Monday, August 15, 2011

Ohio State Could Still Be Under Investigation

Last Friday, August 12, the NCAA met with Ohio State representatives—university president Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith, former Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel, and their respective attorneys—for the hearing on infractions that cost Jim Tressel his job as head coach.

We will learn of the NCAA's ruling sometime in the coming months.

However, Ohio State might not be out of the storm just yet. ESPN writer Pat Forde reported Thursday that Ohio State received a letter from the NCAA saying that it plans to continue investigating "other issues involving the program." The letter did not include a second notice of allegations.

The letter itself, provided publicly courtesy of ESPN, did indicate that "additional issues remained for investigation" but that "at this point in the inquiry, the available evidence does not warrant additional allegations; however, the investigation remains open."

There was apparently an error in Pat Forde's article when he said that the letter was sent August 3, but Jim Lynch, an Ohio State spokesperson, said that "OSU President E. Gordon Gee received a letter from the NCAA on Aug. 3, but it concerned only procedural matters about the appearance of OSU officials before the Infractions Committee on Friday," according to the Columbus Dispatch.

This led to a complete denial of Pat Forde's report by Ohio State. However, Forde apparently realized that he reported the letter as having been sent August 3, when the letter in question had actually been sent July 13. (The August 3 letter is a different letter entirely, and it concerns what Gee should expect when he comes to the infractions committee.) Forde has since made the correction; if you look at the letter itself, you can see that the date is July 13, 2011, not August 3.

There is little we can know or deduce from the letter, but Ohio State (even after Forde corrected the mistake) is adamant that it will face no other allegations pertaining to Jim Tressel. It is probably more accurate to say that, specifically concerning the incident of the six Buckeyes who sold memorabilia for benefits (tattoos, cash) and Tressel covering it up in December 2010, there will be no more allegations. That matter seems to have been fully investigated, and all the evidence found.

What the misunderstanding appears to be is that Forde was reporting that Ohio State might face allegations of incidents completely unrelated to "Tattoo-gate." The letter certainly indicates this, but during the time it was sent, it presents no specific evidence and thus cannot make any direct allegations. Instead, the letter is at worst an ominous warning of things to come:
The staff and institution agreed not to postpone the currently scheduled hearing date of August 12 while we finalize the investigation of the remaining open issues. The institution understands and agrees that additional allegations may result from the ongoing inquiry and that the violations set forth in the current notice of allegations may form the partial basis for a failure to monitor or lack of institutional control when viewed in light of any additional violations. The institution also understands that if new violations are discovered, a second hearing may be necessary.
Although the letter doesn't indicate that there are any new allegations, it does explicitly state that the investigation is still open. So, despite Jim Lynch's denial, Ohio State is still being investigated. Basically it says that "We are still looking into some issues, and if we find anything, Ohio State may face Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control, and they understand this." If that doesn't make the Buckeyes nervous, nothing will.

Like in most legal matters, it's easy to get lost in all the jargon. What we have to understand is that the violations involving Jim Tressel lying to the NCAA specifically about the six players involved with the tattoo parlor is, for the most part, over. The evidence has been collected, the testimonies heard, and all that's left is for the NCAA to make its decision on whether it agrees with Ohio State's self-imposed sanctions or should add more.

What Pat Forde was essentially reporting is that the letter goes beyond that, and there may be more allegations during the NCAA's ongoing investigation. There is still the matter, for instance, of Terrelle Pryor supposedly taking thousands of dollars in exchange for giving autographs—a likely violation of NCAA rules. This is not directly related to the six players getting tattoos and Jim Tressel later lying about it. Forde alleges that Pryor's misdeeds, reported in ESPN's "Outside the Lines" story, are a separate incident.

That, of course, would doom the Buckeyes. Any additional violations the NCAA finds or any allegations they make would most certainly indicate that the problems at Ohio State are systemic, not isolated. Furthermore, regardless of what the NCAA decides about "Tattoo-gate," Ohio State would likely be on probation at the time new allegations arise, which would be even more damning to the program.

No institution has committed violations while on probation.

It doesn't look good for Ohio State. Still, some claim that the evidence is not there. Unfortunately for those nay-sayers, it is. All the NCAA has to do is include the documented testimony of former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small ("Everybody was doing it") and they'll have all the evidence they need. They could also include the testimony of former Buckeye Maurice Clarett, who alleged that violations went on at Ohio State for years. (It's also been rumored that "Ellis" from George Dohrmann's Sports Illustrated article has talked to the NCAA. If that's true, then Ohio State is screwed.) A Failure to Monitor or Lack of Instutional Control allegation will then become a reality.

It really all depends on where the NCAA chooses to look. Personally, I think that when former players like Ray Small expose Ohio State publicly, the evidence doesn't get more concrete. The NCAA has yet to rule on the Jim Tressel case or send an additional notice of allegations, but if they do (and at this point it's still a big IF), then Ohio State could be in for another rough year, as they'd most certainly have to go through another hearing.

Andy Staples at Sports Illustrated wrote an editorial about how Ohio State has already received its greatest punishment in having to let Tressel go. Staples contends that, even if Ohio State isn't hit with worse sanctions, they'll never be the same because Tressel is no longer their head coach. However, I doubt that. If Ohio State is not hit with additional sanctions, their recovery will be relatively quick. Still, Staples point is valid: how do you replace someone as successful as Jim Tressel? His argument is that you don't: in terms of bringing success, Tressel was one in a million. He brought wins, but he also brought really bad press.

Despite what Ohio State spokespeople and fans will have you believe, I don't think Tressel was acting alone. He was allowed to thrive in Columbus because of the culture that says that wins are okay no matter how you get them. Unlike rational people, Buckeye fans don't feel the victories are sullied.

There are hopes in the Buckeye Nation that Urban Meyer will be the next coach at Ohio State after Luke Fickell stumbles his way through this year. Meyer taking the coaching job would be a death sentence. It would be more demanding than Florida, where he retired because of the stress. Will it be any less stressful at Ohio State?

I suppose it doesn't matter. Whoever Ohio State brings in will be in a tough position. Buckeye fans have shown that they don't mind it when people break rules to get the players on the field to win games, and they'll be demanding a lot of wins. What's a coach to do? Coach the right way and lose? John Cooper will tell you how that worked out. Even if I liked Ohio State, I wouldn't want to coach there.

Given how things have gone down, I don't know how anyone would.

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