Smith, Holbrook Address NCAA Allegations

OSU President Karen Holbrook and athletic director Gene Smith met with the media this afternoon to address nine allegations made by the NCAA against the football and men's and women's basketball programs. (NOTE: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. with more details, quotes and statements from basketball coach Thad Matta and football coach Jim Tressel.)

Ohio State held a press conference this afternoon to share details on the notice of allegations it received from the NCAA on charges of violations in the football and men's and women's basketball programs.

"Our receipt of this report brings to a close this phase of our joint investigation that is now moving forward toward conclusion," OSU President Karen Holbrook said. "The actions we have taken to date are commensurate with the serious nature of these charges and with our commitment to maintain a great athletic program that fully complies with NCAA rules."

Holbrook was joined at the news conference by newly hired OSU athletic director Gene Smith.

OSU must now respond to the NCAA by July 26 on the nine main allegations described in the letter. The NCAA's Committee on Infractions will then hear the case in either September or October and could hand down further sanctions against OSU as early as November.

Although Smith is a former member of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, he stopped short of predicting what additional sanctions OSU may face. The school self-imposed a postseason ban in men's basketball this past season.

Seven of the nine allegations revealed today deal with the men's basketball program. The football and women's basketball program each had one allegation named.

In a nutshell, here is what the NCAA alleged in its letter to OSU today:

* In 1998, then-men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien arranged through assistant Paul Biancardi the payment of approximately $6,700 to then-recruit Alex Radojevic;

* Kathleen Salyers had improper in person contacts and impermissibly provided recruiting inducements to Radojevic;

* An individiual who became a booster gave recruiting inducements and benefits to a former men's basketball student-athlete, including meals, cash payments and living expenses (Because of federal laws, OSU provided a redacted copy of the NCAA's allegations, erasing the names of key figures. However, it is believed this relates to Salyers' benefits provided to Boban Savovic.);

* A booster provided a former men's basketball student-athlete with impermissible academic assistance (again, this may relate to Salyers' assistance of Savovic);

* O'Brien impermissibly provided Salyers with two season tickets for four consecutive seasons;

* O'Brien and Biancardi acted contrary to the principles of ethical conduct by failing to report their involvement in the violations above;

* Both the institution and O'Brien failed to monitor the conduct and administration of the men's basketball program;

* Ronald Erkis, a Columbus orthodontist, provided impermissible cost-free or discounted services to several women's basketball players; and

* A booster provided an impermissible extra benefit to a football student athlete for $500 cash for work that was never performed (this takes in Robert Baker's payment to Troy Smith).

The Troy Smith allegation is the only one where the NCAA found proof of wrongdoing in the football program. Gene Smith said the NCAA investigated a number of claims made by Maurice Clarett and others.

Smith will serve the second of a two-game suspension for the 2005 season opener against Miami (Ohio). Otherwise, the football program – after months of bad publicity – seems to be free and clear.

"There was a thorough investigation by the NCAA and our staff," Gene Smith said. "What you see before you is what you see in football."

Regarding the basketball allegations, Gene Smith also noted the distinction of the charge "failure to monitor." That is a step below the NCAA's wide ranging count of "lack of institutional control," a finding that could have led to much stiffer penalties.

"Those are two different charges," Gene Smith said. "Lack of institutional control is the heaviest charge we can receive from the NCAA. Failure to monitor is at another level, a lesser charge than a lack of institutional control."

Smith was asked about OSU's compliance staff. It was reported that the compliance staff requested that Savovic move out of the home of OSU boosters Dan and Kim Roslovic. But nobody apparently ever followed up to see that he had moved in with Salyers.

"I've been fortunate to study our operation," Smith said. "I see no systemic problems in our compliance area. We have outstanding leadership. We are very comfortable with what our compliance office did in that regard.

"But you can not legislate integrity."

Smith was asked about systemic changes at OSU regarding the handling of boosters.

"The institution, prior to my arrival, already made changes," he said. "They did a marvelous job of increasing booster education. The compliance office in my view is in very good shape. The area we needed to focus on the most was booster education. Secondly, the area we needed to heighten the most was for our student-athletes.

"This case is a teachable moment for all of us – our student-athletes and our boosters and fans. What you write will hopefully send a message that there is a right way to help our institution and our student-athletes. Our compliance office can only do so much. In the end, we need good people to help us to continue to do the right thing."

Holbrook was asked if she was embarrassed or disappointed that the university is tied to such an elaborate plan to flout NCAA rules with the money paid to Radojevic and his family.

"I think the biggest disappointment is the obviously the things tied to the men's basketball program," she said. "But that's going back five years. That covers the period of time before Gene and I were here. But this was an in-depth study of what was going on at that point in time.

"It was brought out clearly to us last spring. At that point, we worked with the NCAA to go as deeply as we could. Our first action was to dismiss the coach."

Penalties for the basketball program could include the vacation of the Big Ten championships and the 1999 NCAA Final Four berth won while Savovic was on the team. OSU could also repay NCAA Tournament money and may lose scholarships going forward.

"Anything is a possibility," Smith admitted.

Holbrook was asked if the NCAA's findings vindicate the school against legal action from O'Brien, who claimed his firing was without cause.

"I don't think I can really say anything because it's an ongoing case right now with Coach O'Brien," Holbrook said. "I think with an ongoing situation comments ought not to be made."

Holbrook was asked about the notion that OSU escaped the wrath of the NCAA in regards to the numerous allegations alleged by Clarett and others against the football program.

"After looking at the report carefully and looking at the depth they went into in the basketball situation and the very strong detail that was there, I wouldn't imagine that anybody would think they went into the football case with any less depth," she said.

Smith was asked about the timeline for the NCAA handing down penalties for the men's basketball program. With the early signing period in November, prospective athletes may like to know if the program will face any future penalties.

"I can't guarantee it," Smith said in regards to whether the penalties could be handed down by the beginning of that signing period.

Reporters continued to ask Smith about potential penalties.

"Our staff and the NCAA have worked jointly on this," he said. "I think that's pretty positive for us that they have been engaged from the beginning. That's why we anticipated these allegations. As we move toward the hearing, I think that bodes well for us.

"I've been on the infractions committee. I've seen the Georgia case, the Michigan case and the Fresno case. Every case is different. We can not speculate how the committee is going to respond. We are fortunate that the NCAA is trying to be a kinder, gentler NCAA. We may benefit from that. We may also benefit from the fact that this has been a team effort to get us where we are. The institution has been forthright with everything. The majority of these things were self reported."

Coaches Reactions

Regarding the football program, the letter of allegations is somewhat of a vindication in that no other allegations beyond the Troy Smith situation were found.

"Jim (Tressel) knows (about the report) and he is relieved," Gene Smith said.

Tressel issued the following statement:

"I am pleased there were no new football allegations in the letter received today from the NCAA, but that will not change our passion to continue to educate our coaches, student-athletes and boosters in the area of compliance. We know compliance is job one and we take it very seriously.

"We have always believed in our intentions and we understand the importance of representing Ohio State at the very highest level in terms of integrity. We appreciate, too, the tremendous job that our compliance office has done in educating, and being a resource for, our student-athletes."

Likewise, Smith said he will "battle hard" for the future of the men's basketball program.

"The institution applied its own postseason ban, and I thought that was a great strategy," Smith said. "We need to do everything to battle and protect the future of that program. That's these kids, their future opportunities, these scholarships. That will be our mantra going into the NCAA infractions."

Men's basketball coach Thad Matta issued a statement on the NCAA report.

"The future of Ohio State basketball is bright," Matta said. "We were made aware of the situation that has occurred today, and we look forward to a final ruling regarding this matter so we can put it behind us.

"As all of you know, in December we gave the program a self-imposed ban from postseason play. Was this ban a severe penalty? All you had to do was look into the eyes of (seniors) Brandon (Fuss-Cheatham), Tony (Stockman) and Matt (Marinchick) in the locker room after the Illinois game to know how severe a postseason ban can be, especially for this team and this season.

"Those of you who follow Ohio State basketball know that none of the current players or coaching staff were involved with the program at the time of these infractions. After spending a year at Ohio State, with the successes we have had and continue to have, I am thrilled in the direction our program is heading."

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