Perhaps that is a more interesting hypothetical question. What if the scandal still happens, but Ohio State doubles down and keeps Tressel? Aside from the five game suspension Tressel was given, would the NCAA have handed out an even stiffer penalty? Would the university have called the NCAA’s bluff? Would that have even been desirable?
All other things being equal, if the only change is that Tressel is employed by Ohio State, the case likely plays out much the same way. Ohio State would likely have come up with additional corrective actions for Tressel. His show-cause might have included a lengthier suspension, perhaps a full season. Whether Ohio State still could have kept Tressel after the hearing if such a penalty was imposed is another question. Perhaps Tressel coaches the 2011 season before the Committee on Infractions decision at which point he is let go or resigns anyway.
In that instance, Ohio State likely would not have gotten significantly different penalties. The postseason ban was connected less to Tressel than it was to other factors, like Ohio State’s failure to monitor charge (which was not related to the memorabilia sales which Tressel knew about) and repeat violator status. OSU’s penalties were already fairly stiff and the COI seems to have done a good job separating Ohio State’s faults from Tressel’s in the case.
But all things would not have been equal had Tressel still been employed at Ohio State. This would have been most evident during the COI hearing, where the questioning likely would have been tougher than it was. That would have put more pressure on Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and president Gordon Gee to perform well in front of the committee. Given the missteps during the scandal, like failing to self-impose a postseason ban in 2011 or Gee’s “I hope he doesn’t fire me” comment, that prospect might not be a pleasant one for Ohio State fans.
So it is possible that even if Tressel had not resigned in May 2011, Urban Meyer is still Ohio State’s head coach. It is also possible that Tressel’s continued employment leads to a disaster of a hearing for Ohio State that results in significantly worse penalties. Or really any result in between.