Sunday for their game in New Orleans against the Saints, the Indianapolis Colts were finally able to debut their highly-anticipated expert on reliving bad calls: ex-Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel.
(Credit: NBC Sports)
Jim Irsay’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable.
Unless of course they beat Michigan with star players they know to be ineligible - then we enshrine them on a wall of the Ohio State football facility in devotion to our priorities. (When we aren’t lying about them.)
Brooks can be reached on Twitter, Facebook and directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Dec. 23, 2010, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith announced that multiple Buckeye football players, including Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas had been suspended for five games in 2011 for receiving extra benefits in the form of tattoos and cash from Columbus tattoo parlor owner and convicted drug dealer Edward Rife. A sixth player, Jordan Whiting, was suspended for one game for similar activity.
(Rife’s Facebook messages to tattgate Buckeye remain to this day)
The NCAA reported in its April 21, 2011, NOA to Ohio State that an Ohio State football player, whose name was redacted by OSU officials despite his no longer being a student at the school, received the following extra benefits from Columbus tattoo parlor owner and convicted drug dealer Edward Rife “between November 2008 and May 2010“:
1) Received $1,500 from Rife for a 2008 Big Ten championship ring
2) Received $250 from Rife for a 2008 gold pants charm for a victory over Michigan
3) Received $250 from Rife for a 2009 gold pants charm for a victory over Michigan
4) Received $150 from Rife for a game helmet from the 2009 Michigan game
5) Received $30 from Rife for a pair of game pants from the 2009 Michigan game
6) Received $250 from Rife for 2010 Rose Bowl watch
7) Received a $55 discount from Rife on two Fine Line Ink Tattoo Parlor tattoos
Received $100 from Rife for obtaining current Buckeye player autographs on two collectible Ohio State football helmets
9) Received a $2,420 discount from Rife towards the purchase of a 2003 Chevy Tahoe
10) Received a $800 loan from Rife for vehicle repairs
NCAA-estimated cash value of benefits received from Rife: $5,805
On June 12, 2011, Ohio State President Gordon Gee described the exact nature of Jim Tressel’s May 30 departure from the school to the COLUMBUS DISPATCH:
Tressel was not told he would be fired if he didn’t quit, Gee said.
“He was not given an ultimatum.”
Gee said Tressel originally was supposed to meet with Smith about the growing scandal after Memorial Day, but mounting public pressure, including the knowledge that a number of media outlets were working on stories about other potential violations, pushed up the timing.
In its “introductory statement“, Ohio State reported on the opening page of its response to the NCAA:
As a result, the institution has imposed significant corrective and punitive actions upon itself and sought and received the resignation of Tressel.
On pages I-9 and 4-2 of its response, Ohio State reported the following “punitive action” to the NCAA:
Sought and accepted the resignation of Tressel on May 30, 2011.
On page I-10 of its response to the NCAA’s April NOA in a section titled, “Reasons These Actions Are Appropriate”, Ohio State gave its official justifiction for the penalties it had previously assessed on itself:
Regarding Tressel’s penalties, the institution’s analysis was that Tressel’s penalties should reflect the seriousness of the position in which he placed both himself and the University. One of his penalties was suspension for the first five games of the 2011 season, which was the same as the student-athletes’ penalties.
The University also intended to prohibit all of his off-campus recruiting activities for one year, which reflected the seriousness of Tressel’s failure to report. The University eventually determined that it was in the best interest of the University and Tressel for Tressel to resign, and he agreed to do so.
Of that justification:
1) On March 8, Ohio State initially announced a two-game suspension for Tressel. Of the exact number of games Tressel was suspended, OSU AD Smith said at the time:
Tressel also will collect his unpaid sick and vacation time up to 250 hours and will be eligible for health-insurance coverage for himself and his family under the plan available to all state retirees, according to the settlement.
2) OSU never publicly indicated Tressel would be suspended for “all of his off-campus recruiting activities for one year.”Read more…
May 31, 2011, the day after Jim Tressel resigned as Ohio State head football coach, the top recruit in the ever-fluid 2012 Ohio State recruiting class, Ohio high school offensive lineman Kyle Kalis, called interim coach Luke Fickell to withdraw his verbal commit to the school’s football program.
“I already knew what I was going to say, that my family and I had reevaluated things and I was going to de-commit,” Kalis said.
Then a funny thing happened. He and Fickell talked for 56 minutes, and the word de-commit didn’t come up until the end.
“I told him, ‘Coach Fickell, the meaning of my call was to de-commit, but you talked me out of it,’” Kalis said.
Two weeks later, on June 15, Kalis told Bill Greene of Scout.com:
“I am all-in for Coach Fickell from this point forward. As long as Luke Fickell is the head coach at Ohio State I will remain committed to the program. Losing Coach Tressel was hard and I don’t want to go through this again with a third head coach.
“I still talk to other coaches out of respect, but I tell them all I am 100% committed to Ohio State and I won’t be visiting their schools. As long as Luke Fickell is the head coach there’s no chance I would look at any other school.”
A talk with interim head coach Luke Fickell convinced Kalis to stick with the Buckeyes, but now comes word of him cancelling a planned visit to Ohio State this weekend. Instead, Kalis will now visit Ohio State’s biggest rival, Michigan.
“My original plan was to go to Ohio State this weekend, but that has changed,” Kalis stated. “After talking to my dad, we’ve decided to visit Michigan instead. It’s my weekend with him and he wants me to get up there and see the program, so that’s where I’m going.”
Five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis has officially de-committed from Ohio State, the Lakewood St. Edward star announced Tuesday evening.
“I did speak to Luke Fickell minutes ago, and I told him I was de-committing from Ohio State,” Kalis announced. “I want to keep all my options open, and will consider several programs going forward, including Ohio State. That’s really all I want to say about my recruitment at this time.”
The sudden reversal by the five-star, in-state offensive line prospect followed a permanent de-commit by incoming 2011 OSU signee Ejuan Price, who has since enrolled at Pitt.
Though Price wavered throughout the recruiting process right up until signing day, Fickell personally closed the Pennsylvania linebacker in early February. But despite Price signing on the dotted line to play for the Buckeyes, the linebacker changed his mind last week and was subsequently granted his release by Ohio State.
Ohio State’s class of 2011 football recruits are set to report to Columbus on Sunday, but it’s safe to say Ejuan Price will not be with the rest of the group.
The linebacker from Pittsburgh Woodland Hills said after the Big 33 Classic on Saturday night in Hershey, Pa., that he has been released from his scholarship by Ohio State.
“Yes, sir,” he said when asked if the release had been granted. “They were waiting for Friday so it wouldn’t cause a tumble effect or whatever. That came and went. All I need are the papers now and I’ll be good to go.”
When asked Saturday night, an Ohio State spokesman could confirm only that Price had asked for his release, not that it had been granted.
Particularly striking in those recent OSU de-commits is Fickell’s personal involvement with each recruit.
Price was recruited by Fickell while Kalis specifically cited the interim coach in re-affirming his ultimately temporary verbal commit to the Buckeyes after Tressel resigned.
While no one begrudges Fickell the opportunity of a lifetime, it’s hard to imagine why Ohio State didn’t install a higher profile interim coach as it awaits an infractions verdict from the NCAA.
With all the high profile former Buckeyes floating around, including several in Columbus, what did OSU have to lose in recruiting someone like Chris Spielman to step in for the moment? And if Spielman wasn’t interested, what of former Ohio State and NFL offensive lineman Jim Lachey? Might Kalis have elected to stay had someone like Lachey come calling - even as a temporary assistant coach?
Spielman and Lachey are just two of dozens of former Buckeyes who might or might not be interested in giving back to their school in its current, extraordinary time of need. And knowing the character of former OSU players like Spielman and Lachey, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t - at the very least - agree to help Athletic Director Gene Smith find a high profile coach willing to serve in an interim albeit temporary capacity.
These days, virtually every recruit who signs with a program like Ohio State does so with a possible NFL career in mind. Smith installing a coach with no college head coaching experience, no NFL coaching experience and zero national profile can’t be looked at as any other than a disservice to the Buckeye football program and its fans.
Then combine the unknown extent of Ohio State’s impending NCAA penalties with Ohioans at the helm of the football programs at Michigan (Brady Hoke - Dayton) and Michigan State (Mark Dantonio - Zanesville) and the Ohio State athletic administration abandoning its last, best asset in stemming the long-term damage to its football program approaches the same, shameful negligence it has already perpetrated on the school.
It has taken nothing short of on-the-record, documented evidence of NCAA violations perpetrated by the Ohio State football program to produce what is rapidly becoming one of the biggest scandals in college sports history.
And now, thanks to on-the-record, documented evidence involving public statements made by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on two different occasions the past week that directly contradicted a formal and crucial claim in the March 8 self-report by Ohio State to the NCAA - and public statements on March 8 to the same effect by OSU Director of Athletics Gene Smith - along with an email message from an Ohio State administration official to CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer on June 8, it appears we have significant reason to believe that an already ugly situation is about to get worse.
In the past 48 hours, through the discovery of the aforementioned evidence, I’ve detected what appears to be a concerted effort by Ohio State officials to conceal how the school first discovered the emails between Tressel and Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero. That would include the deliberate misrepresentation by Ohio State officials of the facts of the case contained in the official March 8 Ohio State self-report to the NCAA.
On March 8, this was Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith’s exact description of the school’s discovery of the incriminating Tressel emails.
“We discovered, through another process, through gathering information on another matter, that there were some emails that Coach Tressel had that revealed that he had some prior knowledge regarding the matter with our student athletes.”
How Ohio State first found out about the Tressel emails is crucial to the school’s avoidance of the dreaded ‘Failure to Monitor‘ major NCAA violation. A major violation that Ohio State was not charged with in the NCAA’s April 25 Notice of Allegations to the school regarding the Tressel matter.
Of that distinction, veteran attorney Michael L. Buckner, who has represented several schools during the NCAA enforcement process, noted to CBSSports.com reporter Fischer on June 9:
“The NCAA will definitely want to find out how the institution found out about the allegation. There could be a possible failure to monitor allegation. If they found out about it because someone else sent in an open records request, then that means [Ohio State] found out about violations from somebody else external to the institution triggering that process.”
In a piece written by ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg on June 9, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany directly contradicted Ohio State’s official version to the NCAA of how the school first discovered the Tressel emails in question:
In addition to the contention by Ohio State in its self-report to the NCAA on March 8 that it - not the media - first discovered the Tressel emails and OSU AD Gene Smith’s public comments confirming that as fact the same day, in its “Conclusion” to the NCAA in its March 8 self-report to the same governing body regarding the Tressel emails, Ohio State reiterated that it had “self-detected” the former coach’s email-based coverup:
“This issue was self-detected by the institution and the University’s ‘Investigating Possible Violations’ policy was adhered to in the conduct of a thorough and expeditious investigation.”
CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer was first to spot the repeated, stark discrepancy between the multiple statements made by Big Ten Commissioner Delany and Ohio State officials. Fischer contacted Ohio State Director of Media Relations Jim Lynch on June 8 to ask him to confirm the school’s official version of how it discovered Tressel’s emails. In a post published to CBSSports.com on June 9, Lynch did just that:
Lynch’s confirmation further contradicts Delany’s multiple statements about how Ohio State found out about Tressel’s emails.
In that same June 9 post, Fischer reported:
CBSSports.com obtained all Freedom of Information Act inquiries directed to the university. In documents released by a school spokesman, the earliest request in 2011 came from Bloomberg News requesting a copy of the school’s NCAA Revenue and Expenses Report on Jan. 24, a full 11 days after the school reported they became aware of the emails. Yahoo! Sports, which broke the news that Tressel had prior knowledge of NCAA violations involving Buckeyes players, submitted its first open records request to the school on Feb. 28.
More specifically, if there were no open records requests to Ohio State before January 24, why did Delany twice claim that the school only found out after an external open records request that would have had to have come at least 11 days earlier - since Ohio State reported on March 8 to the NCAA that it first discovered the Tressel emails on January 13.
With a radical difference between versions of the same event by Big Ten commissioner Delany and Ohio State officials, what’s the odds that this is all one big misunderstanding?
Thanks to a followup email from Ohio State Spokesman Jim Lynch to Fischer on June 8, it turns out that there is indeed a distinct possibility that Delany, a former NCAA enforcement investigator himself, is actually accurate in his assessment of how OSU first found out about the Tressel emails.
On June 11 I contacted Fischer to ask him if he would forward me the email exchange he had with Lynch in which the OSU spokesman confirmed he had released all of the January open records requests sent to Ohio State.
When Fischer forwarded me that exchange I learned, much to my amazement, that Lynch never did confirm that the school had actually released all of the January open records requests received by Ohio State.
It was a fateful June 8 email message from Lynch to Fischer that explained why Delany continues to claim that Ohio State was tipped off by the media and did not, as OSU AD Smith and the school’s self-report to the NCAA claimed on March 8, “self-detect” the Tressel emails.
When asked by Fischer via email to confirm that Ohio State had released all of its open record requests for the month of January, 2011, Lynch replied:
I can’t guarantee that this catches all of them, as a few head directly to individuals within the Athletics Department and I am unable to log them.
All of the emails sent to employees of Ohio State are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) open record requests. Including those of OSU AD Smith, OSU Compliance Director Doug Archie and President E. Gordon Gee.
Lynch’s statement to Fischer on why he couldn’t “guarantee that this catches all of them” is nothing short of, well, stunning.
If Lynch, who has been charged with handling the public dissemination of Ohio State’s open records requests since the Tressel scandal broke in early March, doesn’t know if all of the open records requests to OSU for the month of January are accounted for, how can Ohio State possibly announce publicly that it “self-detected” the Tressel emails?
Let alone stake the future of the football program on the same claim in its formal defense to the NCAA?
So now we know why Delany said what he said. Twice.
Just the day before Lynch sent that explosive note to Fischer claiming ignorance, the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported that Lynch had released logs of thousands of phone calls and text messages made by “athletic director Gene Smith between April 2010 and March 2011.” But of those communications, the Dispatch also noted, “The university redacted nearly 20 percent of Smith’s 11,628 phone calls and texts between April 2010 and March 2011.“
Who informed the media on June 7 why 2,326 calls by Smith were hidden from the media?
The same Jim Lynch who a day later told Fischer in an email that he wasn’t sure if he had been able to provide the reporter all of the open records requests to Ohio State University from January, 2011.
The June 7 Columbus Dispatch report also included Lynch’s argument for not releasing literally thousands of Smith’s phone and text records:
The requested records (e.g., personal landline and cell phone numbers) do not constitute records … as they do not serve to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the university,” spokesman Jim Lynch wrote in a statement.
Lynch admitting the possibility to Fischer that not all of the January open records requests to Ohio State were indeed released to the media follows up his admission on April 25, 2011, to the COLUMBUS DISPATCH that he “inadvertently omitted” the emails between Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor “mentor” Ted Sarniak in Ohio State’s March 8 press release documenting the school’s self-report to the NCAA.
Of that “inadvertent” omission, Lynch told the Dispatch on April 25:
But Tressel’s earlier-confirmed handling of the emails contradicts Lynch’s statement. And it isn’t even close.
In Ohio State’s March 8 self-report of the Tressel email-borne NCAA violations, it did not report to the NCAA that Tressel had forwarded any of the Cicero emails to Pryor mentor Sarniak.
Instead, in detailing Tressel’s defense, Ohio State noted in its official self-report to the NCAA:
“In particular, he (Tressel) was protecting the confidentiality of the attorney (which the attorney requested) and of the federal criminal investigation.”
The obvious problem with Tressel’s confidentiality defense to the NCAA and the public was, of course, the fact that he forwarded Cicero’s very first email to Sarniak.
Not to mention that in the first email from attorney Cicero to Tressel, on April 2, 2010, the lawyer did not request confidentiality. (He did not do so until an April 16 email to Tressel.)
So the material fact that Tressel forwarded the very first email he received to Terrelle Pryor’s mentor wasn’t known by the media during the March 8 press conference because Lynch “inadvertently omitted” them from the media release because, as Lynch claimed to the Dispatch on April 25, “these emails do not raise any new matters.”
The same press conference was highlighted by the now-infamous moment in which OSU AD Gene Smith cut off a question to Tressel by Yahoo.com’s Dan Wetzel after the reporter asked the coach if he had “forwarded any of the emails” that he had received from the then-unnamed attorney.
But if Lynch’s omission of the forwarded Tressel emails to Sarniak was, as Lynch claimed to the Dispatch on April 25, “inadvertent” and did “not raise any new matters” and should have been included in Lynch’s Ohio State media release at the March 8 press conference, why did Smith prevent the coach from answering Wetzel’s question about a forwarded email from Tressel?
Might Smith’s actions have had something to do with Tressel’s earlier confidentiality defense at the press conference? A confidentiality defense also utilized in Ohio State’s self-report to the NCAA the same day?
Is it unreasonable to think that Tressel would not have attempted such a defense in front of reporters had it been known to the public and media at that time that he had forwarded Cicero’s first, confidentiality-free email to Terrelle Pryor mentor Ted Sarniak?
OSU Spokesman Lynch also, somehow, claimed to the Dispatch on April 25 that the NCAA, unlike the media, did receive Tressel’s complete email correspondence as part of its March 8 self-report. Though that same report from OSU noted to the same NCAA, “he (Tressel) was protecting the confidentiality of the attorney (which the attorney requested) and of the federal criminal investigation.”
Why would Ohio State allow Tressel to make such a defense in its self-report if it knew the NCAA had clear evidence that Tressel had not kept his email exchange with Cicero confidential from the very first email?!
Lynch’s “inadvertent” omission of the complete email correspendence between Tressel, Cicero and Sarniak followed by Ohio State’s confidentiality defense to the NCAA in its self-report and OSU AD Smith not allowing Tressel to answer Wetzel’s question about forwarding emails he received from Cicero - and Lynch’s clearly bogus claim that the emails he left out of the March 8 press release to the media did “not raise any new matters” make it almost impossible to believe that Ohio State officials did not deliberately misrepresent the facts of the case contained in the official March 8 Ohio State self-report to the NCAA and to the media the same day.
Then there’s last week, which saw Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany twice confirm with public statements that Ohio State discovered Tressel’s emails only because of an open records request from the media, which contradicted the school’s version of how it found the emails. A contradiction affirmed by Lynch in an email message to CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer on June 8.
And this subsequent admission by Lynch to Fischer about the January open records requests referenced by Delany in relation to the discovery of Tressel’s emails:
I can’t guarantee that this catches all of them, asa few head directly to individuals within the Athletics Department and I am unable to log them.
That last piece of previously-unknown, on-the-record, documented evidence leads me to now believe that we’re officially past the point of coincidence and/or any manner of misunderstanding. (See Delany’s possible future retraction.)
The only question that now remains is if those involved in Ohio State’s shameful coverup of the facts and deceptive presentation of its case to the NCAA and public will be held to the same accountability afforded the recently-ousted Tressel.
Tuesday I reported that the NCAA had discovered checks passed from Columbus freelance photographer Dennis Talbott to former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in exchange for signing Buckeye memorabilia while Pryor was still in school. (At the beginning of each school year, the NCAA has all student-athletes sign a consent form which allows the intercollegiate governing body to access their bank records at any time.)
(Top Left Pryor Photo Has Ebay Watermark (Bottom Right Of Image))
Talbott, who was formally banned from associating with the Ohio State football program by the school last year and owns a Buckeye-themed vehicle with the vanity plate “T PRYOR”, was also seen selling autographed Pryor memorabilia on Ebay as recently as three days ago.
Using the Ebay screen name “infickellwetrust“, Talbott has since pulled all 250 items he had listed off the website. Among those items was signed memorabilia from Pryor along with game-used, autographed items from multiple former Ohio State Buckeye football players.
In the 48 hours since I reported those revelations, I’ve learned of an additional, stand-alone operation that Talbott has used to sell Ohio State football memorabilia. Talbott calls the business, which is unregistered in the state of Ohio, Varsity O Memorabilia.
A current “Varsity O Memorabilia” Facebook page, last updated in April, features some of the product procured by Talbott over the years from dozens of Buckeye football and basketball players. Many of the items seen signed in the Facebook photos came from then-current Ohio State players like Terrelle Pryor and Ted Ginn, Jr.
In the top-left photo Ginn is seen signing an Ohio State football helmet which may have seen game action while the above Pryor photo features an Ebay watermark in the bottom right corner of the image.
Also seen in the Facebook photos either signing memorabilia for Talbott or posing for photos later autographed by the subject are A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, Maurice Wells, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Chris Wells, Mike D’Andrea, Troy Smith, Quinn Pitcock - among other former Buckeye football and basketball players.
Some of the photos of Talbott’s memorabilia procurement were taken at officially-sanctioned Ohio State events, so newly-ousted OSU coach Jim Tressel is seen on more than one occasion signing various items for Talbott.
In the montage above, the Tressel-signed photo Talbott was selling on Ebay last Wednesday was identical to the photo Tressel was seen signing for Talbott in the above Facebook picture uploaded on March 11, 2011. A copy of the same signed image was also seen framed in a “Limited Edition” album as part of Talbott’s Varsity O Memorabilia Facebook page.
In one particular “Varsity O” Facebook promotional page photo, the former Ohio State football coach is seen signing a Buckeye football mini helmet. At the bottom of the picture is the web address VARSITYOMEN.com.
The cell phone number listed for Talbott on his photographer media credential for the Columbus-based This Week In Footballpublication and in Federal and Delaware County, Ohio, court documents matches the telephone contact number for the only person ever registered as owner of the VARSITYOMEM.com website. The site URL, which was first purchased in 2007, is no longer operable.
On August 14, 2007, a person with the screen name “VarsityOMem” posted a promotional message for an Agonis Club of Columbus event in which the Ohio State Buckeyes football team would be appearing.
A public records search this week for “Dennis J. Talbott” confirmed that he has served as a board member for Agonis Club of Columbus.
While the extent of the relationship between Talbott and Pryor is not known, at the very least it has now been verified that Talbott was recently - earlier this week - selling Pryor-signed merchandise on Ebay. In addition, I can now confirm that Talbott sold photos and footballs signed by Pryor in 2008.
Many of the photos signed by Buckeye players for Talbott - if not all - were taken by Talbott himself. Until recently, Talbott was granted full media access to the Ohio State football and basketball teams by the school’s athletic department as a photographer. Though, in his work for Icon SMI, Talbott was not paid for his assignments - only for the individual photos he sold to media outlets.
It was that same, unfettered access provided by the Ohio State Athletics and Compliance Departments that allowed Talbott to obtain autographs from innumerable Ohio State football and basketball players for many years, which he subsequently benefited from financially and otherwise.
That’s precisely the reason why he was finally cut off from those high profile Ohio State athletes and placed on blacklist by OSU athletic department officials I’ve confirmed as reservd for those officially disassociated from the program.
One month before a United States Department of Justice letter to Ohio State uncovered a massive pattern of NCAA rule violations within the school’s football program, official Ohio State internal audit documents show Ohio State President Gordon Gee and OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith knew that the Ohio State compliance department - led by former NCAA enforcement official Doug Archie - had failed to properly monitor dozens of OSU student-athletes for potential violations of NCAA rules.
In a November 1, 2010, report to Gee and Smith, a four-person internal audit of Archie’s Ohio State compliance department reported the following to President Gee and AD Smith:
During our audit, we analyzed Student Athlete Vehicle Registration information for 152 student athletes, and we physically observed vehicles driven by football players upon arrival at spring practice. We noted the following issues:
19 student athletes purchased parking permits from University Transportation and Parking for vehicles they had not registered with the Department of Athletics.
22 student athletes received parking citations from University Transportation and Parking for vehicles they had not registered with the Department of Athletics.
3 football players were observed driving vehicles they had not registered with the Department of Athletics.
We recommend that the Department of Athletics investigate the aforementioned discrepancies and confirm that no NCAA regulations were violated. The Department of Athletics should increase monitoring activities by observing vehicles driven by student athletes and by working with University Transportation and Parking to periodically review parking permit registrations and issued citations to assure proper registration of vehicles.
Six months later the acquisition, registration and operation of vehicles by dozens of Ohio State football players is now under investigation by the NCAA and subject to intense media scrutiny. In the past week, Ohio State football star Terrelle Pryor has been seen driving a vehicle on campus and at the OSU football facility despite his license being suspended.
On Jan. 2, 2011, the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported:
Three times in the past three years, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was stopped for traffic violations while driving cars that were owned by a car salesman or a Columbus used-car lot where the salesman worked, according to traffic citations obtained by The Dispatch.
Ohio State University’s chief enforcer of NCAA rules [Doug Archie] said yesterday that he will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of OSU athletes at two Columbus car dealers to see if any sale violated collegiate rules.
The investigation was initiated after The Dispatch found in public records that at least eight Ohio State athletes and 11 athletes’ relatives bought used cars from Jack Maxton Chevrolet or Auto Direct during the past five years. The investigation will involve outside experts and examine at least 50 sales, focusing on whether the athletes received improper benefits.
The common thread in those two dozen transactions was the salesman: Aaron Kniffin, who has worked at both dealerships.
“I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred,” he [Archie] said.
Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final.
When asked why Archie, who did not immediately respond to voice mail messages, said he only spoke to Kniffin once and denied that the deals were approved by OSU compliance, Kniffin said, “That’s something you’ll have to ask him. I’ve got records of it.
Three days later, the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported that apparently the NCAA wasn’t so sure about Archie’s repeated assurances that no NCAA violations had occurred during vehicle purchase and loan transactions involving Pryor:
Pryor has been questioned by OSU compliance officials in the past, but sources said this is the most significant inquiry to date. He already has been interviewed at least once by investigators within the past few weeks, sources said.
The Ohio State internal audit of the school’s NCAA rules compliance led by Archie also examined OSU’s practice of providing apparel, equipment and awards to student-athletes. From the report:
The Department of Athletics has purchased and implemented an inventory system to manage and monitor the issuance of equipment and apparel to student athletes. Although the use of this system has strengthened the Department of Athletics’ management of inventory and helps to reasonably assure compliance with NCAA regulations, we did identify the following opportunities to more effectively and consistently utilize the system and manage inventory:
Consistency – The process for managing inventory is not consistent among the different sports. Inventory management is left to the discretion of the individual sports managers.
Documentation – Some sports do not document the use of all equipment and apparel.
System Utilization – Some sports do not utilize all of the features of the inventory system.
System Deletions – Individual sports managers have the ability to delete inventory items, for which they are responsible, from the inventory system without any form of independent review or mitigating control.
Participation Awards – Participation awards (e.g., letter jackets, rings, etc.) are the responsibility of the Equipment Room but currently are not inventoried.
We recommend that the Department of Athletics strengthen inventory management procedures and controls to ensure consistency among all sports, accountability for all inventory items, and utilization of the inventory system to its fullest capability.
Thanks to these Ohio State internal audit documents, it has now been confirmed that OSU President Gee and Athletic Director Smith already knew of the failure by Ohio State compliance to inventory and track the aforementioned “participation awards” and “equipment and apparel” which likely contributed to Buckeye football players selling and trading those same items - along with football tickets - for cash, tattoos, cars and other extra benefits. (As documented in the DOJ letter to the school on December 7, 2010.) (Or as the NCAA likes to put it in its infraction reports to schools, “should have known.”)
The eventual discovery of those activities by Federal authorities in April, 2010, eventually led to five Ohio State football players, including Pryor, to be suspended for five games during the 2011 season and contributed the resignation of coach Jim Tressel.
Despite in recent months Ohio State twice reporting NCAA violations involving the school’s football program, and their prior knowledge of the lack of compliance by Ohio State student-athletes as detailed by their own internal audit, President Gee and Athletic Director Smith have continued to publicly laud the OSU compliance department.
On March 8, Gee said of the Ohio State NCAA rules compliance department:
“I want to thank our folks in athletics who have done a tremendous job in dealing with some serious issues and have done it precisely the way I would expect.
I want to confirm to each and every one of you that our university has followed every protocol in every way as expeditiously and forthrightly as we should and as I would expect .. ”
” .. I want to be very clear about that in no way does this university shed its responsibility in this effort and that it has followed its protocol.”
It was at the same press conference that, when asked if he was considering firing Jim Tressel, Gee uttered the now infamous words:
“No. Are you kidding? Let me just be very clear, I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
It was unclear Tuesday if Pryor had been granted driving privileges, but the Franklin County Clerk of Courts told NBC4 Wednesday that Pryor was not given driving privileges.
To make matters worse, two individuals appearing to be affiliated with Ohio State were spotted by WSYX cameras guarding Pryor as he got into his car in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center parking lot on the Ohio State campus.
Where is the Ohio State and Columbus Police Department?
Ohio State President Gordon Gee? Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith? Ohio State Compliance Director Doug Archie?
Do laws not matter in Columbus if you’re a Buckeye?