Geiger, Tressel Go On The Offensive

OSU athletic director Andy Geiger and coach Jim Tressel each spent time Tuesday defending the football program and university against allegations raised by Maurice Clarett and other former players in an ESPN expose. Click here for more.

OSU athletic director Andy Geiger and football coach Jim Tressel used Tuesday's media luncheon as an opportunity to go on the offensive against charges of numerous NCAA rules infractions levied by former tailback Maurice Clarett in reports by ESPN, and ESPN The Magazine.

"I have been an athletic director for 33 years and in this business for 43 years and I have never seen an institution attacked in this way before," Geiger said. "We feel it would be wrong to be silent. I will stay here until 5 o'clock and do the best I can to answer your questions.

"We feel it is very important for the university, for our fans and students and members of our staff and that it would be wrong to be silent. They deserve to have somebody stand up and say, `We're doing well, we're proud of the program, we stand by the program and we will defend.'

"I have never had one like this before."

The charges were leveled last week in a series of reports throughout the ESPN media brands. The NCAA sent an investigator to Columbus Monday to re-open the probe.

"An investigator was here yesterday," Geiger said. "A staff member from the NCAA was here and conducted some interviews yesterday. There are still some issues to follow up on.

"We feel very, very good about where we are. We are working with the NCAA with enthusiasm and certainly welcoming the attention."

Geiger said the NCAA's initial probe into the violations surrounding Clarett was technically still open since OSU never applied for his reinstatement.

"But there were no findings of institutional violations," Geiger said.

Without such a finding, it is unlikely OSU would have to forfeit any games or, most importantly, the 2002 national championship.

"Unless and until there would be found an institutional violation, I don't think there's any jeopardy," he said.

Geiger admitted it is impossible to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that violations occurred. When asked if he believes OSU will be exonerated, he said, "I hope and I believe."

Specifically asked about tracking boosters' payments of illegal benefits to players, Geiger said, "As far as we know, there is no credence to those allegations. We will have 105,000 people in the stadium on Saturday and another 20,000 or 30,000 outside the stadium. Can I vouch for all of those people? No, that would be impossible."

Geiger was asked how he was holding up under this intense national scrutiny.

"How I feel is unimportant," he said. "I am just going to continue to do my job."

When asked about how the Clarett saga began, Geiger had some pointed comments referring back to the shooting death of Clarett's childhood friend in the days before the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The tailback and the university were at odds over Clarett's inability to fly home to attend his friend's funeral.

As he did at the time, Geiger maintains that OSU was unable to provide Clarett with special assistance money allowed by the NCAA because he and his mother had never filed the proper federal financial aid form.

"(His friend) had been dead 10 days with 12 bullets in his body," Geiger said. "The team had five days off in the interim (before leaving for Arizona). He could have gone and paid his respects to the family at that time. Instead, we were called liars and were pretty well whipped.

"We chose not to fight back. In fact, I complimented him about his comments about the homeless. We have been off to the races since then and it's the most unusual thing I've ever seen. We were eager for him to stay and pursue his degree, though not necessarily to play football again."

Geiger said it was team policy that Clarett was allowed to live off-campus beginning in the fall of 2002. That decision was made because Clarett, who enrolled in winter quarter 2002, was considered to be in his second academic year – even though he had not earned 45 credit hours to fit the university's definition of sophomore status. Geiger said that policy may be examined in the future, although he said Tressel is sensitive to the living "culture" for his players.

The AD said Tressel spent "more time with (Clarett) by quadruple than he did with any other player he coached on the dos and don'ts … I don't know Maurice had more or less rope than anybody else."

Geiger could not corroborate ESPN's report that Clarett said he was told by Tressel that he needed to participate in two month's worth of 6 a.m. workouts and also maintain a 3.5 GPA in order to regain his eligibility for this year.

"Jim Tressel has his own penalty system and his own way of dealing with team issues," Geiger said. "I would think he felt that Maurice had not contributed very much to the team and he wanted to see some demonstration of earnestness. That may have been the kind of things he was looking for."

As part of the ESPN series of reports, Tressel's conduct in a matter of NCAA rules violations committed during his watch at Youngstown State were outlined. Tressel comes under fire in those reports for not pushing for a full investigation of the charges and also for allegedly telling quarterback Ray Isaac, who received thousands of dollars in illegal payments from a YSU booster, he wanted him to tell the truth to NCAA investigators but not disclose any wrongdoing to Tressel, himself.

Geiger was asked if those passages of ESPN's report troubled him.

"I am not concerned about that," he said. "I think Jim runs an honest program and he tells me the truth."

Dealing With ESPN

Geiger said ESPN never formally asked to bring its popular "College Game Day" show to campus for this week's game with Michigan. (Instead, the show – which features former OSU quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, will be at Utah for the Utah-BYU game.)

"The last I heard from (athletics communications director) Steve (Snapp) was they said we were on their radar," Geiger said. "To my knowledge it never went any farther than that.

"I had a conversation with Dave Brown of ESPN, I think it was early last week, and he understands how I feel about ESPN and the inconsistency that we see in their behavior," Geiger said. "We have been a very, very good partner of ESPN. I go back long enough to Bill Rasmusen coming around to all the conferences in the early 1980s with hat in hand talking to us about ESPN, this new concept that he had with his partners and would we please provide games for them, and we have all grown up together in that."

But Geiger said sometimes the sensational nature of ESPN reports can "often be difficult to deal with."

Geiger noted that the "College Game Day" set, by its nature, requires a great deal of security.

"Given some of the emotions around ESPN in this community and given the required security we would have had to have, it probably would have been our judgment to ask them to go somewhere else."

Geiger then had some words about Herbstreit, who has tried to walk the fence throughout this entire controversy.

"I understand that one of the stars of ESPN Game Day went off on us a bit last night on the air," Geiger said. "I didn't hear it myself. This is secondhand, that we think we're getting bigger than college football. This is the same individual who, four weeks ago after we lost three straight games said on the air that he didn't see how he could recommend Ohio State to a young man who wants to play offensive football. I'm concerned about that. And the juxtaposition of that and some of the kinds of things I've heard on and off the air with regard to that.

"So our welcome mat is perhaps not as thick as it once was with regard to some of those kinds of things. I don't know who is thinking that they're bigger than the game of football in this particular instance and it bothers me and I'm pretty outspoken about it and I'm pretty outspoken with the Big Ten about it and I talked with the commissioner about it today. I have talked to my colleague athletic directors and I'm not alone in my concern."

Tressel's Take

Tressel opened his remarks at the luncheon not about this week's Michigan game, but by defending his program and the university against the ESPN reports.

"I feel good about how we do things at Ohio State," Tressel said. "I have great confidence in our coaches as to how they apply NCAA rules. I feel the same way about our academic support staff. They do a tremendous job in giving kids a terrific opportunity to make them earn everything they get as college students.

"I also have great confidence in our players. They want to do things right. We talk about wanting to do things right. The intentions of our kids and the honor of our kids is extraordinary here at Ohio State."

Tressel also discussed the policy that allows players to move off campus before becoming certified as true sophomores.

"Our institutional rule is during the first academic year that they're here that they be a part -- if they're on scholarship, which that's who we're talking about, that they be in the university housing," the coach said. "Institutional policy after that is that that's not mandatory. Now, they're allowed to be. For instance, Chris Gamble's mom made him live in the dorm as a sophomore. He was the only sophomore living there. She just thought that was the best thing and obviously we made that available to him. So do we have any freshmen living outside? I think the answer's yes because we had some guys here in the last academic year, it would be Marcus Freeman. I think he's out of the dorm. Steve Rehring.

"So there were some guys that came in early and within the guidelines of the departmental policy, they would be living out. Do I think it's a great idea? If it was my druthers you know, I'd probably have them in, but I guess you choose your battles. And I'd like to have them in at least a couple years, but that's not the way it is right now."

Tressel said nobody in his program used the controversy as an excuse for Saturday's loss at Purdue and they will not do likewise this week.

"The last thing it is is an excuse," Tressel said. "The Ohio State-Michigan game this week is the greatest honor you can have as a college football player or as a college coach."

Answering The Allegations

Geiger took time to answer individually about each of the main allegations discussed in the ESPN reports. These included:

* Academic fraud -- The reports said tutors sometimes did outlines or classwork for student-athletes. Geiger said those allegations were covered by the committee chaired by Matt Platz after last year's report in The New York Times.

"This was examined thoroughly by the Matt Platz committee," Geiger said. "We do not believe that that allegation is true. Each quarter, our tutors go through a training session and they sign academic integrity statement which says that they have complied with and understand NCAA and university rules with regard to academic conduct and misconduct. They sign an agreement saying that they will comply with NCAA and university rules. We have a detailed educational manual for tutors, strict guidelines for what they can and cannot do.

"Obviously doing student-athletes' outlines or class work is a fundamental violation of what tutors can do. We will continue to investigate this allegation and it is part of our ongoing compliance effort to monitor what tutors do and what happens with tutors and student-athletes in their relationships and in their interactions. We have not found any evidence which would lead us to believe that this allegation is true."

* Extra benefits from staff members to athletes -- "Obviously, we are investigating this area and the NCAA was here to help investigate that area. To date, there is absolutely no evidence that any OSU staff person gave any extra benefits to Maurice Clarett or any other student-athlete. And I would add that it would be very much out of character for members of our staff to do so. We believe in the people we have on staff and we work with them constantly on issues of doing things the right way."

* Extra benefits from boosters to athletes -- "Another allegation is that boosters gave benefits to Maurice Clarett and to others. We have no evidence to date that this is true. We have an education program for booster groups and we have a very comprehensive education program for staff and for student athletes. I would remind you that every single one of our teams goes through a compliance orientation at the beginning of each season.

"(Complimentary) ticket lists are monitored very carefully, that people who are left complimentary tickets get telephone calls from staff asking how did you meet this individual, how do you know this player, what is your relationship with this player, and we also investigate everything from apartment leases to automobile registrations, all of those kinds of things. It's an ongoing part of a very active, very aggressive compliance program. We never stop working on these kinds of things."

* No-work summer jobs -- "Obviously, compliance is a shared responsibility. Everybody has to cooperate. It is impossible for investigators, staff, compliance officers, administrators to be everywhere simultaneously. We have an obligation with our student-athletes and they have an obligation to inform us if they have a summer job and they have forms that they fill out on which before the summer starts, they tell us whether or not they plan to have a summer job and after the summer when the fall starts, we ask them if they had a summer job.

"The information that Maurice Clarett has shared with the public is inconsistent with the information that he has represented to the university. We also telephone when student-athletes indicate that they plan to have a summer job or had a summer job, they tell us who the employer was and we telephone that employer to find out if the student showed up and if they, indeed, did work. We continue to investigate this allegation, but at this time we have no reason to believe that this allegation is true."

* Tressel arranged transportation -- "We have thoroughly investigated this allegation with the NCAA and it was part of the original Maurice Clarett investigation. The NCAA has determined that there is no violation. He was treated by this dealer in ways that the dealer has treated other potential car purchasers and they have documented this."

Geiger told reporters that coaches will no longer be permitted to make such calls to car dealers on behalf of athletes.

"I think that we're a lot more vigilant now," he said. "I don't know how much is enough. I want to emphasize something, folks. A clear orientation is given as to what you can and cannot do. The rules are spelled out and the young people sign a statement that they understand them and that they will obey and that they have obeyed. It isn't different on Tuesday than it is on Monday and it doesn't change by Thursday."

* Clarett was blackballed from academic help -- "This is absolutely untrue, in fact, the contrary was true. We made every effort to make sure that he understood that full services were available to him and he continued to attend the university with an athletic grant and aid.

"After he was suspended, but while he was enrolled full-time at Ohio State and receiving that aid, our Student-Athlete Support Services Organization staff and academic tutors were fully available to him."

* Disability services -- "There's an allegation that a player was enrolled in disability services without his knowledge and allowed to take untimed tests and tests, quote, with help, end quote. Let me explain to you how disability services works. Students are not enrolled in disability services without their knowledge. They submit to many tests and must sign forms giving their consent in order to qualify for disability services. Disability services is not connected with the department of athletics. Students might be tested in high school and may be retested at Ohio State, in fact, probably will be retested.

"Taking tests without time limits and/or taking tests with readers and scribes are some of the accommodations might qualify for through disability services. Again, this has nothing to do with intercollegiate athletics. This is part of what disability services is all about. If a student is going to take a test that way, it has to be also with the complicity and involvement of the faculty member involved. It is not something that a student may elect to do on his or her own."

* Independent study classes – "Students register for classes on their own. Advisers and counselors do not register students for classes. Independent study is arranged with a faculty member and the faculty member has specific rules that he or she must follow in order to present an independent study class. Each professor varies in terms of how often they expect students to meet with them and what standards they set for the class, but the faculty member has to defend the class."

* Academic advisors -- "There is an allegation that academic advisers were switched for Maurice Clarett. We have absolutely no evidence that academic -- athletic academic counselors were switched. He had the same academic counselor for all five quarters that he attended.

"When students switch from an undeclared major, for example, to a declared major, they switch college academic counselors. At Ohio State, the athletic counselors work in cooperation with college counselors. College counselors establish what the student's program is going to be, not the athletic counselors. Every quarter, a degree audit is submitted for each student-athlete. We are very concerned that our student-athletes make progress towards a degree.

"NCAA rules are getting more and more stringent continually as part of academic reform movements in college athletics, and the number, percentage of your actual degree program, which must be completed in time certain -- 40% after two years, 60% after three years, 80% after four years is prescribed. It has to be certified by the registrar of the university, not the athletic department. A degree program is prescribed by the college, not by the athletic department or anybody in SASSO."

* Easy jock classes -- "Finally, there's an allegation that in Maurice Clarett's African-American studies classes, there were 40 people in them and ‘like 30 of them were football players.' We've checked the rosters of all of the classes that he took. At most, in one class, 19 percent of the class were football players and the N in that class was approximately 50. Otherwise, there were only about 7 percent football players in his classes except for the several classes that he took where he was the only football player registered in the class."

* Bad mouthing to the NFL -- Clarett claimed and ESPN reported that Geiger and/or Tressel had bad-mouthed him to NFL scouts. But Geiger said, "I have no knowledge of that."

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