The man who has taken Ohio State to the BCS title game three times was preparing to visit troops in Iraq with several other college coaches.
Dan Patrick: Did you recruit LeBron James (right) to play football at Ohio State?
Jim Tressel: I was in St. Vincent--St. Mary High one day after his junior year—we were recruiting another guy—and I felt this big pair of hands on the back of my neck. It was LeBron. He said, "I could play wideout for you." I said, "[Former basketball] Coach O'Brien and I would certainly love to have you for a year. I'm sure it wouldn't be much longer than that, but you've got a scholarship if you want it."
DP: Could he have been successful in college football and as a pro?
JT: Oh, absolutely. He's just so competitive and so physical. The speed at which he goes at 265 pounds, I don't know if there's anyone in the world at that size who moves like that. I remember watching his high school football film. It was frightening.
DP: You host USC on Sept. 12. Do your guys have that circled on their calendar?
JT: There's no doubt our guys have it in their minds. We were out there last year and didn't fare well [USC won 35--3], so they know the challenge we're up against.
DP: Don't you think not having a conference championship game hurts the Big Ten in terms of the BCS? A win in a championship game elevates a team in the eyes of the voters. Is there any chance we'll see the league expand from 11 to 12 teams and have a title game?
JT: We just had our Big Ten meetings, and every year we cover all the [aspects] of adding teams and a championship game. What's the landscape in this sport at the moment versus what's gone on historically? There are some upsides to adding a team, as long as it's the right one. There are some upsides to a championship game, but there are also some downsides. If you did a lie-detector test on coaches that have championship games, I'm not sure that they would tell you that it's one of the greatest things that is a part of their world. Obviously if you win it's great, but historically, for teams that haven't fared well, it's been difficult when they went on to their postseason bowl game.
DP: Notre Dame has been floated as a possible 12th team. Is that a possibility?
JT: I don't know what the possibility is. It really wouldn't enlarge our territory, and so much of the discussion in this day and age is enlarging your market and your interest base. Simply from a football standpoint, Notre Dame is a great attraction, but there's so much more that you have in those discussions. I think we're a ways away from finalizing anything.
DP: So are you looking to the South or the East?
JT: If you look at the demographics of our country, there are a lot of people who live in the East. And we're probably only increasing two or three percent in our neck of the woods in population growth. The East continues to grow, and the South and the Sun Belt continue to grow. When we added Penn State [in 1990] we branched out geographically, and I know that's one of the discussions that people are having in our league: Is that a need for us at this point?
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. English soccer star Joe Cole compares footy to football.
2. Reggie Miller rips the Cavs' and Lakers' supporting casts.
THE FINE PRINT: Terrell Owens is set to star in a reality show on VH1. I believe it's going to be called Arrivederci, Romo.
There's been plenty of hand-wringing over the possibility that Manny Ramirez could make the NL All-Star team. (Though he was suspended for 50 games in April, he's fourth in voting for outfielders.) But I think the idea of declaring that Manny can't play—in essence, removing him from the ballot—is a mistake. Let the vote be the fans' referendum on performance-enhancing drugs. If they elect a guy who's only played in 27 games, maybe that's evidence they just don't consider PED use that big a deal. Let's find out.
Retired Lakers player, coach and G.M. Jerry West created a stir two weeks ago when he said that LeBron James has surpassed Kobe Bryant as an all-around player. West defended his remarks on my show. While he didn't backtrack, he did say he'd rather have Kobe take the last shot, and he paid Bryant the ultimate compliment: "He's been the closest thing we've seen to Michael Jordan."
Line of the week
Helio Castroneves on competing on Dancing with the Stars: "That was as much work as winning the Indy 500. You have a 19-year-old girl pointing at you—'Do this, Do that.' I'm like, Whoa, man, I have no idea what I'm doing here. Take it easy."
ILLUSTRATION BY KAGAN MCLEOD
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (RAMIREZ)
SIMON BRUTY (CASTRONEVES)
ROBERT BECK (TRESSEL)
BOB DEMAY/AKRON BEACON JOURNAL (JAMES)