Ohio State’s hearing before the NCAA took only four hours. Now it must wait up to 12 weeks to find out how it will be penalized for rules broken by its football program.
A memorabilia-for-cash scandal that resulted in player suspensions, coach Jim Tressel’s forced resignation and the departure of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor also led to Ohio State’s hearing before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Friday.
No one from the public or media was allowed into the guarded meeting room in the ballroom of a downtown hotel.
Apparently Ohio State officials felt the penalties they had self-imposed earlier — Tressel’s departure, vacating the 2010 season including a victory in the Sugar Bowl and a two-year NCAA probation — were not enough to mollify the NCAA’s version of judge and jury. Athletic director Gene Smith said that in addition to those previous sanctions, Ohio State will forfeit its $338,811 share of the Big Ten’s payment for having played in the bowl game.
Previously, Smith had said that Ohio State had already offered “severe” sanctions.
Smith also said he looked forward to hearing Ohio State’s final penalties in 8 to 12 weeks — much longer than the 6-to-8 week window he had mentioned previously.
Tressel declined to answer questions as he hustled with his attorney through the hotel’s lobby and jumped into an elevator.
He did leave behind a news release.
“I had an open and constructive exchange with the committee on infractions,” the statement read. “They were well prepared and will now go about their work in deliberations. Again, I would like to apologize to the Buckeye nation, most especially to the players, staff and fans who remain so dear to me.”
ESPN.com reported earlier this week Ohio State had received a letter from the NCAA saying that it was looking into additional allegations. But Smith, reading from a statement, said, “The NCAA staff concluded that the evidence at this time does not warrant additional allegations and that our joint review of any remaining items did not necessitate a delay to today’s hearing.”
Ohio State president Gordon Gee also weighed in.
“I appreciated the opportunity to appear today,” he said in a statement. “The committee treated us fairly and gave us ample time to share our perspective. Throughout, we have been determined to do what is right in responding to the information we discovered.”
The central point of the hearing was the contention — admitted by Tressel — that he alone among Ohio State officials broke NCAA bylaws when he learned some of his players had accepted improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner in April 2010. He then declined to tell Ohio State or NCAA officials for more than nine months, contrary to his contract and other NCAA rules.
In effect, Tressel knowingly played ineligible players throughout last season.
Tressel’s decision led Ohio State to pressure him to step down in May after 10 seasons, a 106-22 record, seven Big Ten titles and the 2002 national championship. It also sparked the NCAA investigation.
The NCAA committee will determine if Ohio State’s sanctions went far enough. It could tack on a bowl ban or limit the Buckeyes’ number of recruits, among other possibilities. The NCAA has informed Ohio State that the two most serious findings it could hit the school with — lack of institutional control and failure to monitor players and coaches — are off the board based on information it has received so far.
Six Ohio State players were suspended for the first five games this fall for trading memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. Pryor, one of those suspended players, gave up his final year of eligibility for a shot at playing in the NFL. One other player has left the program; yet another player will sit out the season-opener.
Smith told The Associated Press earlier this week that the investigations into the players’ actions and those of Tressel have cost Ohio State’s athletic department about $800,000 so far.
The hearing took place in the large Indiana ballroom on the first floor of the downtown Marriott. The room had 38 microphones placed on tables set up in a square. There were guards preventing the public or media from entering any of the 14 doors along two sides that open to a common hallway of the hotel.
Ohio State and its NCAA consultants, The Compliance Group, met for almost 5 hours on Thursday night to discuss its case.
The 10-member committee on infractions, chaired by Mideastern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dennis Thomas, heard testimony and asked questions.
Once the committee’s recommended penalties are announced, Ohio State can appeal the verdict.
Ohio State officials have worked closely with the NCAA since last December in a climate where several big-time football (Southern California, North Carolina) and men’s basketball (Tennessee, Connecticut) programs have been or are in trouble. There is an undercurrent that the NCAA may choose to take a hard line on the Buckeyes’ violations.
The most recent spate of rule-breaking at Ohio State overlapped with probation remaining from when the men’s basketball program committed major violations under then-coach Jim O’Brien in 2004. That makes Ohio State a so-called repeat violator and could affect the school’s treatment by the NCAA.