First Look: Ohio State’s NCAA Response

Written July 8th, 2011 by MaliBuckeye

Big ball of happiness

As we mentioned earlier, the Ohio State Athletic Department today released their response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, and submitted recommended sanctions for the transgressions.

You can find the documents here: OSU Newsroom NCAA Documents, including the initial NOA.

One thing to be clear of- These are the University’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations. While that may be obvious, let me also express the converse- These are NOT the university’s response to any other allegations, founded or dis-proven, that have been raised by Sports Illustrated (to an extent), ESPN, The Dispatch, That one guy on the fan-board you subscribe to, or Something that your mom’s mail carrier’s girlfriend’s podiatrist’s veterinarian told them.

The University is adamant in this document that-

Information was reported to the University and the enforcement staff subsequent to the Notice of Allegations that still is being reviewed. This review continues and the University will report any additional violations if necessary in the future.

And given the fact that the University has been quick to respond thus far, there’s little reason to doubt this is true.

I’d encourage readers to look through the entirety of the documentation- if nothing else, it will help prepare you for future conversations here and with friends regarding this matter. They are incredibly thorough.

For the purposes of this article, though, I’m going to be giving you the “bullet points” from these documents, as well as some initial thoughts and commentary (noted in green). First up, let’s take a look at Jim Tressel’s response to the NCAA:

Jim Tressel’s response-

  • Admits he is in violation of 10.1 due to withholding information and improperly signing the NCAA’s compliance document
  • Tressel writes that he knew that it would be an eventual problem-Comment: In the University’s response, they quote him as saying they were “going to get as our works deserve”  “we were going to pay the fiddler.”
  • Holds that his decision was wrong, and was based on prioritizing student safety, the federal investigation, and the requested confidentiality from the reporting party. Comment: Similar to the press conference response
  • Again, admits that he should have taken the information to the University officials.
  • Comment: Does not talk about “conversations with the students”, which is one of the theories that some have thrown around- that he confronted the parties involved, and that they lied to him so he disregarded it. This theory seems to be based on an email to Cicero saying that he told Pryor and Posey to “stay clear”
  • Comment: Does not talk about rationale for sending information to Pryor’s mentor

It’s a brief document, and I imagine that there will be more questions for Tressel during the meeting in August with the NCAA, which the University has said he will be attending in spite of his “retirement“.

And in response...

That out of the way, let’s dive into the 66 pages of fun that is the University’s response. While I’m excited that we got this several days earlier than expected, I’m a bit exasperated that the cover page looks like it was done for a 10th grade English report at Urbana High School. Onward:

University Response

  • Reminds the NCAA that this matter was detected and reported by the University
  • Describes the behavior as being surprising and out of character for the person involved, but led to the University asking for his resignation nonetheless Comment: The narrative throughout is that Tressel was the sole person at fault here, so it’s not surprising that they are looking to dissociate themselves from him.
  • Additional email and text searches uncovered no knowledge of this situation by anyone else on the Ohio State coaching staff. Comment: Great for Coach Fickell and the rest of the staff, helps OSU place the blame squarely on the sweatervest.
  • Rife refused to be interviewed by either the University or the NCAA
  • The NCAA made no additional allegations after reviewing compliance procedures and processes Comment: this is why there’s not a Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control
  • University holds that the responsibility is all on coach Tressel
  • “Institution agrees that it is subject to repeat violator legislation” Comment: well, crap.
  • In spite of this- they don’t see themselves as a repeat offender due to a) very different violations, b) only one program, c) these issues are relatively short-term (2006 issues were ongoing, and were from as far back as 1998)

There are a number of mitigating circumstances involved in this situation, according to Ohio State-

  • Again, these issues were self reported and the University has cooperated with the NCAA throughout
  • There is limited institutional responsibility, since the fault lies solely with one individual
  • The violations were of the “failure to act” variety rather than Tressel actually committing a violation Comment: This is a distinctive between these situations and those involving Bruce Pearl and (possibly) Chip Kelly, who were more actively involved in their issues. In theological circles, these are called “sins of omission” and “sins of commission”.  Both still sins…and now you know.
  • The response is very clear that Rife is not a representative of the University Comment: and goes on to take major steps to dissociate themselves from him
  • The Notice of Allegations does not include Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control
  • The University has imposed penalties that mitigated the advantage gained (Tressel’s resignation, vacated wins) Comment: I think there will be more added, but it can’t be denied that this situation has cost one of the best coaches in the University’s history as well as a QB that was on his way to breaking every rule in the OSU book.

There’s a lot of disclosure regarding the new compliance initiatives that we talked about earlier- here are the specifics: The University will work to create

Additional monitoring will include-

  1. requiring proof of possession for previously received rings and watches;
  2. issuing “rivalry” or other apparel upon completion of the student-athlete’s eligibility;
  3. combining existing monitoring forms to develop an automated monitoring form that tracks distribution and retention of commemorative awards;
  4. prohibiting purchase of certain apparel until eligibility is expired; and
  5. Increasing the number of compliance staff accompanying football team to away contests.

Increase the number the full-time members of the compliance staff from six to eight. Although the institution believes it has an exemplary compliance program, this increase will further enhance its educational and monitoring efforts.

Review both the institution’s formal protocol for reporting of violations policy and NCAA Bylaw 10.1 with all coaching staff members on a quarterly basis during the 2011-12 academic year and review semiannually in subsequent years. This will include requiring the Director of Athletics and Faculty Athletics Representative to routinely communicate with coaching staff members about the necessity to report violations to appropriate institutional officials when they occur;

Informed all student-athletes that they are prohibited from visiting Fine Line Ink for any reason or to associate with Ed Rife. The institution also sent a letter of disassociation to Rife.; and

Increased the level of education provided to: (i) student-athletes on preferential treatment, with particular emphasis on the sale of awards or other apparel. (This began in the fall of 2009 and continues); and (ii) Columbus metropolitan area businesses. The office plans to partner with an organization titled Experience Columbus to communicate the message that businesses may not provide any benefits/preferential treatment to student-athletes based on their status. The compliance staff also plans to provide brochures with this message to all restaurants, bars, and service businesses (e.g., barbers and tattoo parlors) either located near campus or known by the compliance staff to be frequented by students.

Comment- So this costs future Buckeyes the privileged of their gold pants (until they leave the program) and other “awards”, while other schools can do whatever they want (See Oregon and all the Nike gear). In addition, the “education” to the community that was highlighted earlier will be a “brochure”- I’m sure that people who don’t care about the University and are looking to make a buck will be thwarted by a pamphlet.


On hold...

Additional revelations from the University’s response-

  • The University planned to limit Tressel’s off campus recruiting for one year if he had stayed. Comment: Maybe this is why the 2012 class is so slow in developing? Or is this something that the University added later to show it had “teeth”
  • Smith’s December statement “this is not a widespread problem” meant “these guys didn’t sell more than we know” NOT “we investigated the entire program”. They focused on investigating the players named in the initial Department of Justice report to resolve Sugar Bowl eligibility issues. The University has since completed a full investigation… by giving all the football players a questionnaire. Comment: Seriously? Did you not have a pamphlet?
  • The amazing and epic Sports Illustrated article seems to have led to the identification of one additional student athlete Comment- out of 9… nice average, George.
  • The additional person involved received 12 free tattoos, although the response states that he attempted to pay on every occasion since he knew he couldn’t receive free items by NCAA regulations but Rife would not accept his money.
  • This student is suspended for 5 games at the beginning of the season, although this will be appealed. Looking at the FERPA redactions in the document, his name is not very long.
  • The University submitted the rationale that the students gave regarding their decisions to sell their gear, and most of them referred to “family circumstances”. Comment: “Family circumstances” and “Incidental expenses” don’t mean “no money for tattoos”, so I ain’t buying it.
  • Several of the discounted tattoos are based on the University’s assessment of their value and not the amounts quoted earlier. The University also assesses value to the memorabilia, holding that the Department of Justice’s estimates on both cases were grossly overstated.
  • The exchange wasn’t always “quid pro quo”; instead, some student athletes who sold gear to Rife also received discounted work, but that wasn’t part of an arrangement- more of a “hey, I’ll work with you”. Still a problem, though.
  • Not every item purchased was “exclusive” (ie, a helmet that was available to the general public); not every tattoo was discounted (several Buckeye paid full price for their ink, according to the report)
  • When Tressel was asked whether he considered the impact that this would have on “ineligibility for 2010″, he responded “No, I really didn’t think of it like that.” Again, his hierarchy was student safety, Cicero confidentiality, and Federal Investigation. He did say that he knew it’d be a problem eventually as commented on earlier.
  • In the interview in December, Tressel is reported to have said that he had heard “general rumors” but couldn’t remember where they’d come from.
  • The report included quite a bit of documentation regarding Compliance’s educational efforts for coaches and student-athletes.
  • Regarding compliance- Prior to 2009, awards were used as a “general” example re: extra benefits- after 2009, the University was more specific. So, there may have been some confusion when these transactions were occurring. Comment- based on what other Buckeyes have said, I find this difficult to believe.
  • The report talked about how gear is tracked and checked out to athletes. Comment- There were no comments noting “missing gear”, so SI’s statement that Pryor felt he could get a lot of stuff was neither confirmed or denied.
  • There is a lot of redacted stuff in the section referring to Ted Sarniak- Given that he’s known two student athletes for a majority of their lives, this is not an unusual use of FERPA
  • Sarniak stated that Jim Tressel never talked with him on the phone regarding the memorabilia trade situation; and that he first became aware of it when Tressel forwarded him Cicero’s email.
  • The University seems to believe that Sarniak does not fall into the category of a “booster”, and has monitored/approved his relationship with OSU student athletes.

Again, that’s the overview- there are a number of attachments of documents requested by the NCAA and volunteered by the University, but none of them are all that interesting to the case at hand.

The largest question remains- What will the NCAA do with the recommended sanctions? I believe that they’ll be added to, while some hold that they are more than adequate given what was being alleged.

We’ll continue to bring you coverage and commentary of this as it we move toward the NCAA hearing in August, including Eric’s overview of recent NCAA investigations and allegations, and what this might mean for Ohio State.



  1. SBBNo Gravatar
    July 8th, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    if there is a new allegation added(ie Pryor and $40k in autographs) would there be a new notice? also would it be handled at the same time as the august hearing?


    EricNo Gravatar
    July 8th, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    If there were to be a new allegation, such as Pryor and his $40K in illicit cashy monies, that would require a new Notice of Allegations.

    If that NOA were submitted to Ohio State prior to the august hearing, the hearing would be postponed to a later date so that all allegations could be handled at the same time.

    It would also require Ohio State to file another reply to allegations before a hearing could occur.


  2. silverbuckNo Gravatar
    July 8th, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    A sterling article once again, Mali. I read all the OSU sites, and you consistently rise above the rest with your analysis, critical thinking, and sense of humor. What I take away from all of this is that, serious as the violations were, they seem to be isolated and contained. Compared to the situation at UNC (I live in the fair state, and no one – I MEAN NO ONE – gives a damn about it) which is byzantine and far-reaching, our little flirtation with the devil seems somewhat tame. As some on other sites have opined, we have already suffered our most damaging sanction – JT’s resignation. The rest is just window dressing. A logical man, which you obviously are and I strive to be, would have to conclude that OSU’s “suggestions” for disciplinary action should be close to the actual sanctions handed down by our friends in Indianapolis. Those fine gentlemen of the press who have been calling for a guillotine be damned!


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    July 9th, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Thanks for the kind words… if anyone knows sterling, it’s a silver-buck.

    In terms of the “media’s expectations”, it should be noted that there are still several issues under investigation- even the University acknowledges as much. So, it’s possible that there may be more to come.

    It’s interesting that everyone initially was calling for Tressel to resign- now, though, that doesn’t seem to be enough. Any thoughts to the “The University changed their stance on Tress paying the fine as a trade off to be able to throw him under the bus to the NCAA” argument that’s out there?

    Stay tuned- Next week (or later, it’s a in-depth piece), Eric will have a deep look at the NCAA’s citations of Southern Cal, Ohio State, Tennessee, Boise State, and North Carolina. It’ll be a really solid opportunity for Ohio State fans to start preparing for August 12…

    Thanks for joining us!


    KenNo Gravatar
    July 9th, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I think Silverbuck, below, may be on the right track(s). I can see where OSU would attempt to contain this to “only Tressel” to hopefully avoid further/additional repercussions. By tossing JT under the bus, Smith et al, probably feel they’ve broken the link. From JT’s point, maybe it’s an angst thing, where he recognizes that his failure to act let this fester.

    Just guessing, but it would be irresponsible not to speculate.


  3. silverbuckNo Gravatar
    July 9th, 2011 at 7:24 am

    The question that you pose is an interesting one, and any answer I might offer would be pure speculation. That said, and adding the caveat that I am not entirely sold on Gene Smith and his credibility in any matter pertaining to this kerfuffle, allow me to speculate. My initial response to this tit-for-tat deal was mild outrage. Tressel, I believe, deserves better. Upon further reflection, though, I think that, no matter which demi-troll in the athletic department came up with this idea, it would fit very neatly within the framework of JT’s moral code. He could become the scapegoat, accepting the brunt of the punishment, protecting the university he so tirelessly served and demonstrably loved. Though Columbus is no Avalon, and OSU no Camelot, this solution (if it turns out to be that) is all so very
    Arthurian in its conclusion. The king receives a fatal wound, fades into the sunset, and the kingdom is healed through his sacrifice. Or not. It could just be a “you take the whippin’ and we give you the money” thing. Though, as a classic romantic, I much prefer the former.


    LuisNo Gravatar
    July 11th, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I’m also thinking as a whole, Columbus would still embrace JT regardless if everything is thrown at him.


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