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Tressel for president? Why not?

04/25/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Tressel for president? Why not?

Jim Tressel is one of three finalists for the presidency at the University of Akron and a candidate for the same position at Youngstown State.

The intriguing thing in either case is that he could become a college president before his five-year, show-cause penalty from the NCAA, which complicates his employment as a college football coach, expires. Tressel, of course, is the ex-coach who won a ton at Ohio State while preaching adherence to the rules and radiating a moral vibrancy. Then hypocrisy was exposed when he broke rules by suiting up players he knew were ineligible, then lied about it to the NCAA.

So now he wants to be a college president, minus any considerable experience as an academician. Reportedly Tressel was alone among the original 15 candidates at Akron to not have a doctorate.

If it comes down to academic mission and utter devotion to the diploma, either of two other finalists — including Scott Scarborough, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Toledo — are more qualified. But that may not be the sole determining factor. Remember, we’re not talking Harvard or Yale here.

Fund-raising is among the most important roles of the president at a place like Akron, which like many state schools of its size is seeking ways to balance a shrinking budget and remain affordable to students.

And if you’re looking for a meet-and-greet speaker to rouse donors, sing the fight song, and get people to dip into annuities and reach for their checkbooks, you can’t do much better in this neck of the woods than the 61-year-old Tressel.

Despite the way his coaching career ended at Ohio State, he is still respected, if not revered, in many corners of the state, especially, it seems, in northeast Ohio, as evidenced by the way Akron snatched him up for an administrative gig.

In his lowest professional moment, the Zips embraced him and created a role as executive vice president for student success, through which he has dealt with student recruitment, admissions, advising, even marketing.

Now the school may be poised to give him its top job. Some still see his ascension as a long shot, but don’t underestimate the possibility that he may, in fact, be the front-runner. And if it doesn’t happen at Akron, he has even more history and equity at Youngstown State.

His Ohio State embarrassment may have felled a lesser man, or driven him as a reclamation project to a fairly anonymous assistant’s position in the NFL. Instead he has quietly and, we presume, efficiently reclaimed his integrity by going about the business of a new career. I imagine he prepares just as methodically and brings the same energy that he did as a coach.

It would be interesting to learn whether his show-cause penalty might stand as a speed bump in Tressel’s presidency pursuit.

The show-cause makes reference to any “athletically related” employment, and as a president he would be responsible for the entire athletics department.

Regardless, to make a person in that situation a university president, especially one with a resume anchored in athletics more so than academics, would be unprecedented. It’s risky.

Still, we are a nation of second chances, and lots of people of lesser character who did worse things have received them.

Why not Jim Tressel?

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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