Geiger Goes On Offensive Over Clarett Charges

OSU athletic director Andy Geiger fielded questions from media members regarding an ESPN.com report that Maurice Clarett received extra benefits and academic help while at the school. Coach Jim Tressel refused to answer questions about charges he helped provide Clarett a car, but later issued a statement on the matter. Click here for more.

More allegations from former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett have turned the university and its football program on their collective ears today.

ESPN, through its web site, reported that Clarett told them he "took the fall" for the school during a 2003 NCAA investigation into academic and financial improprieties. Among Clarett's new charges are allegations that OSU head coach Jim Tressel, members of his staff (including his brother, Dick) and boosters provided Clarett with cash and other improper benefits.

According to the article, Clarett was subsequently "blackballed" from the football program and no real attempt was made to help the former star runner regain his eligibility. Clarett alleges that Jim Tressel helped set him up with loaner cars and that Dick Tressel arranged a job at a landscaping company where Clarett was paid but did little work.

The article also outlined academic improprieties, including Clarett's assertion that he was placed with an academic advisor who somehow kept him eligible for the 2002 season by enrolling him in independent study courses and placing him in classes where he would receive preferential treatment.

ESPN's article also has comments from former OSU players Marco Cooper and Sammy Maldonado. Cooper, of course, was suspended from the program in April 2001 after he was charged with drug and gun possession counts. Maldonado transferred to Maryland in 2002 after playing little in Tressel's first season on the job.

Jim Tressel appeared at his weekly press luncheon today at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe. Media members crammed into a small meeting room to hear his responses to the various allegations. But the coach refused to discuss anything related to the Clarett story.

"As (sports information director) Steve (Snapp) mentioned, this is a two-part scenario today," Tressel said. "(Athletic director Andy) Geiger is going to speak to those situations. I have not seen or read anything. As Steve mentioned, my task today is to discuss the Michigan State game and the Purdue game."

It was just five months ago when Geiger had to take the unwanted step of firing close friend Jim O'Brien as the school's men's basketball coach because he admitted to providing illegal extra benefits to a former recruit. But Tressel seemed unaffected by the hubbub surrounding these latest charges lobbed at him by Clarett. The coach was asked if he felt he needed to say anything to address the charges.

"No," Tressel replied.

Media members continued with lines of questioning on the MSU and Purdue games and other team-related matters before bringing up the Clarett saga again later in the session.

Tressel was again pressed for his reaction to being personally named in the story.

"I have not seen the story," Tressel said.

"We have a copy right here on the table if you want it," a reporter offered.

"Well, I think for right now I need to get ready for Purdue and take care of things as they need be," Tressel said.

Another reporter then asked Tressel if he could categorically deny any allegations of wrongdoing made by Clarett.

"I would go back to the beginning," Tressel said. "Mr. Geiger is going to take care of discussing that. We're going to take care of what we need to do. Obviously, there's a time sequence involved with everything and we will take care of that."

Several hours after the press conference, OSU e-mailed a statement from Tressel regarding the charges.

"I have read the story that appeared earlier today on ESPN.com," Tressel said in the statement. "I can say without any reservations that all of the allegations made against me in that story are totally false.

"Additionally, I have spoken to Dick Tressel and the allegations directed toward him, as the mentor of our summer jobs program, also are false.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for college athletics in general and college football in particular, and I would never do anything to tarnish the image of this great game or The Ohio State University."

Geiger followed Tressel at the podium.

"We have known for a while that (ESPN) was working on something," he said. "Every time they come to town, we would get a call that so and so showed up at my place. We're not shocked by the story."

Geiger said the school already covered much of this ground with its own probe. He backed Tressel's command of the program.

"Let me remind everybody there was an exhaustive, thorough investigation conducted by the department of athletics and the NCAA into Maurice Clarett's career at Ohio State," Geiger said. "It was thorough. I have full confidence in Coach Tressel. I think he has done a marvelous job in leading our program. I have tremendous confidence in our compliance department as well."

Geiger then discussed the change of climate in the program under Tressel.

"In the 2000 football season and the first Outback Bowl, if that game had been played in January or been the BCS championship game, 23 players would have been ineligible," Geiger said. "The chaos in the program in terms of the academics and other things caused us to bring in Coach Tressel to Ohio State.

Geiger noted the increase in graduation rates in the program. In the most recent NCAA study, OSU athletes graduated at 63 percent, slightly ahead of the university-wide average of 58 percent. The football program, over several years, has moved from a low of 16 percent to over 50 percent, Geiger said.

"I think the program is doing better on and off the field," he said. "I think the climate in the program has changed dramatically. There is an emphasis on class attendance. We urge them very strongly to go to class."

In terms of compliance, Geiger said the university's staff works dilligently.

"Compliance is a shared responsibility between all of us who work at Ohio State and all of our student-athletes. And all of us sign affidavits annually that we understand the rules and we will comply with the rules. That includes players and staff and academic and non-academic personnel.

"Every summer job needs to be registered. Every employer is called and read the rules. They are told what the players must do in terms of summer jobs. Every car has to be registered. Every car dealer is called. Every loan is chased down. Every transaction is chased down as much as they possibly can be.

"All of this was covered as part of the NCAA investigation. There is nothing new with any of this. If new allegations arise, we will always investigate. And after we have investigated them thoroughly, we would be the first to admit if there is something wrongdoing and would certainly be the first to call the NCAA."

Geiger said of the players quoted in the ESPN piece, "I'm sad that former student-athletes who had difficulty, much if it self imposed, are choosing this way of exposing their issues. I would remind you that the lead individual involved in this story had 17 areas of violation of Bylaw 10, which is ethical conduct, and clearly that behavior continues. We tried to support them when they were here and we do not harbor any ill will toward them in whatever they are currently pursuing. And there was certainly no reduction of services to any individual who were eligible or ineligible. In fact, we went out of the way to do the opposite.

"I know who the players are and what their experience at Ohio State was about. Marco Cooper and Sammy Maldonado are mentioned in the story. You guys can look up their activities."

Geiger admitted he turned down a chance to discuss the matter on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program when the network and its producers refused to air its allegations to him first and provide him with written questions.

"We don't duck and we're not afraid of what's coming," Geiger said. "We're not afraid of what's here."

Geiger was asked for his impression of why Clarett is striking back at this point.

"Why has he done all of the things he has done?" the AD said.

Geiger was asked if he was accusing Clarett of being a liar.

"I'm saying I don't think those allegations are true," he said.

Geiger said that Jim Tressel did help Clarett get in touch with the McDonald Automotive dealership in Marysville, Ohio.

"Maurice and his mother were supposed to show up at the car dealership to make arrangements to buy the car," Geiger said. "After eight, nine, 10 days, they had to come down to the Woody Hayes facility and repossess the car."

Geiger said Tressel did not arrange any special favors for Clarett in regards to the car.

"He knows the people at McDonald's and he said there are no favors," Geiger said. "It has to be straight. Any car dealership we deal with understands the rules."

When asked about Tressel's silence on the matter, Geiger said, "That is not the school's philosophy. He decided to defer to me."

Geiger said Clarett once vowed to "blow up the program" with allegations of wrongdoing.

"Maurice vowed to do something like this," Geiger said. "I'm not surprised this happened, so here we are. We would say, `OK, blow it up. Tell us what you know.' "

Geiger was asked if Clarett made a good faith effort to stay in school after he was declared ineligible. (Clarett claims access to classes and tutors were denied him.)

"That is simply not true," Geiger said. "He got lots of support and help and advice from the appropriate people in the university."

A reporter cited a number of off-the-field issues to challenge Geiger's assertion that everything is improved with the program.

"I thought Lydell Ross was cleared," Geiger said. "I think the program is vastly improved. I know what I know and I believe what I believe. There is no comparison."


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