Now that the NCAA has finalized its ruling that five Ohio State football players who took improper benefits are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel says he wants the same punishment.
On Thursday night, the NCAA denied Ohio State’s appeal on behalf of the players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, reasserting that they must sit out the first five games this fall for selling autographed memorabilia and receiving discounted tattoos.
Tressel had been handed a two-game suspension in a separate investigation by Ohio State after it was discovered he had not notified the NCAA, his Ohio State bosses or the school’s compliance department that he was aware for more than nine months – including throughout his team’s 12-1 season in 2010 – of the players’ improper benefits.
“Throughout this entire situation, my players and I have committed ourselves to facing our mistakes and growing from them; we can only successfully do this together,” he said in a statement. “I spoke with athletic director (Gene) Smith, and our student-athletes involved, and told them that my mistakes need to share the same game sanctions.”
Ohio State had learned of Tressel’s knowledge of his players’ NCAA violations while preparing a seven-page appeal to the NCAA of the players’ suspensions. On March 8, the university announced Tressel would sit out the first two games of the 2011 season.
But before the NCAA could rule on his punishment, he added three games to his penalty.
“Coach Tressel has requested that he sit out the first five games of the 2011 season. I have accepted his request and we are taking action to notify the NCAA,” Smith said in a statement. He declined further comment.
The NCAA announced the decision on Thursday night – during the midst of the first day of men’s basketball tournament. The football news may upstage the basketball team’s NCAA tournament opener. The Buckeyes are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and will play Texas-San Antonio in the second round in Cleveland on Friday.
Pryor, along with starting offensive lineman Mike Adams, leading rusher Daniel Herron, first-team receiver DeVier Posey and backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, acknowledged they sold rings, trophies and apparel in 2009. In addition to sitting out the first five games against Akron, Toledo, the University of Miami, Colorado and Michigan State, they also must repay to charity the equivalent of the benefits they received, ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.
“Like my players, I am very sorry for the mistakes I made,” Tressel said in the statement. “I request of the university that my sanctions now include five games so that the players and I can handle this adversity together.”
Ohio State disclosed the proposed penalties against six football players (another was assessed only a one-game suspension) in December. But the NCAA permitted all to play in the Buckeyes’ 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
Tressel had repeatedly told investigators that he knew nothing about the players’ violations. His contract stipulates that he must disclose any potential violations or could be fired. Yet he signed an NCAA disclosure form last September that he was unaware of any violations – even though he had exchanged e-mails in April and June with a Columbus lawyer who told him of his players’ relationship with a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner and of the benefits the players had received.
Tressel has said he didn’t tell anyone because he felt bound by confidentiality, since the tattoo-parlor owner was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking investigation. The 11th-year coach of the Buckeyes said he was concerned for his players’ safety, and said he never even considered that the players’ acceptance of the improper benefits might affect their eligibility.
In addition to the original two-game suspension, Ohio State also said Tressel must pay a fine of $250,000 of his estimated annual salary of $3.5 million, must attend a compliance seminar, will receive a public reprimand and must apologize for his actions. In several speaking engagements in the past week in front of supportive fans – at most of his appearances he was met with a standing ovation – Tressel has said he regrets his actions and has apologized for embarrassing the university.
There is no timeline for any additional actions by the NCAA regarding Tressel. Although, with the appeal being denied, the penalty for the players is now finalized.
The NCAA could vacate the 2010 season because Tressel knowingly used ineligible players.
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