I grew up 40 miles outside of Columbus, Ohio, which is akin to saying I grew up loving Ohio State University.
Long before I aspired to go there the university was part of my life and my community.
Its extension agents worked with our farmers, its teaching graduates interned in our classrooms. When we were sick, really sick, we’d go to its hospital, because it was by far the best one around.
And on Saturdays, we’d gather around our radios to hear its football team play.
Television being what it was then, it was a rare treat to see the Buckeyes on live TV.
But on a crisp fall afternoon you could place yourself in the stadium based on the radio broadcast alone as the roar went up when the band launched into “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse,” grew louder as the tuba player high-stepped out to dot the i in Script Ohio then became wonderfully thunderous as the team charged out of the tunnel, names like Kern, Brockington, Gradishar and Griffin leading the way.
When it was time to choose a college, there was no choice. I was going to Ohio State.
To this day, I love Ohio State University.
It came as sad news to hear Jim Tressel, the most successful Ohio State football coach in a generation, had resigned Monday.
I’ve never met Coach Tressel but I know people who have and by every account he worked hard to lead his players toward a productive life, be it in or out of football. He’s made contributions to good causes too numerous to list.
He preached a philosophy of doing the right thing and on Monday, as difficult as it must have been for him and as it surely was for Buckeye fans, he did the right thing.
When I say I love the institution I love all the institution. I love the journalism school, the student newspaper, the library and the dorms. The tennis courts and the pool, the student union, the Oval, Mirror Lake and, even though they never loved me back, the golf courses.
I love the planetarium where I was introduced to stars and the playhouse where I was introduced to aspiring stars.
I love the totality of all that and how it informed the rest of my life.
Sports, first and foremost at Ohio State, football, are how we identify with our university in the years after graduation. But sports are not the institution.
Ohio State University, any university for that matter, has to stand for something beyond winning and losing.
Players under Tressel’s charge accepted benefits they shouldn’t have. That goes on on campuses big and small wherever athletes are afforded elevated status based on their ability. That’s not what spelled Tressel’s end.
Tressel, in many ways the public face of the university, filled out a compliance form in September which said he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations by any of his players even though he had been tipped to the violations in April. He failed to notify his superiors at OSU or the NCAA. He covered up.
Had Tressel stayed on, the integrity of the football program would have been forever questioned. That we could live with. The integrity of every successful major college athletic program is subject to that criticism from time to time, often with good reason.
More importantly, had he stayed on, the integrity of the entire university would have been forever questioned. By resigning, Tressel offered perhaps the best testament to his fundamental decency. He spared the university the dilemma of either defending the indefensible or deserting a coach whose ultimate legacy will surely be positive, both on and off the field.
Ohio State will get another football coach. We will be a national power again, if not this season, then the one after that or the one after that.
The integrity of the university had Tressel continued as coach would not be so swiftly restored.
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten