COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer’s first Ohio State team won’t be bowl-bound.
The NCAA hit Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban and other penalties on Tuesday for a scandal that involved eight players taking a total of $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for jerseys, rings and other Buckeyes memorabilia. Tipped to the violations, then-coach Jim Tressel failed to speak up.
The university had previously offered to vacate the 2010 season, return bowl money, go on two years of NCAA probation and use five fewer football scholarships over the next three years.
But the NCAA countered with a bowl ban in Meyer’s first year as head coach in 2012, further reduced the number of scholarships and tacked on a year of probation.
“It is still my goal to hire excellent coaches, recruit great student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and to win on and off the field,” Meyer said in a statement.
The stiffer penalties — including a finding of a “failure to monitor” of Ohio State’s athletic programs — came because of additional problems which followed the tattoo-related violations revealed a year ago, almost to the day.
It was a sobering blow to Ohio State and athletic director Gene Smith, who through a lengthy NCAA investigation had maintained there was no way the Buckeyes would be banned from a bowl game.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the NCAA’s decision,” Smith said in a statement. “However, we have decided not to appeal the decision because we need to move forward as an institution. We recognize that this is a challenging time in intercollegiate athletics. Institutions of higher education must move to higher ground, and Ohio State embraces its leadership responsibilities and affirms its long-standing commitment to excellence in education and integrity in all it does.”
As shocking as the Ohio State case was when it broke, it has since been overshadowed by three other scandals in college sports. Former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with more than 50 criminal counts related to child sex abuse, an ex-Syracuse basketball assistant coach was fired after being accused of fondling boys and young men, and a University of Miami booster caught masterminding a Ponzi scheme claimed he provided money, cars and even prostitutes to Hurricanes athletes.
Ohio State might have done better in its meetings with the NCAA but, after the initial tattoo scandal, the school and the NCAA discovered two additional problems. Three players were suspended just before the start of the season for accepting $200 from booster Bobby DiGeronimo, and midway through the Buckeyes’ 6-6 season it was revealed that several players had been paid too much for too little work on summer jobs — supplied by the same booster. He has been disassociated from the program.
Tressel, forced out in the wake of the scandal, was hit with a five-year “show-cause” order which all but prevents him from being a college coach during that time.
“Of great concern to the committee was the fact that the former head coach became aware of these violations and decided not to report the violations,” the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions wrote in its report.
Greg Sankey, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and a committee member, said in a teleconference that Tressel’s failure to act was, “considered very serious and, frankly, very disappointing.”
Tressel is now on the staff of the Indianapolis Colts as a video-review coordinator.
Under a show-cause order, any school that hired Tressel would have to present its case for why it needed to employ him, and would risk severe penalties if he were to commit any further infractions after that.
The Buckeyes are preparing to play Meyer’s former team, Florida, in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. Meyer, a two-time national title winner with the Gators was hired to much acclaim on Nov. 28 and has built a solid recruiting class despite the ongoing NCAA problems. But a bowl ban could affect those verbal commitments.
At a news conference Monday, the new coach said he was given indications — but no promises — that the penalties against Ohio State would not be severe. After the NCAA’s ruling came down, he did not say whether he felt the school was treated fairly.
“The NCAA penalties will serve as a reminder that the college experience does not include the behavior that led to these penalties,” he said.
Asked whether the committee on infractions was trying to send a message with more severe penalties, Greg Sankey said, “I would not suggest that this is necessarily a new day, but these penalties are significant and that’s part of the committee’s role in both deliberating and finding violations and then assessing penalties.”
The NCAA also issued a public reprimand and censure, put the Buckeyes on probation through Dec. 19, 2014, and reduced football scholarships from 85 to 82 through the 2014-15 academic year.
Edward Rife, the owner of Fine Line Ink where Ohio State players began to congregate in 2009 and 2010, has been sentenced to three years in prison following his conviction earlier this year on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.