Digging Into The NCAA Ruling

The NCAA ruling concluding a yearlong investigation into Ohio State's football program came out yesterday, and there was a lot to digest. As a result, BSB digs into the document to find out some things you may have missed about Jim Tressel, Bobby DiGeronimo and other topics, including why OSU got a one-year bowl ban.

The 34 pages of text, which can be found here, can be tough to get through for the average person, but there are a few interesting nuggets that help explain how Ohio State and the NCAA got to where they are today.

While much of the talk over the past day has been about the one-year bowl ban the Buckeyes will face in 2012, BSB went through the entirety of the document to find out the interesting parts that may have slipped through the news.

DiGeronimo A Scapegoat
Some of the most interesting parts of the NCAA Committee on Infractions report focus on the role of disassociated booster Robert DiGeronimo, a Cleveland-area businessman whose role in two separate instances of paying players appears to be one of the major reasons why Ohio State received a bowl ban.

DiGeronimo has vehemently denied some of the specific charges – particularly those that he paid players for work not performed over a two-year span, which that got OSU a failure to monitor charge – but the NCAA and Ohio State have made their feelings clear on the subject.

DiGeronimo's story begins in the 1980s when he was known as one of the "Committeemen," a group of boosters who would help out OSU recruiting. That practice was later outlawed, but during former head coach John Cooper's reign DiGeronimo was allowed access to the team's locker room and its sideline on game days. The COI report indicates that prior to Jim Tressel's hiring in 2001, DiGeronimo was often seen dressed as a member of the coaching staff on game days.

His influence would wane under Tressel. It was noted in October that Tressel once threw him out of the team's locker room before a game when he was found hiding in a locker, and the most recent NCAA report indicates DiGeronimo was found at lunch with Tressel and two student-athletes in 2005 – though no violations were found to have occurred – and was later asked by both Tressel and AD Gene Smith to stop delivering lunches to coaches and athletic personnel.

As a result, he was a well-known booster at Ohio State, so well-known that the NCAA considers him to have achieved "insider" status at the school for a time. That term was used in cases involving both Alabama in 2002 and Arkansas in 2003, and that those precedents noted "such favored access and insider status creates both a greater university obligation to monitor and a greater university responsibility for any misconduct in which such individuals engage."

In other words, Ohio State should have been hyper-vigilant in matters involving DiGeronimo, but that was not the case according to the NCAA. A scan of former quarterback Terrelle Pryor's bank records during his time at OSU showed a check deposited from DiGeronimo's business interests, causing OSU to look into other student-athlete bank accounts.

The result was the school found that DiGeronimo had paid three athletes – Jordan Hall, Travis Howard and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown – for appearing at a Cleveland-area charity gala and five others – DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Marcus Hall, Melvin Fellows and Etienne Sabino – for alleged work not performed for his company. Both of those are major violations of NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA was not pleased considering DiGeronimo's already well-established reputation at OSU. In 2005, he had been placed on a list of 15 boosters of concern to OSU, but the school did not continue to check up on activities it had previous knowledge of, such as players participating in his charity gala and players working in his company.

"There is no evidence that the institution took any monitoring actions specific to the representative's involvement with student-athletes after 2006," the report indicates. "The institution conceded that it could have done more to monitor the representative … and, had it done so, the likelihood of these current violations occurring would have been reduced."

In addition, DiGeronimo had been providing a list of players he employed to the football office, but that information was not in turn forwarded to compliance, which resulted in a missed opportunity to monitor player interaction with DiGeronimo.

"The institution conceded that this oversight was a factor in its admitted failure to monitor," the report said.

Tressel Slammed
Many Ohio State fans still have good feelings about the former coach, but it's safe to say the NCAA doesn't share those as its report did not pull punches about Tressel's decision not to forward what he knew up the OSU chain of command.

In a bombshell announcement last March, Tressel was found to have been alerted to possible violations involving football players and a local tattoo shop by local attorney and former OSU player Christopher Cicero in emails months before the school found out.

Tressel later stated he didn't forward those emails to either Smith or OSU compliance for a variety of reasons, including player safety , the ongoing federal investigation of shop owner Edward Rife and the request for confidentiality from Cicero.

Tressel instead indicated to NCAA investigators that he instead talked with the involved student-athletes – Pryor and Posey – for "two minutes max" about the situation. Noting that he was hearing bad things, Tressel told the players to stay away from the situation, but he also said he spoke in vague terms and did not mention the tattoo parlor or the sale of memorabilia.

That did not pass muster with the NCAA. The COI report indicates that "had (Tressel) truly been concerned with the student-athletes' well being, he would have immediately contacted the institution's compliance office and perhaps the institution's office of general counsel."

Doing so, the committee said, would have both been the correct decision in the eyes of NCAA law but also would have allowed the university to make sure all players involved and perhaps others were not in contact with Rife.

The NCAA also took issue with Tressel's claims of confidentiality, noting that he discussed the issue with Pryor's hometown mentor, Ted Sarniak. In addition, the COI said, that "even after the confidentially issue was rendered moot when the institution received the letter (about discovered memorabilia) from the Department of Justice in December 2010, the former head coach still did not come forward to report the information he had received."

Indeed, Tressel had four opportunities to report what he knew – in April 2010 when he first received Cicero's emails, in September 2010 when he signed a compliance form, when the DoJ letter arrived and when he texted Cicero in December of last year to confirm whether the first suspension announcement was related to the info forwarded in April.

As a result, the COI found Tressel's reasons for keeping the info quiet "not to be credible. The former head coach's inaction on four different occasions was in the committee's view a deliberate effort to conceal the situation from the institution and the NCAA in order to preserve the eligibility of the aforementioned student-athletes, several of whom were key contributors to the team's highly successful 12-1 season in 2010."

The punishment was a five-year show-cause ban for Tressel.

Why A Bowl Ban
Simply put, the NCAA Committee on Infractions report gave two specific reasons why Ohio State was given a one-year ban from postseason play.

First, NCAA Bylaw 19.5.2(g-3) "specifically identifies a failure to monitor as an aggravating factor in imposing competition restrictions."

Ohio State received the failure to monitor charge after the DiGeronimo news went public in October. Had that information not come up, it is less likely that the Buckeyes would have received the bowl ban. Perhaps, the initial self-imposed sanctions first chosen in July – the resignation of Tressel, the vacation of 2010 wins and two years probation – would have been enough.

Secondly, Ohio State was considered a repeat offender under NCAA legislation because its last appearance before the COI – one involving the men's basketball program – occurred in 2006. Per the final report, Bylaw 19.5.2(g-5) "specifies that an institution's status as a repeat violator is an additional aggravating factor in the imposition of competition restrictions such as a postseason ban."

The report did indicate, though, that Ohio State cooperated fully in the processing of the case as required by NCAA bylaws, which was taken into consideration when a penalty was chosen. A multiyear postseason ban had been considered.

Time Not On Their Side
Many Ohio State fans expressed frustration throughout the entire NCAA ordeal about its snail's pace, and the COI admitted the investigation's fits and starts did not help it reach a decision in a more orderly fashion.

In fact, the committee said that it wished it had postponed Ohio State's Aug. 12 hearing in Indianapolis. That date was set after the tattoo and memorabilia investigation and Tressel's resignation were known, but the meeting also took place with the backdrop of additional issues needing to be cleared up.

Everyone would later come to find that the additional issues involved DiGeronimo, and those violations had to be factored in to Ohio State's eventual punishment. Those violations were not discussed by the COI until much later in the process.

However, the COI said it considered postponing the August hearing to handle all issues at the same time but was told by NCAA enforcement staff and Ohio State that the hearing should go on as planned.

In the end, though, "the decision to go forward with a hearing prior to completing the investigation was not helpful to the adjudication of the case and protracted the timeline for issuing this report."

Miscellaneous Notes
WHILE ON probation for three years, Ohio State must fulfill a number of obligations, including the development of a comprehensive educational program on NCAA eligibility legislation for staff members. A report on that must be submitted to the NCAA by Feb. 15, while updates must be filed on the progress each year of probation. In addition, recruits must be told of the probation either before official visits or signing letters of intent – whichever comes sooner – and the details of the probation must be listed in media guides and alumni publications.

INDIVIDUAL PLAYER stats from those players who participated in 2010 when they should have been ineligible must be wiped from the record books. Pryor, Posey, Herron, %%MATCH_16%%, %%MATCH_14%%, %%MATCH_15%% and Dorian Bell appear to be those affected.

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