Tressel sanctioned for withholding info
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State has suspended coach Jim Tressel for the first two games of the 2011 season and also fined the Buckeyes coach $250,000 for failing to disclose prior knowledge about his players’ involvement in a memorabilia scheme with a Columbus businessman.
Yahoo! Sports reported Monday that Tressel had received information that quarterback Terrelle Pryor and other players were selling items to Edward Rife – the owner of Fine Line Ink Tattoos in Columbus – as early as April 2010. Tressel admitted Tuesday that he had indeed withheld information about his players’ involvement in the scheme – something the university discovered on Jan. 13 when reviewing files for an unrelated matter.
Athletic director Gene Smith said Ohio State self-reported a 10.1 unethical conduct infraction to the NCAA in February, shortly after discovering Tressel’s omission.
“I’m disappointed this happened at all,” Tressel said in a news conference which included Smith and Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee. “I take responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously. Obviously I plan to grow from this. I’m sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and that I didn’t do some things as well as I could possibly do.”
The NCAA, which considers such a violation major, issued a statement that read: “We appreciate Ohio State University’s prompt response regarding this issue and we are committed to continuing our cooperative investigation.”
Tressel’s suspension and fine account for Ohio State’s self-imposed sanctions for the coach’s ethical conduct violation. He will also receive a public reprimand and must make a public apology. However, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions could choose to stiffen those penalties with a more lengthy suspension or other potential sanctions.
Emails released by Ohio State revealed that in April, Tressel was notified by an attorney that several of his players were selling memorabilia to Rife, who was under federal investigation. Tressel said he was “scared” for his players after receiving the emails and felt compelled to keep the correspondence private despite the informant – who Tressel said was not a federal attorney – failing to request confidentiality until their second exchange. Tressel also said he was confused about who he could reveal the information to.
While continually talking about his sense that the April email exchanges were confidential, Tressel was halted by Smith from answering whether the coach ever forwarded any of the emails to another party. Smith said Tressel was barred from answering that question, because such information was still considered part of the ongoing NCAA probe.
The NCAA is still considering the appeal of the five players involved in the memorabilia dealings with Rife. After the Buckeyes self-reported the scheme in December – without the knowledge of Tressel’s omission – the NCAA suspended the players for the first five games of the 2011 season, including Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wideout DeVier Posey, defensive end Solomon Thomas and offensive lineman Mike Adams.
The players also had to repay the improper benefits gained – $2,500 for Pryor, $1,505 for Thomas, $1,250 for Posey, $1,150 for Herron and $1,000 for Adams. Linebacker Jordan Whiting also had to pay $150 to a charity for receiving a discounted tattoo.
Both Smith and Gee said Tressel’s withholding of information never placed his job in jeopardy.
“Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach,” Smith said. “He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly.”
Asked if he ever considered firing Tressel, Gee gave an emphatic “no,” saying, “Are you kidding me? Let me be clear. I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
Tressel said the tone of the emails – which came from a lawyer whose name was not released – gave him cause for concern. In the emails, Rife was described as being involved in a criminal drug trafficking case. Tressel said the serious tone of the emails made him fear for the players who might have been involved with Rife.
“I have had a player murdered,” Tressel said. “I’ve had a player incarcerated. I’ve had a player get taken into the drug culture and lose his opportunity for a productive life. It was obviously tremendously concerning. Quite honestly, I was scared.”
According to the Ohio State investigation, the five players sold multiple items to Rife, who displayed some of the memorabilia on his Facebook page. Among the pieces sold were Pryor’s 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award, Herron’s jersey, multiple Big Ten championship rings and multiple golden pants pendants awarded to the players for victories over the University of Michigan. Pryor, Posey, Herron, Thomas and Whiting were also cited for receiving discounted tattoos from Rife.
The NCAA’s reinstatement staff ruled in late December that the five players were eligible for the 2011 Sugar Bowl game against Arkansas. Smith revealed in December that the ruling came after some lobbying by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Contact Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson at WindyCityScribe@yahoo.com