NCAA Allegations Against Tressel Show Coaches’ Need for Personal Counsel

The recent Notice of Allegations issued by the NCAA against Ohio State University (OSU) head football coach Jim Tressel are uniquely personal.  He is alleged to have withheld information from OSU to keep his players, who received improper benefits and otherwise violated NCAA rules, eligible.  The case presents a clear situation of a coach needing personal counsel in dealing with the NCAA. 

Conflict of Interest

Generally, it appears that the interests of the university and its coaches would be aligned.  But often times, that’s not the case.   First and foremost, a university will protect its own interests.   Universities typically deal with NCAA violations through self-imposed penalties.  These penalties, similar to a plea bargain, allow the university to minimize the risk of unknown NCAA sanctions and also may allow for a more expedient resolution.  However, a coach’s interests may not be served.  Admitting to NCAA violations, especially if the coach has a reasonable defense, may not make sense for a coach.

The conflict of interest between Coach Tressel’s interests and those of OSU is apparent.  OSU has an interest in claiming that it had no knowledge of the potential violations.  This argument essentially proves the NCAA’s case against Coach Tressel – that he withheld information from OSU that would have resulted in NCAA violations and players being declared ineligible.  Therefore, it appears that OSU and its coach have different interests to protect and Coach Tressel will likely need separate counsel to defend against the NCAA allegations.

Contractual Issues

Many coaches have provisions in their contracts that allow the university to fire the coach for cause, without paying the remaining years on the contract, if the coach and/or program is found to have committed violations of NCAA rules (typically major violations).  Although a university may choose not to exercise this clause, a coach must be careful not to give the university an opportunity to escape from the terms of a contract.  Therefore, a strong defense to NCAA allegations may be in the best interest of a coach from a contractual perspective.

Coach Tressel likely has a a clause in his contract that allows OSU to terminate him based on certain NCAA violations.  Accordingly, Coach Tressel’s counsel must craft a strategy to minimize any NCAA penalty while also being mindful of what type of penalty could give OSU cause to terminate Coach Tressel’s contract.


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  1. […] to have personal counsel due to the conflicts of interest that arise in these investigations.  This position is now getting additional support and exposure as the high stakes cases involving Tressel and Bruce Pearl have shown.  As Dan […]

  2. […] Sports Law has covered some of the reasons that coaches must engage independent counsel.  Jim Tressel has engaged Gene Marsh, former chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions to […]

  3. […] as coaches need representation apart from the school’s counsel when dealing with the NCAA, a student-athlete should be represented by his or her own counsel, not the lawyer representing the […]

  4. […] NCAA Allegations Against Tressel Show Coaches’ Need for Personal Counsel […]

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