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Marla Ridenour on Sports

OSU: 'Surprised, disappointed' and clueless

By Marla Published: December 20, 2011

Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said in a statement that the school was "surprised and disappointed with the NCAA’s decision” on sanctions levied Tuesday in the memorabilia-for-money-and-tattoos scandal that came to light a year ago and the subsequent discovery of illegal payments from a long-time booster.

My initial reaction was what part of 'failure to monitor' did Ohio State not understand?

Had the NCAA merely been acting on Tattoogate, the Buckeyes’ self-imposed penalties might have been enough. They had reduced scholarships by five, vacated all victories from the 2010 season and paid back money earned from the Sugar Bowl. They’d forced football coach Jim Tressel to resign on May 30.

The NCAA came back with a nine-scholarship penalty, three each during the next three years, a three-year probation and a post-season ban in 2012.

The probation, to run through Dec. 19, 2014, and loss of scholarships seemed like a glorified slap on the wrist.

But Smith had probably assured new football coach Urban Meyer that there would be no bowl ban. That was a gross miscalculation on Smith’s part, born out of arrogance and ignorance, even as Smith insisted that the university had
researched past cases and the sanctions imposed. Even if Smith was confident about that, he should have imposed one after this 6-6 season to show the NCAA that OSU was willing to go above and beyond in its self-punishment. Evidently even the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. has too many riches to ignore.

Until he saw the NCAA ruling, Smith had ignored the fact that OSU was a repeat offender in the eyes of the NCAA, mainly for violations in the 2006 basketball program under former coach Jim O’Brien. But there were also the transgressions of running back Maurice Clarett and quarterback Troy Smith. Piled onto that was the ‘failure to monitor’ charge levied by the NCAA on Nov. 3 regarding the activities of booster Bobby DiGeronimo and Tressel’s cover-up of the memorabilia for money and tattoos scandal. Those three factors will make Meyer’s 2012 Buckeyes pay for the sins of the past.

DiGeronimo, the owner of Independence Excavating who had been involved in the program going back to at least the John Cooper era, gave money to players at a 2011 charity event and overpaid others for working at his company, according to the NCAA and OSU. According to the NCAA report, the DiGeronimo violations first came to
light during a review of quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s bank records. That revealed a check of $200 made out to Pryor from one of DiGeronimo’s businesses dated Feb. 19, 2010. The report said shortly thereafter “Player 5” declared for the NFL supplemental draft. Pryor was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the third round. The NCAA found no evidence that OSU monitored DiGeronimo’s activities with players after 2006.

The NCAA ruled that OSU must also disassociate itself with DiGeronimo for 10 years and with Pryor for five years.

Along with the penalties came a five-year show-cause penalty for Tressel for unethical conduct that will likely force him into the NFL. Any university that wants to hire him must make him sit out the first five games of his first season and any post-season games. The school could also appeal.

Tressel is currently serving as a replay official with the Indianapolis Colts. He visited four NFL teams, including the Browns and Bengals, during training camp looking for employment. With several more coaching changes expected during the off-season, Tressel could pitch himself as a candidate for offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach.

The question that remained unanswered Tuesday was whether the sanctions blindsided Meyer. A statement from him released by the university referred to the NCAA penalties, saying they “will serve as a reminder that the college experience does not include the behavior that led to these penalties.”

The bowl ban should lessen the pressure on Meyer in his first season, especially from OSU fans who expect him to quickly deliver a BCS title after winning two national championships at Florida. It will be a blow for the Big Ten, which needs Ohio State in its new championship game to sell tickets.

Smith could be the next casualty for the stumbling, bumbling handling of Tattoogate and all the warts it exposed. At that first press conference, Smith joked that the university should hire its own tattoo artist. If only it had been that simple.

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