Life just keeps getting better for Jim Tressel. First there was the revelation that some of his players were trading memorabilia for tattoos and other items of value. Then the controversy over the suspensions for those indiscretions being themselves suspended to allow the players to finally beat an SEC school in a bowl game. Then we found out that Jim Tressel found out about the improper benefits and never bothered to let anyone know about it, and denied knowing until he was confronted with proof.
Now comes news that Ohio State is investigating dozens of automobile purchases from two Columbus car dealerships, all of which involved the same salesman, Aaron Kniffin. One particularly curious transaction involved former Buckeye and current 49ers linebacker Thaddeus Gibson leaving the lot with a 2 year old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles on it. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, of course. A low mileage used vehicle can be a sound investment. And kudos to Gibson for buying American. The problem is that sales documents from the transaction list the sales price for the vehicle as $0. Which is a great deal on a Chrysler 300, the kind of deal that the average Ohioan probably doesn't get.
And of course therein lies the rub. The official position of the Ohio State
Swapmeet University is that officials have seen no evidence of improper benefits related to Kniffin's dealings. They are merely looking into things because somewhere around 50 Ohio State players or their family members have purchased vehicles from Kniffin. This in and of itself indicates either a) that Mr. Kniffin should write his own sales self-help and networking book and be named employee of the decade, or b) that he was giving deals that other salesmen weren't matching to a discreet class of individuals to whom special deals are impermissible.
The original story appears to have been broken by the Columbus Dispatch, which unearthed the curious car buying pattern. Among the choice tidbits from the Columbus Dispatch story is this nugget:
Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final.
Archie said that he has spoken to Kniffin only once, never reviews sales documents and has not directed players to any dealerships.
When two people tell entirely different stories about something, there's usually a reason. I'll be curious to see what the reason for the conflicting reports on this one are. I suspect the NCAA would be curious to find out if someone in Ohio State's athletic compliance office was directing players and their families to a particular auto dealer. Again, Ohio State's position is that they are just being diligent and that there's no evidence of improper benefits at this time. I find this curious given that the Dispatch story includes the revelation that Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor was allowed to borrow Kniffin's personal automobile for a 3 day "test drive" to his home in Jeanette, Pennsylvania. Jeanette is over 200 miles from Columbus, across state lines. Quick gang, a show of hands: who knows a car dealer who will let me testdrive a car for 3 days, 200 miles away? Anybody? Ok, would it improve my odds if I were a 21 year old college student? You mean they don't let just any 21 year old kid do that? I'm shocked.
Perhaps Jim Tressel did not know about any of this. But at a certain point it becomes his job to ask some questions. Given the number of people looking to influence college football players, that certain point should probably come every time a player pulls up in a car he wasn't driving the day before. Being a college football coach these days is like being the parent of a teenager living in a drug and gang infested neighborhood. While it might be his desire to trust his players, it's his duty to watch over them.
And it's looking more and more like Jim Tressel may not have been watching things around Columbus as closely as he should have. There's been a great deal of discussion this week about Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, and how Osama bin Laden could have been living amongst the Pakistani military elite without them knowing. There are two possible answers of course: either the ISI knew and declined to tell the U.S. about it, or they were so blindingly incompetent that they didn't notice as the world's most wanted terrorist built a million dollar compound in Abbottabad. The latter isn't good, but it's better than the former.
As a college football fan I'm beginning to ask the same kinds of questions about Jim Tressel. Is it really possible that his star quarterback was "borrowing" dealer vehicles off the lot without him knowing it? Is it really possible that he kept information about tattoo-gate under his hat because he didn't want to jeopardize an impending investigation? I'm more and more believing that Jim Tressel, in true ISI fashion, is not as ignorant of certain things as he would like to be.