COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State is in trouble with the NCAA again, this time because three Buckeyes players — including two who have already been sitting out for taking cash and free tattoos —accepted too much money for too little work in their summer jobs.
Last year’s leading rusher, Daniel Herron, and the top returning receiver, DeVier Posey, along with offensive lineman Marcus Hall will not be permitted to play when the Buckeyes play at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday.
Athletic Director Gene Smith insisted at a Monday afternoon news conference that there was no “systemic” problem at Ohio State, which has admitted to having several players involved in different NCAA violations over the past 10 months.
He blamed it all on the athletes, former coach Jim Tressel and a booster who on Monday was banned from further contact with the Buckeyes.
“These failures are individual failures: failures of individual athletes, and as you know unfortunately a previous coach, and a booster,” Smith said when asked if the latest violations will lead to more serious institutional charges of lack of control and failure to monitor from the NCAA. “So it’s not a systemic failure of compliance. I’m optimistic and I’m confident that we will not have those charges.”
Herron and Posey had five-game suspensions extended. They were expected to be reinstated to play this week but now Ohio State is hoping the NCAA might allow them back on the field for the seventh game.
Hall was suspended for the first time.
Two other players also were overpaid for the summer work, which included working at a car wash or picking up scrap metal. Defensive lineman Melvin Fellows is out with a medical hardship and starting linebacker Etienne Sabino has already been reinstated by the NCAA.
The booster who paid the players, a Cleveland-area businessman named Bobby DiGeronimo, was dissociated from the program after years of being a friend of Buckeyes football players and a major fan. Smith declined to answer a question about why Ohio State had not looked closer at DiGeronimo and his relationship with players.
Smith said he did not think the latest self-reported violations would cause the NCAA to come down harder on Ohio State’s athletic programs. But he said he believed that it will now take longer for the committee on infractions to arrive at the penalties.
“It was anticipated that we would be able to complete these other issues to allow the committee on infractions to consider them and get us an answer in October,” Smith said. “We were not able to accomplish that. So I anticipate the committee on infractions will take longer and give us an answer hopefully this fall.”
The players were paid $15 an hour — although they said they were not told how much they were going to be paid. According to Ohio State’s self-report, Posey was overpaid $728, Herron and Fellows $293 apiece, Hall $233 and Sabino $60.
“They didn’t register (these jobs) with the university. That was wrong, clearly. There was no safety net. Had they done that, the university could have checked to make sure everything was correct,” said Larry James, attorney for Herron, Posey and other Ohio State players. “But they were truthful. They were not accused by Ohio State or the NCAA of … lying. They were truthful, straigh tforward. They had no idea they were being overpaid.”
Ohio State has had so many players suspended or in trouble that Smith, who spoke and answered questions for 18 minutes, has to differentiate between the tattoo-related violations — “the broader issue” as he calls it — and other suspensions.
The central allegations at Ohio State’s hearing on Aug. 12 before the NCAA’s committee on infractions dealt with players who were given improper benefits and the fallout from it — which included 10-year coach Jim Tressel being forced to resign because he did not disclose information about violations and quarterback Terrelle Pryor leaving school a year early to jump to the NFL. Now a memb er of the Oakland Raiders, Pryor is currently under suspension from the league for his messy move to the NFL and his college problems.
Herron, Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas, along with Pryor and another player no longer attending Ohio State, were suspended in December for the first five games this fall.
Ohio State confirmed later Monday that Adams and Thomas have been cleared for the game in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday.
All were found to have received cash and free or discounted tattoos from Edward Rife, the subject of a federal drug probe who later entered a guilty plea to money laundering and drug-trafficking charges unrelated to the Ohio State case and is awaiting sentencing.
Herron, Posey, Adams and Thomas were set to rejoin the team this week. The Buckeyes (3-2) are coming off a dismal 10-7 loss to Michigan State last week in their Big Ten opener.
Two players scheduled to start for the depleted Buckeyes in the season-opener against Akron — tailback Jordan Hall (a high school teammate of Pryor’s in Jeannette, Pa.), and cornerback Travis Howard, along with backup safety Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown — were suspended shortly before the opener and sat out two games. The NCAA determined that the players had received $200 in cash for atten ding a charity event in February near Cleveland.
DiGeronimo helped to run that annual charity event, which Ohio State allowed players to attend in both 2007 and 2010.
Ohio State is awaiting the NCAA’s report of sanctions for the Tressel/tattoo violations. The university has offered penalties including vacating the 2010 season’s 12-1 record, returning bowl payments totaling almost $339,000 from last season, and accepting a two-year NCAA probation.
The NCAA could add to those sanctions, and could tack on penalties based on the subsequent investigation of players taking money at the charity event and being overpaid for their summer work.