COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a sharply worded rebuke of Ohio State's Jim Tressel, the NCAA on Monday accused the 10-year coach of withholding information and lying to keep Buckeyes players on the field who had accepted improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor.
In a "notice of allegations" sent to the school, the NCAA said Monday that the violations relating to the coach are considered "potential major violations."
Ohio State was not cited for the most serious of institutional breaches since Tressel hid information from his superiors for more than nine months. The university has 90 days to respond to the ruling body of college sports' request for information before a scheduled date before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Aug. 12 in Indianapolis.
In a 13-page indictment of Tressel's behavior, the NCAA alleged that Tressel had "permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics while ineligible." It also said he "failed to deport himself ... (with) honesty and integrity" and said he was lying when he filled out a compliance form in September which said he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations by any of his players.
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Athletic director Gene Smith said he would have "no comments until the case is resolved." The university issued a statement that the allegations were consistent with what it had already self-reported to the NCAA on March 8.
Tressel's troubles began with an April 2, 2010, email from Columbus lawyer Christopher Cicero. Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on player, informed Tressel that a federal agency had raided the house of tattoo-shop owner Eddie Rife and discovered a multitude of autographed Ohio State jerseys, cleats, pants and helmets, Big Ten championship rings and the "gold pants" trinkets given to Buckeyes players for beating archrival Michigan.
Tressel responded, "I will get on it ASAP."
Yet he did not notify Smith or Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, anyone else in the athletic department, the NCAA compliance department, or anyone in the university's legal department. Instead, he forwarded the email to Jeannette, Pa., businessman Ted Sarniak, a friend and mentor to star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was subsequently discovered to be one of the players involved with Rife.
The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday that Tressel went on to exchange at least 12 emails with Cicero over the weeks and months ahead. Tressel still did not tell any of his superiors, anyone at the NCAA or his own compliance or legal departments.
The NCAA could accept Ohio State's suggestion of sanctions — the five-game suspension and the fine — or could levy much more severe penalties. Since the NCAA says that Tressel knowingly used ineligible players, it would seem probable that the 2010 regular season would be vacated.