A timeline leading up to Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel’s resignation Monday:
April 2, 2010, 2:32 p.m.: Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel receives an email from Columbus attorney Christopher T. Cicero, the first of 12 they exchange. Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on player in the 1980s, says he has been told Buckeyes players have been selling signed memorabilia to tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife, who is under federal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office. In three postscripts, Cicero also mentions Rife’s criminal history and that Rife was being investigated for drug trafficking. Tressel does not tell athletic director Gene Smith, any of his superiors, the school’s compliance department or legal department or the NCAA about the information. But he does forward it to Ted Sarniak, a 67-year-old businessman in Jeannette, Pa., who is quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s “mentor,” with a note saying, “[Cicero] has always looked out for us.”
April 2, 6:32 p.m.: Tressel replies to Cicero, “Thanks. I will get on it ASAP .... jt”
April 16, 9:43 a.m.: Cicero emails Tressel again, providing additional details about the OSU players’ activities, including some information gleaned from a 90-minute conversation he had with Rife. Cicero says nine Big Ten championship rings, 15 pairs of cleats, four or five jerseys and one national championship ring have been offered for cash or trade by players — “for not that much.” Cicero writes, “What I tell you is confidential.” Before that, over a two-week period, no secrecy had been requested.
April 16, 11:20 a.m.: Tressel replies, “I hear you!! It is unbelievable!! Thanks for your help. ... keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up ... jt”
April 16, 2:24 p.m.: Cicero replies, suggesting that the players not be allowed to go to Rife’s house or his tattoo parlor nor to call him on his cellphone “because if he gets arrested, and that seems to be the plan, we dont want their phone numbers in his cellphone that the government will trace. He really is a drug dealer.” He emphasizes the severity of the federal case against Rife.
June 6, 9:15 p.m.: After they trade several more emails, Tressel thanks Cicero. They exchange no more emails.
Sept. 13: Tressel signs an annual NCAA certificate of compliance form indicating he knows of no violations and has reported to the school any knowledge of possible violations. The form is required of all college coaches, officials and administrators. Tressel’s Ohio State contract also requires that he pass along any information he has pertaining to known or potential NCAA violations.
Dec. 7: The U.S. attorney’s office notifies Ohio State officials that it has discovered some Ohio State memorabilia during a raid on Rife’s home and/or the tattoo parlor and asks if the items were stolen. A day later, the athletic department is informed. The list of dozens of items released later estimates the value at $12,000 to $15,000.
Dec. 9: Tressel says this is the first time he hears about his players’ involvement with Rife, when told by school officials. He does not mention his email exchanges with Cicero or Sarniak or any knowledge he has of the matter. Phone records also show Tressel had lengthy conversations with Sarniak in April.
Dec. 16: OSU interviews the six players found to be involved with Rife (Pryor, tailback Daniel Herron, Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and defensive back Jordan Whiting). Smith later thanks the players for their conduct in these interviews, “because they were honest [and] forthright.” Tressel does not disclose his knowledge of the memorabilia sales.
Dec. 19: OSU turns in a self-report to the NCAA and declares the six players ineligible.
Dec. 21: The NCAA conducts phone interviews with the players and then asks for additional information, which Ohio State provides on Dec. 22.
Dec. 22: The NCAA notifies Ohio State of five-game suspensions for five players and one game for Whiting. All must also pay to charity the equivalent of the money and services they received. But the NCAA does allow the players to participate in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.
Dec. 23: Smith and Tressel have a news conference to announce the sanctions. Tressel says the players must have known what they were doing was a violation of NCAA rules: “I suppose that would be something rattling around inside the head of each of them individually. We all have a little sensor within us, ‘Well, I’m not sure if I should be doing this.’”
Jan. 13, 2011: While reviewing information to appeal the players’ suspensions, Ohio State’s office of legal affairs finds Tressel’s email exchanges with Cicero.
Jan. 16: Presented with the emails, Tressel finally acknowledges them. In its self-report to the NCAA, filed later, Ohio State officials say of Tressel, “As you know, shortly thereafter, you were informed of this and invited to participate” in the investigation.
Feb. 8: NCAA and school officials interview Tressel. Tressel for the first time admits he knows he committed an NCAA violation.
March 7: Yahoo! Sports publishes a story in which a source says that Tressel had knowledge of his players’ potential NCAA violations as early as April and did not disclose it. Smith has his staff rush to finish the self-report.
March 8: Ohio State reports Tressel’s violation to the NCAA and calls a news conference to announce it has suspended Tressel for two games (later increased to five games to coincide with the players’ punishment) and has fined him $250,000. In the letter to the NCAA, Ohio State says, “The institution is very surprised and disappointed in Coach Tressel’s lack of action in this matter.” Yet at the news conference, university President E. Gordon Gee and Smith lavish praise on Tressel. Asked if he considered firing Tressel, Gee jokes, “No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
March 17: The NCAA denies an appeal on behalf of the five players suspended for five games.
April 19: Smith says Tressel’s $250,000 fine may not cover the cost of the NCAA investigation. Ohio State releases a copy of the NCAA compliance form Tressel signed in September. The NCAA continues to deliberate additional sanctions.
April 28: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany says he may not have defended the suspended players if he had known that Tressel knew. “I appealed on behalf of the school. But we didn’t have the information we have today,” he says. A former NCAA enforcement committee representative, Delany adds that coaches should be held to a higher standard than athletes because “they’re adults, teachers.”
May 30: Ohio State announces Tressel has resigned. Assistant Luke Fickell, already tabbed to coach the team during Tressel’s suspension, will be interim coach for the 2011 season. The search for a new permanent head coach will begin following the season.