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Kentucky Football: The Inevitable "What About Jim Tressel?" And Why That Won't Happen

You knew it was coming. I knew it. I have already had to deflect several, "Why not Jim Tressel?" questions, and as we go further down the line, they will become more frequent. So it's probably best that go ahead, address the question at length, and help the understandably desperate and long-suffering Kentucky football fans understand why former Ohio St. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is not going to be heading up the Kentucky Wildcats next year.

As luck would have it, a certain Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch helpfully penned an article today suggesting that Tressel is the cure for what ails Kentucky football. We will leave aside the theory that Tressel would never take this job, because frankly, that likelihood is irrelevant. If Tressel agreed to coach the Wildcats for $50,000 per year instead of $2 million, it would still be irrelevant. So let's get to what's relevant:

Tressel was hit with a five-year, show-cause penalty for covering up rules violations, using ineligible players and lying to the NCAA. Show-cause penalties are supposed to be poison. Why would Kentucky go anywhere near him?

Tressel’s penalty is not as severe as, say, former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl’s. Tressel is allowed to recruit. He is allowed to hire a staff. He is required to sit out five weeks of meetings, practices and games before he can coach, and he cannot coach a bowl game in his first year — but these are trifles for the likes of Kentucky.

See? It's easy, right? OSU got hit with the following penalties:

  • A one-year bowl ban;
  • Nine scholarships over 3 years lost;
  • Three years of probation;
  • Five games of suspension;
  • Some other things such as vacation of wins, disassociation of boosters and a player, forfeiture of money earned from bowls.

That's not so bad, right? It isn't if UK is going to a bowl anytime soon, or one of consequence, anyway. The author above assumes that some of these same penalties would be visited on UK, and that would be worth the pain to go ahead and hire Tressel anyway in defiance of their order. Tressel didn't get a recruiting ban, he wasn't prohibited from hiring staff. So what's the big deal?

Let's leave to the side the major hit Kentucky (and the NCAA) would take from the sports and local media for hiring (and allowing to be hired) a guy like Tressel. If we assume that Mitch Barnhart is willing to take the hit from the NCAA, it's a sure bet he'd be willing to take the heat from the media, right? Probably.

So that all sounds good, doesn't it? We can just hire Argyle Jim, slide him into Joker's spot and watch the wins pile up. In three or four years, we're South Carolina, and all is right with the world. The Wildcats are competing for the SEC East, were signing Alabama Crimson-quality recruiting classes, and the money is pouring in from heretofore unheard of alumni resources.

Except ... there's just one little thing.

The NCAA does not, as many erroneously suggest, have to live with the infractions it slapped on Tressel. When the NCAA places a show-cause order on a coach, it is the intention of the Committee on Infractions that he become unemployable at member institutions absent some compelling reason, which does not include insufficient success on the football field. Those that are selling Tressel's relatively benign slate of sanctions failed to do what would seemingly be obvious to most of us: Read the regulations.

The show-cause order is defined in the NCAA Bylaws under section 19.02.1:

19.02.1 Show-Cause Order. A show-cause order is one that requires a member institution to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Committee on Infractions (or the Infractions Appeals Committee per Bylaw 19.2) why it should not be subject to a penalty (or additional penalty) for not taking appropriate disciplinary or corrective action against an institutional staff member or representative of the institution’s athletics interests identified by the committee as having been involved in a violation of NCAA regulations that has been found by the committee. (Revised: 1/10/95, 4/24/03)

What we see here is the real scope and intent of the show-cause order. If the NCAA is not satisfied by the institution's answer, it may penalize the institution as it deems necessary in order to ensure that it's intended punishment (i.e. temporary unemployment as a coach) is duly delivered. That's what the parenthetical "or additional penalty" means.

The NCAA could, with no problems whatever, slap recruiting restrictions, additional suspensions, financial penalties, even up to and including throwing UK out of the NCAA altogether. That last one is not going to happen, of course, but it could easily ban UK football from television, a situation that would surely be problematic for the SEC. And do you think Mike Slive is going to sit back and allow Kentucky to import a scofflaw like Tressel without taking a shot or two, especially if the NCAA decides to mess with their TV contract? I'm guessing he won't.

The reality is, the NCAA and/or the SEC will make Tressel's hiring under a show-cause order untenable for Kentucky. It will not happen. Those that are telling you it can are peddling snake oil, and you should gab your wallet and run away quickly.

The NCAA has the power to turn up the heat as high on Kentucky as necessary to make sure we don't put more money in the pocket of a man who violated NCAA rules as egregiously as Tressel. Add into the mix the fact that UK football is a serial NCAA violator over the years, and Barnhart cannot expect an iota of sympathy from the Committee on Infractions where Tressel is concerned. Not only that, can you imagine the media backlash against the NCAA if it demonstrated a toothless attitude toward Tressel? Two words: Penn State. Not. Going. To. Happen.

So forget about Jim Tressel, dear desperate Wildcats football fan. There is no Jim Tressel. He is dead to us.