is not true. In sports, the saying should be, “Cheaters usually prosper.”
You might have noticed, if you saw a picture of Tressel’s front yard, that he lives in a really nice house. He’s not about to be evicted.
As fans of the 1997 Gophers Final Four team know, penalties in sports rarely erase illicit gains. Tressel might not coach again, but he will not be forced to refund the millions he made as the boss of the Ohio State University football team, nor will any Buckeyes fan ever recognize another school as the rightful national champion of the 2002 season. The NCAA can erase that title, but it does not possess the jurisdiction to pull the banners down from every bar and basement in Columbus.
We know Mark McGwire took steroids when he broke baseball’s single-season home run record. While baseball writers have kept him out of the Hall of Fame so far, steroids made him irrevocably rich and did not prevent him from returning to the game. He’s now the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, living in a city that will treat him like royalty and campaign for his induction.
Lance Armstrong was a promising young cyclist who had survived cancer, a nice story in a country that cared little about bike racing.
Then he won a record seven Tour de Frances and became an international celebrity. Dogged by accusations of cheating, he retired from competitive cycling this year, an inspirational champion and perhaps the world’s greatest promoter of cancer awareness.
If a governing body in Europe eventually rescinds his titles, few Americans will care. Armstrong will remain a hero.
Ohio State’s football sanctions could surpass those leveled at USC.
The man who coached the Trojans and bears responsibility for their penalties left Los Angeles before the ax fell and now coaches the Seattle Seahawks. Pete Carroll’s contract will pay him $35 million over five years, and he’ll never have to buy himself a drink in L.A.
The BCS officially vacated USC’s 2004 national title last week. The quarterback of that team, Matt Leinart, said what every Trojans fan was thinking in an interview with ESPN: “In reality, I don’t think anyone can take the championship away from us.”
ESPN also quoted former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team finished second in the polls that year, as saying, “Someone should be awarded (the) title. If not, the team that had to forfeit is not really punished.”
Sports’ governing bodies aren’t effective at wiping away memories or rescinding riches. They can only restrict someone’s ability to compete in the future, and hope to create guilty consciences in a realm where winning trumps fair play.
But if McGwire, Carroll, Haskins and Tressel can sleep at night, they came out ahead.