"I think at this stage it will help Ohio State because the employee that was involved in the most serious of the allegations – which was the unethical conduct allegation – is no longer employed at the institution," lawyer and NCAA compliance expert Michael L. Buckner told BuckeyeSports.com Wednesday. "Generally speaking, in the past, that has tended to somewhat help institutions."
As Buckner pointed out, the most serious issues outlined in the NCAA Notice of Allegations – delivered to Ohio State in late April – are levied against Tressel.
The first major violation listed in the notice includes allegations that seven players sold memorabilia to or received discounted services from Edward Rife, owner of the Columbus tattoo parlor Fine Line Ink.
The six players still on the Ohio State team – offensive lineman Mike Adams, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Jordan Whiting – have admitted their infractions and been punished by the NCAA.
All but Whiting will miss the first five games of the 2011 season – four for selling gear and one more for not reporting the violations after receiving proper rules education – while Whiting has received a one-game suspension for receiving discounts on three tattoos.
Player "G," as he is referred to in the Notice of Allegations, is no longer a student-athlete at the school.
The second allegation of a major violation outlines Tressel's role in covering up the first. Specifically, Tressel received e-mail communication in April 2010 that two of the players were involved in selling memorabilia and receiving discounted services from Rife but failed to report the e-mails to athletics administrators.
The Notice of Allegations notes the coach kept the e-mails secret until Ohio State discovered them in January, thus allowing ineligible players to take part in the 2010 season in which OSU won its sixth straight Big Ten title. In addition, Tressel did not disclose the e-mails when the violations were discovered in December and also signed a September compliance form that said he had no knowledge of any NCAA violations.
"It was reported that Jim Tressel, head football coach, failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics as required by NCAA legislation and violated ethical-conduct legislation when he failed to report information concerning violations of NCAA legislation and permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition while ineligible," the notice reads.
The NCAA asked for OSU's scholarship numbers as well as its television contracts as part of the notice, perhaps hinting at possible sanctions. In addition, the notice asks for summaries of past infractions cases as well as a list of staff members "allegedly having significant involvement in NCAA violations."
It has been Ohio State's public stance that Tressel acted alone by refusing to forward the e-mails, sent by former OSU player and Columbus lawyer Chris Cicero, up the chain.
While the allegations up to this point appear to be largely cut and dried, the recent media firestorm around the school has added addition levels of confusion to the proceedings.
The Columbus Dispatch has reported Ohio State and the NCAA – who previously worked together in investigating the six players and Tressel – are currently looking at Pryor, presumably for a number of car deals. In addition, former wideout Ray Small told The Lantern that many more players were involved in dealings, though he has publicly backed away from his claims and said he will not talk to the NCAA.
Sports Illustrated published a cover story Monday night that alleges almost 30 players reaching back to 2002 have been involved in selling memorabilia, receiving discounted tattoos and also taking money for autographs from local tattoo parlors. Of those players, nine – C.J. Barnett, Dorian Bell, Jaamal Berry, Bo DeLande, Zach Domicone, John Simon, Storm Klein, Etienne Sabino and Nathan Williams – are currently on the squad.
Sources to BuckeyeSports.com indicated that those players were scheduled to be interviewed by Ohio State and the NCAA this week, though OSU spokesperson Jim Lynch would not confirm.
"The university has an active investigation with the NCAA and we will continue to work jointly with them until the conclusion of the matter," Lynch said.
Reports also indicate the SI story informant will talk to the NCAA. That is key because the governing body must find proof of wrongdoing through its own interviews rather than media reports.
"The NCAA will do their own independent analysis and investigation of those allegations and if they believe that the information is sufficient to establish a possible rules violation, then they will forward that to the institution in the form of an amended notice of allegations," Buckner said.
The SI story also said four unnamed players traded memorabilia for marijuana while hanging out at Fine Line Ink, and that former running back Jermil Martin received cars from Rife.
All claims will have to be corroborated, but if they are, Ohio State could face charges of failure to monitor its football program or the dreaded tag of lack of institutional control.
Buckner said that could be more likely after the case involving the USC football program, in which star such star players as Reggie Bush received illegal benefits. The NCAA decided the players were not as actively monitored by compliance and coaches as they should have been, and USC was hit with scholarship penalties, probation and a two-year bowl ban.
"If what they're reporting is true and the NCAA comes back through their own independent investigation and verifies some of it, then I think it will become more difficult for Ohio State to avoid an institutional-wide penalty," Buckner said. "Right or wrong, in terms of what the NCAA is now expecting, I think schools have to do a better job of meeting those expectations.
"Before the USC case, there was probably a gray line there, but the USC case definitely established that schools have an obligation to be proactive in their compliance efforts including their monitoring."
As of right now, Ohio State – including interim coach Luke Fickell – is scheduled to meet Aug. 12 with the NCAA to argue its side of the already established allegations. Tressel is also likely to be present to present his side of the case, but Buckner said all meetings could be postponed or a second hearing could be established.
No matter what, it appears it will be a long summer in Columbus.