Expert: Ohio State scandal in ‘leaky faucet phase’

Expert: Ohio State scandal in ‘leaky faucet phase’

By Tim May

The Columbus Dispatch

Consider the latest developments in the NCAA investigation of the Ohio State football program the leaky faucet phase.

“A situation with a high-profile case like this, it’s going to be like a drip, drip, drip,” Michael Buckner said. “There’s always going to be something else coming out, and it does seem like that’s what is happening now.”

Buckner’s law firm in Pompano Beach, Fla., specializes in helping schools and individuals deal with the rigors of an NCAA investigation. Like many in his profession, he has watched with keen interest the developments in the Ohio State case, from:

The six players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, being cited in December for accepting improper benefits from a tattoo parlor owner.

To the discovery by the school in January that coach Jim Tressel had not forwarded emails that warned him nine months earlier of the players’ dealings, resulting March. 8 in OSU declaring Tressel had committed a major NCAA rules violation.

To the revelation that more than two dozen players the past few years, including Pryor, had done business with one used car salesman, a curious situation at the least, and that several, including Pryor, had often driven loaner cars with dealer plates.

To the sudden resignation, under pressure, by Tressel on May. 30.

To the Sports Illustrated story that painted a dark portrait of Tressel, also claiming that nine more players on the current roster were involved in the tattoo parlor affair.

To the story that cited an internal audit of the OSU compliance office showing that follow-up and verification of the players’ annual car ownership forms was lax at times and often incomplete.

To the sudden declaration last Tuesday by Pryor — under NCAA investigation again for perhaps receiving improper benefits — that he was going to forgo his senior season for “the good of my teammates,” according to a statement issued by his attorney, Larry James.

To an ESPN story later that day that used information from an anonymous source, identified as a former close friend of Pryor, to claim that the quarterback accepted “$20,000 to $40,000” from local businessman and memorabilia dealer Dennis Talbott in exchange for autographed items the past several years. The source also said that Pryor routinely accepted free meals and the like from local establishments during his time at OSU.

To the story late last week that Pryor and several other unidentified OSU players had been seen playing golf with Talbott routinely at the upscale Scioto Reserve Country Club in the summer of 2009, a practice which stopped abruptly when the club’s general manager, Regan Koivitis, phoned the OSU football office with the information.

To the knowledge that Talbott was credentialed to be a sideline photographer at OSU games in the 2009 season, but was taken off the certified credential list for home games last season.

The drips have filled a bucket, and there could be more splashes on the way. All this while OSU has been trying to prepare its response, due July 5, to the NCAA’s notice of allegations issued in late April that formally cited Tressel with the major violation. The NCAA also told OSU it fit the definition of repeat violator, since Tressel’s transgression occurred within the five-year window of the formal sanctions handed down in March 2006 in the Jim O’Brien basketball case.

Which begged the question: Will Ohio State — it has an Aug. 12 hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions unless the latest developments force a postponement — also be cited for “failure to monitor” its coaches and student-athletes properly, which could bring major sanctions, or is it facing the even more serious “lack of institutional control” sentence, which could lead to crippling penalties for the football program?

“At the outset when the initial allegations popped up, I didn’t think that an institutional-wide allegation was appropriate,” Buckner said. “But now that we have all of these other allegations coming out, if the NCAA is able to verify some of these additional ones, it’s possible that the staff could allege a failure to monitor allegation or a lack of institutional control.

“But again, that all depends upon how many of these additional allegations the [NCAA] staff can actually verify, then based on that, whether the NCAA believes Ohio State did not properly monitor their compliance program.”

For example, despite the allegation that nine additional current players were involved in the tattoo parlor affair, insiders think eight likely are to be exonerated. In the case of Pryor allegedly accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a memorabilia merchant, his attorney said it never happened. And Pryor, who quit the team, has no intention of cooperating in the NCAA investigation further, his attorney said.

But will the probe into those and the car deals affect the original case? Buckner said the NCAA could opt to make the later allegations a separate case. Or it could amend the original notice and lump them in with the pending case, “if they can complete their current investigation in time to get it in for the August hearing.

“With that said, they also could postpone the hearing until the investigation has been completed with these new allegations. If I was Ohio State, or if I was representing Ohio State, to me what would matter most is not getting it done quickly, but getting it done right.”

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