While speaking Tuesday before the Memorial, the annual golf tournament he hosts in Dublin, Ohio, Nicklaus said Tressel was a "good man" and acknowledged that he felt bad for him.
Tressel resigned as the head coach at Ohio State on Monday after allegations surfaced that he lied to the NCAA to cover up players selling their memorabilia to tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife. Since Tressel's resignation, other stories have surfaced about allegations relating to quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a car dealership and Tressel's sordid past of turning a blind eye to his players' misdeeds.
Nicklaus defended some of Tressel's actions, but said the cover-up was what got him in trouble.
"Well, my take on it is that it was no different than a father trying to protect his son, and if I had one of my kids that did what I thought was a fairly insignificant thing, I'd probably say, you know, Hey, we're not going to worry too much about that. We're going to try to just forget that.
"Well, obviously the cover‑up was far worse than the act. And once you got the cover‑up, it became a situation where Jim had to say some things that turned out to be that weren't exactly truthful. And so that's where he got himself in trouble.
"I think unfortunately it's a situation they got caught in, and that's where they are. What's going to happen, I don't know beyond this point. The NCAA, it's more in their hands. ... Once one of these things happens, by the time they get through digging they're going to find whether somebody had a hangnail someplace or not, whether somebody replaced it improperly."
Nicklaus also pointed a finger at the NCAA for perhaps being too harsh for something as insignificant as players wanting to get tattoos and using their own merchandise to purchase them.
"How could you possibly control what some kids do? It was a fairly innocent act. You want to get a tattoo? You're going to get a tattoo. Is that a big deal? Maybe to those kids it was. Maybe it's the NCAA's fault. Maybe the only way to pay for those tattoos was to do what they did. Is that a big deal? Probably not. It was theirs."
This isn't the first time Nicklaus has supported Tressel. He did so a month ago when he claimed that Tressel wasn't alone in his indiscretions and that his bosses Gene Smith and E. Gordon Gee had to know about them as well.