More OSU trouble keeps spotlight on Columbus
September 2, 2011
The team can handle new suspensions, but their reputation can't. For more college football, see FOXSports.com's NCAA page.
Ohio State has endured its share of earth-shaking headlines over a six-month period marked by revelations of Jim Tressel’s lying, his forced resignation and an appearance before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
What happened Thursday afternoon, with the suspension of three players from the season-opener Saturday against Akron for accepting extra benefits in violation of NCAA rules, was more of a head-shaking event.
It is beyond description how any additional OSU players could be so cavalier to go near an extra-benefits grab in the wake of Tattoo-Gate, their coach’s precipitous downfall and quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s hasty exit ahead of a season-long NCAA suspension.
Jordan Hall, Travis Howard and defensive back Corey Brown will sit out indefinitely while OSU sorts through this latest embarrassing circumstance that further imperils the football program’s hopes for soft NCAA sanctions and the future of both athletic director Gene Smith and compliance director Doug Archie.
Right now, there are more questions than answers related to what OSU said was the three each taking impermissible benefits worth less than $300 from a charity event this year.
“We believe in transparency with the NCAA, all regulatory bodies and all of Buckeye Nation,“ Smith said in a statement that did not specify the charity event, the date or the amount of the extra benefits received.
That lone detail Smith provided, that the event occurred this year, means Hall, Howard and Brown violated NCAA rules after witnessing the fallout of five teammates being suspended last December for their role in a separate scandal that dominated the pre-Sugar Bowl headlines.
It also means that those re-doubled efforts to educate OSU’s players about the nuances of NCAA rules fell on at least six deaf ears after Smith blamed the initial problem on inadequate rules compliance.
Will this cause the NCAA to re-address and stiffen penalties it already decided, but has not disclosed, after OSU’s Aug. 12 hearing before the Committee on Infractions?
Does a second set of OSU players with sticky fingers bring findings of failure to monitor or lack of institutional control back into the equation?
Is this it, or are more players in peril as the NCAA continues to confer with OSU in the wake of Pryor going public with improper benefits from his benefactor back home, Ted Sarniak?
None of those questions, and perhaps none of the answers, can be allies in the fight Smith and Archie face to hang onto their jobs.
Having players suspended -- particularly two starters like Hall and Howard -- is a black eye for OSU when it was just emerging from a public relations beating that lasted all summer.
Smith was hired to be a caretaker AD, with his three top revenue producing coaches in Tressel, Thad Matta and Jim Foster already in place. Smith’s charge was to keep the multi-million-dollar money machine that is Ohio State athletics between the white lines and out of the ditch.
The tattoo scandal, Smith’s December assertion that it involved only five players and nothing else, his promise on March 8 that Tressel would remain OSU’s coach regardless of further revelations and Smith’s consistent lauding of Archie’s job performance all gives plenty of ammunition to those who argue the program has jackknifed out of control on his watch.
Archie, a former NCAA Enforcement staffer, was recruited to OSU to clean up the mess in the compliance office after major violations in the men’s basketball program brought NCAA sanctions in March of 2006.
Archie said in May that he maintained close watch over the Pryor-Sarniak relationship “in case any concerns arise.” Not long after that, Pryor confessed that Sarniak paid him cash for personal use and car payments during his OSU career, even though the NCAA warned OSU in 2008 that Sarniak could give Pryor nothing of value during his college career.
OSU has proposed a two-year probation, forfeiting all wins from 2010 and giving back its portion of the Big Ten’s revenue-sharing check from the Sugar Bowl (less than $400,000) as adequate penalties for Tattoo-Gate, plus Tressel’s lying to investigators and knowingly playing ineligible players throughout last season.
How quickly the NCAA Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee rules on Hall, Howard and Brown may provide a hint of how the governing body views this latest OSU incident.
Should a decision not be forthcoming for several weeks, that might indicate the NCAA is leaning toward a hard line.
A quick reinstatement after one or two games would be a positive sign for OSU.
The final NCAA ruling on Tressel and Tattoo-Gate is expected by early next month. It will be heavily scrutinized, with judgments by some that it is too harsh and by others that it is too lenient.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has dropped hints that rogue coaches must be severely punished to prevent other coaches from making an is-it-worth-it-to-cheat value judgment.
Tressel, no longer coaching at OSU, seems in line for the harshest sanctions, an almost-certain three-to-five-year show cause order that would essentially prohibit him from collegiate coaching for that term.
Whether the three players suspended Thursday brings a bowl ban back onto the table, extends a bowl ban already decided, or does nothing at all only adds to the intrigue.
So, too, does the relationship between Emmert and Gee, whose ties date to 1985, when Gee was the president of the University of Colorado and Emmert received a tenured professorship for the first time.
Emmert dipped his toe into academic administration for the first time by asking Gee to shadow him for a year.
Emmert reflected on that relationship in his 2004 biography when he was the president at the University of Washington.
"We all but lived together, and living with Gordon is an education," Emmert said. "He is the most energetic person I've known. In one year, I got five years of experience."
That same profile quoted Gee on Emmert:
"Most people who have been with me on this fellowship take one look at the work and decide to return to the faculty. But not Mark. He met and exceeded all expectations."
In light of the latest events at OSU, no one knows what to expect of Emmert and the organization he now runs.