There has long been a saying in legal circles that goes like this: The coverup is always worse than the crime.
That's what was said about Watergate, which brought down President Richard Nixon, and it also applies to Tattoogate, which we now know originated in a federal drug-trafficking investigation.
Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel knew two of his players might have been involved in the sale of items - sure NCAA violations if true - after receiving e-mails about it from an attorney.
"I will get on it ASAP," he responded.
But Tressel did not report the violations, despite NCAA regulations and contract stipulations that demand he do just that.
All day Tuesday, there was rampant speculation that the Ohio State scandal - which involved the sale and trade of gear owned by six players in exchange for cash and tattoos - could bring down Tressel.
There was even speculation about possible successors. Ashtabula native Urban Meyer, late of the Florida Gators, was mentioned prominently. Meyer might one day follow Tressel in Columbus, but it won't be today and apparently not any time soon.
Anyone who thought Ohio State was going to fire a football coach who is 106-22 in 10 seasons and owns Michigan is seriously deluded. Even after it became clear Tressel knew about the NCAA violations long before they were brought to the attention of the university and said nothing, this scandal wasn't going to send him packing.
Tressel has been too successful since he arrived in Columbus to lose his job over a bunch of tattoos. And this scandal, while sordid and unfortunate, does not rise to the level of the Reggie Bush saga at Southern California, from which Pete Carroll bolted to the NFL when it became apparent the NCAA was about to smack the Trojans.
It sounds terrible to admit Tressel will get a break on a violation that might cost others their jobs just because his teams have performed better than most, but that's the way it is in 2011. Tressel's job is to win football games and he's good at it.
Ohio State president Gordon Gee even said he hoped the coach wouldn't dismiss him. Really?
One thing that needs to happen ASAP is for Gee to stop talking.
But now Tressel has been suspended for two games and fined $250,000 by Ohio State. And the NCAA, which takes a dim view of being lied to during investigations - just ask former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant and Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl - could still add to Tressel's punishment.
Ohio State officials clearly hope that self-reporting of Tressel's lie of omission will serve to minimize any action the NCAA might take when its investigation concludes. But what of the damage that can't be quantified? What about the beating Tressel's reputation has taken?
All this could have been avoided had Tressel taken the e-mails he received in April of 2010 to his boss, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, or to the university's compliance office. Instead, Tressel did nothing, which in itself was a violation. And in hindsight, it was even worse. Had he done the right thing, perhaps those players would have ended up suspended for a time in 2010 and this entire thing might already be history.
Instead, it's front-page news again and Tressel's reputation has been damaged.
In sitting on those e-mails, Tressel - known in some circles as "The Senator" - ensured some people now will view him less as Abraham Lincoln and more as Nixon.
Tressel said Tuesday night he felt an obligation to maintain confidentiality in the wake of receiving the e-mails and feared for the safety of some of his players.
Some observers will suggest that it was actually the potential of the scandal to torpedo the Buckeyes' 2010 season - replete with national championship aspirations - that led Tressel to keep that correspondence to himself.
Tressel and his programs have come under scrutiny before.
At Youngstown State, quarterback Ray Isaac received improper benefits. YSU self-reported and later was penalized by the NCAA.
At Ohio State, first running back Maurice Clarett and later quarterback Troy Smith committed NCAA violations and were suspended.
In each case, those allegations of improper conduct seemed to bounce off Tressel. The fact is, he can't effectively baby-sit 100 or more players, so there is a built-in excuse. But Tressel - like every big-time college football coach - is a control freak at heart, so he and his colleagues are more wired into their teams than they'll ever admit publicly.
I wish Tressel had picked up the phone and called Smith when that first e-mail popped into his inbox. And more importantly, from the looks of a visibly shaken Tressel on Tuesday night, he does, too.
It's just terribly silly that a scandal about tattoos has tarnished his reputation and that of the university. It didn't have to happen.