It takes only a few bad decisions on the part of coaches to potentially ruin a college basketball program. It takes several good ones to build it back up by a succeeding coaching staff.
Such is the daunting task for Ohio State head basketball coach Thad Matta entering his second year as the leader of a OSU basketball program trying to regroup from the mistakes of former coach Jim O'Brien.
Completing his first season in Columbus after being announced as the man to replace the terminated O'Brien in July 2004, Matta has fans of Ohio State excited once again about the future after a 20-12 season -- his fifth consecutive season winning at least 20 games. One of those wins was to conclude the regular season against undefeated and number-one ranked Illinois.
Despite the university placing Ohio State on self-imposed probation this past season, precluding them from playing in any postseason, the Buckeyes still face possible further sanctions after it was learned last year that O'Brien paid former basketball recruit, Alexsander Radojevic $6,700, leading to O'Brien's dismissal in June 2004.
Since that time, more details have surfaced regarding Radojevic, as well as a few other choices allegedly made by O'Brien and then-assistant coach Paul Biancardi with regards to NCAA violations pertaining to Radojevic, the 7-3 center from Barton County Community College in Barton, Kan., as well as former Buckeye guard, Slobodan "Boban" Savovic.
The swift dismissal of O'Brien, and later, the self-imposed postseason ban had administrators and the coaching staff hoping that everything was put behind them and they could focus on the future of Ohio State basketball. Since then, however, more has been learned about the allegations of Kathleen Salyers, a Columbus woman who claims to have provided cash and place to stay for Savovic, as well as inducements to Radojevic.
After a lengthy joint investigation by Ohio State and the NCAA, a press conference was held at Ohio State on Monday to announce the findings of the investigation. The depositions and interviews led to a total of seven allegations against the men's basketball program at Ohio State, including a "failure to monitor" charge on the head coach and athletic department.
The charge was actually a sigh of relief to some, who feared that the highest charge of "lack of institutional control" could be given to the program.
For more clarity, we will further explain the situation at hand for the Ohio State basketball program, and provide a comparative case history to give you a good expectation on what could still be coming with regards to sanctions when the NCAA officially hears the case this fall.
We remind you that this is purely educated speculation, and anything is still possible. But we feel we have enough information to give you a ballpark figure with regards to any further sanctions. Additionally, we will also explain the process from here forward and tell you how certain recruits potentially impacted by the situation are viewing the case.
The Case Against Ohio State
Before explaining the allegations against Ohio State, it's first important to understand some background. Salyers befriended Savovic after allegedly, her employers Dan and Kim Roslovic, Ohio State boosters, asked her to help take care of him. He had reportedly been living with the couple until Biancardi told them it was not a good idea for that to continue.
After Savovic took shelter with Salyers, she provided him a place to live, food, clothing and even assistance with some of his class work.
In the eyes of the NCAA, this became a legislative issue once O'Brien provided Salyers with season tickets to Ohio State games. By way of NCAA rules, Salyers became a representative of athletics interest (i.e., a booster) when she was given complimentary tickets to Ohio State basketball games.
This problem is two-fold. Not only did it make Salyers a booster, but it also made O'Brien an accessory, because in essence, it shows that he knew (and even admitted in his NCAA deposition) that Salyers was a friend of Savovic and was doing a good thing to help him out.
Because of that second correlation, it also meant that O'Brien and Biancardi were in NCAA violations of ethical conduct by not reporting this situation to the NCAA when they learned of it.
There are seven alleged violations according to the 19 pages of the NCAA letter received by Ohio State administration on Monday. They are as follows:
* That O'Brien, through assistant coach Biancardi, provided approximately $6,700 to a signed recruit, Radojevic, who never got cleared to play for the Buckeyes by the NCAA because it was later ruled that his amateur status was lost when he was paid to play in 14 games back in Europe as a teenager.
* That Salyers had improper recruiting contact with Radojevic and made improper inducements to him on behalf of Ohio State's athletic interests.
* An individual (which is believed to be Salyers), gave recruiting inducements and benefits to a former Ohio State student-athlete (Savovic), including meals, cash payments, and living expenses.
* A booster (Salyers) provided illegal academic assistance to a student-athlete (Savovic).
* O'Brien impermissibly provided two season tickets to Salyers for four consecutive seasons.
* O'Brien and Biancardi violated NCAA rules of ethics and conduct in knowingly failing to report these issues to the NCAA.
* And lastly, both O'Brien and the institution failed to monitor the conduct of the program properly.
All seven of these allegations were found by Ohio State investigators, and self-reported to the NCAA. Nothing within the NCAA's own particular investigation uncovered anything new or anything not found within the internal investigation.
Ohio State has until July to give a written response to the NCAA regarding these seven violations. It's important to note that the fact-finding phase of the process is now complete. This means that contrary to popular belief, nothing more will be investigated into Ohio State's basketball program - unless, of course, something new pops up in the media.
This written response will basically be to tell the NCAA that Ohio State agrees or disagrees with the allegations contained within the 19 pages of the NCAA letter. It is expected that Ohio State will try to expedite that process, and get it returned sooner.
It's believed that around that same time, Ohio State may come out with further self-imposed sanctions against the program, if they feel that is warranted based on case studies and looking closely over the 19 pages. If Ohio State expects any further sanctions, it's highly unlikely they do not at least make one more set of sanctions.
Once the letters are turned in to the NCAA, the infractions committee will look at the case, and then the hearing will be set for sometime this fall. The case will likely be heard in September, or possibly as late as early October.
At the hearing, Ohio State will go before the NCAA and tell the NCAA why it should accept the self-imposed sanctions as their punishment (this is of course, assuming that Ohio State agrees to the facts of the case), and how the program will make progress to avoid it happening again.
After the hearing has completed, it will be up to the infractions committee to meet and determine the fate of the program and whether any further sanctions are necessary. They will consider the seriousness of the situation, how the university acted upon learning of the allegations, the lengths they went to cooperate with the investigation, and also the steps taken by the university will also be taken into account.
This process will most likely take a few weeks. The hope is that a final decision would be reached before November, which would close the case and allow the 2006 recruiting class to sign their binding letters of intent in the November early signing period, should they so choose.
Pros and Cons
After careful consideration of circumstances revolving the case, listening to the words of people in the know, and also a case study of prior precedent, we have formulated a rough estimation of what might be in store by way of further sanctions in regards to this case.
It's an important disclaimer to note that nothing is final, and this is purely conjecture and educated speculation, so Ohio State could get more or less than what we outline here. However, we do feel it's a very good expectation of things to come.
First, let's look at the positives for Ohio State's case. Above all else, Ohio State is considered to be, by the NCAA and its president Myles Brand, a leader in actively self-policing as a university.
On a yearly basis, the compliance department at Ohio State by far exceeds expectations of the NCAA for reporting every minor infraction and detail that violates NCAA procedure. Brand has been present at many speaking engagements praising the work of the administration and athletics offices for "raising the bar" of integrity and monitoring the athletics programs.
Further, Ohio State's athletic director Gene Smith is a former long-time respected member of the NCAA infractions committee, which will be responsible for ruling on Ohio State's fate. With his knowledge, respect and expertise, you can imagine that he will be able to balance fair punishment with meeting and exceeding the expectations of the committee.
The last important thing working in Ohio State's favor is the fact that they quickly dismissed O'Brien when learning of the money given to Radojevic, and also aggressively removing themselves from postseason play this past season despite having expectations of making either the NIT or NCAA tournaments. In hindsight, they would have almost assuredly made the NCAA Tournament with 20 wins, and a high profile victory over the No. 1-ranked team.
The things working against Ohio State mostly involves the term "failure to monitor." Although this is a much lesser charge than lacking any sort of institutional control, it is still a stigma that is withheld for programs that have committed violations fairly severe in nature.
It's clear in hindsight that O'Brien's crimes reach beyond just the initial assertion that his token gesture to Radojevic, while perhaps done to help an ailing family in need, was his only wrongdoing.
It's probably far from fair to paint O'Brien as a dirty cheater who gained a significant competitive advantage in recruiting and on the court simply because of what happened with Radojevic and Savovic. However, his knowledge of unethical conduct brands Ohio State into a situation where the NCAA typically gives a little less sympathy.
The other issue at work is that while Ohio State is arguably not of the severity of a Michigan, Minnesota, or perhaps even Georgia (some of the other cases we will compare to in this section), it is still considered to be a significant "major" case by NCAA interpretation of severity levels.
First, let's give a background on four case studies we have used as a good comparison for Ohio State's situation: Missouri and Georgia in 2004, Michigan in 2003, and Minnesota in 2000.
We will give you an overview of each of the four cases, and what was involved with the particular institutions' case, and then I will give a reasonable analysis of what I believe Ohio State will face from the NCAA in totality, and give an explanation for why I feel that way using the other four cases as a guide.
Remember, this is only educated speculation, and not to be taken as a report of future sanctions, but a tool to give Ohio State fans and others an idea of what may be coming.
Here are the rundowns of four high-profile cases, and brief details of what happened at these individual institutions.
Violations: Recruiting inducements, academic fraud, unethical conduct, extra benefits to student-athletes, ineligible players
Involvement: An assistant coach, two student-athletes receiving extra benefits, a couple of prospective student-athletes receiving illegal inducements, three student-athletes being subjects in academic fraud, and eight players playing games while ineligible for long-distance bills at a hotel that were not reported
Overview: Although it's not with the egregiousness or veracity of the situations at Michigan or Minnesota, Georgia's case was an ugly one.
An assistant coach under the watch of Jim Harrick was found to have, on multiple occasions, wired money to prospective and then-current student-athletes at the University of Georgia. In addition, the same assistant was the professor in a course teaching the principals of coaching basketball. This course of 38 students included three Georgia basketball players, two of which were Georgia's leading scorer and rebounder.
This assistant gave the players 'A's in the course simply for showing up in class and attending practice -- two things that are expected of student-athletes anyhow.
Although the long distance bills that were run up by several players on the Georgia basketball team at respective hotels were not at the fault of Georgia, the program was found to be in fault because they did not report the minor violations to the NCAA -- which would have made the players ineligible and then required Georgia to seek immediate reinstatement.
Violations: Recruiting inducements, extra benefits to student-athletes, ineligible players by way of amateurism rules, and unethical conduct
Involvement: A booster and four Michigan basketball players over a period of six years (1992 to 1996)
Overview: The case of Michigan is one that the NCAA terms as one of the most severe case that has ever come before them. Although in many ways the sheer number of violations does not match that of other violators, the severity of the situation is not lessened.
In total, over $600,000 exchanged hands between the late Ed Martin, and four former Michigan student-athletes, including the Fab Five's Chris Webber. Webber benefited from over $280,000 from the time he was a high school student at Detroit Country Day to the time he left for the NBA after the 1993 season.
Although Michigan head coach Steve Fisher was never proven to have known of Martin's financial dealings (to which Martin termed as "loans" to successful athletes based on future earnings), Michigan's fate was sealed by Fisher providing two rooms for Martin at the 1992 Final Four, as well as Martin making in-home trips with Fisher to a few prospects in 1996.
Violations: Academic fraud, unethical conduct, extra benefits to student-athletes, failure to comply with eligibility requirements, recruiting inducements, failure to cooperate with an investigation, and lack of institutional control
Involvement: Head coach Clem Haskins, the basketball secretary, a total of 18 Minnesota basketball players over the course of several years, a couple of prospective student-athletes, and others
Overview: Much like the NCAA considered the Michigan case to be among one of the most severe by way of the monies changing hands, the NCAA also considers the Minnesota case to be extremely severe because of the level of academic fraud that was committed.
The short version of what happened is that Minnesota had paid its secretary at least $3,000 to write and help with papers due in the classes of several student-athletes. This was just the tip of the iceberg as grades were changed at coaches' requests, students sometimes received extra benefits by way of cash payments or discounted hotel rates, and even some recruiting inducements were given to prospective student-athletes.
Many other secondary violations were reported such as illegal recruiting contact, as well.
Violations: Recruiting violations, recruiting inducements, impermissible recruiting contact (phone & in-person), extra benefits to student-athletes and recruits, unethical conduct, violations of honesty and integrity, and failure to monitor the basketball program
Involvement: At least one assistant coach, inducements and transportation to two prospective student-athletes, extra benefits to a couple of Missouri basketball players, impermissible inducement for a total of ten (10) AAU coaches
Overview: A good majority of Missouri's issues were minor, or by NCAA terms, secondary in nature. However, when you add up the sheer number, it was too many for the excuse that many were incidental as Missouri argued in some cases.
Most of the violations centered around an assistant basketball coach that was found to have paid for meals for 10 different AAU coaches, provided impermissible transportation for two prospects and their coach on an unofficial visit, had impermissible recruiting contact with a recruit's father during a summer event, and the assistant also arranged a bail bond for a Missouri basketball player that was sent to jail.
Final Possible Outcome and Case Comparisons; Analysis
A final look at what could possibly derive from the case against Ohio State after the hearing has been completed, and the case is shut:
* One-year postseason ban (accredited for the one year of the self-imposed ban)
* Three years probation, with the institution being responsible for filing a yearly report of progress to the NCAA and also detailed expense reports
* Taking down of the 1999 Final Four banner, the two Big Ten championship banners earned during the Savovic career, all records and wins vacated from record books, media guides, and Internet websites from 1999 to 2002, and Savovic's name being disassociated by Ohio State
* A cumulative loss of three scholarships over a period of three seasons, with a minimum of one per season until three have been satisfied (Note: This means no more than 12 per season; If Ohio State chooses to use more than one in any of the first two seasons to cut the period short by a year, it could be permitted to do so)
* Public reprimand and censure by the NCAA
* A repayment of 90% of the monies made from the NCAA tournament appearances in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002
One important distinction to note that will not be a possible sanction is the infamous "death penalty." A common misconception is that the death penalty could be applicable to serious offenders of NCAA legislation.
If Ohio State not being termed as lacking institutional control is not enough common sense to know they would not suffer such a harsh punishment, then perhaps you should know this…
The death penalty is a punishment handed down by the NCAA as a last resort given simply to repeat violators only. It would only be used for a program that has committed major infractions within five years of a previous infraction.
So considering Ohio State's last infraction was in 1993, and it was a secondary violation pertaining to the recruitment of Damon Flint, that means that Ohio State is not in jeopardy of the death penalty.
When the death penalty is used, it means the institution must cease the offending program for one full year without competition, allowing all its athletes to transfer without losing any eligibility or sitting out a year. In essence, the program would have to be rebuilt from scratch, most likely starting with zero scholarship players.
Starting with the postseason ban, it's highly unlikely that a second year would be added on top of what Ohio State has already imposed. In three of the four cases -- Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota, the institutions received a one-year banishment from the postseason.
In Michigan's case, after Martin finally cooperated with the school's investigation following the judge's ruling that Martin had to cooperate with the NCAA, the university self-imposed a one-year postseason ban. When the NCAA concluded its' hearing, the infractions committed added a second year to Michigan's ban. However, Michigan later successfully won its appeal reducing that back to one season without playing in any postseason tournaments.
With both Georgia and Minnesota, the school's self-imposed one-year bans were enough to satisfy the NCAA. This means that Ohio State should receive no further postseason ban, and in the extreme unlikelihood that the NCAA found this case to be more severe than the other four, it would be served this season to avoid future recruiting classes being effected by the time they stepped foot on campus.
At this point in time, I feel it's a near certainty that given the nature of the allegations with regards to Savovic, that Ohio State will ultimately (either on their own volition or at the ruling of the NCAA) remove the Final Four and Big Ten championship banners from the rafters at the Schottenstein Center.
The probation term is more of a token punishment and slap on the wrist to remind the program to stay clear of future trouble. It does carry more significant administrative work and responsibilities with it, but by way of the fans and players, there's no significance in being on probation.
By comparison to what I expect with Ohio State (three years), Michigan, Minnesota, and Georgia all received four years of probation, while Missouri received three.
Losing scholarships is the last aspect of this situation that I still feel could go either way. The case study would tend to suggest that Ohio State would lose a single scholarship for a few seasons if its case is truly similar to these other four.
However, it's not a slam-dunk.
With Missouri, a case that probably more closely represents Ohio State than the other three in terms of severity of crimes, the NCAA felt that three scholarships within two seasons was enough to satisfy their punishment. For that reason, I feel Ohio State will also lose three scholarships, although I believe they could stretch it out to three seasons if they wanted to. OSU is in good shape in terms of scholarships with just 10 scholarship players due back this year. Losing one or two a year over the next couple of years should not be a hardship.
By comparison, Georgia lost one scholarship a season for three seasons, Michigan lost four scholarships total in a period of time not to exceed four years, and Minnesota self-imposed a loss in three scholarships the first season and four over the next three seasons. The NCAA later changed that for Minnesota to five scholarships lost over three seasons thereafter.
Of these four institutions, none with the exception of Minnesota were given any noteworthy recruiting restrictions such as a loss in the amount of official visits they can host, the number of recruiting contacts, evaluations, and the like.
However, Missouri did lose the ability to recruit off campus for a period of one year, but that was due to the fact a great majority of their situation dealt with recruiting violations. The difference, here, of course, is that OSU fired its coaching staff and the staff in place now had no hand in the violations.
Ultimately, the biggest question everyone wants to know is how all of this would affect the future of Ohio State basketball. Ohio State already has two verbal commitments for the class of 2006 from Daequan Cook and David Lighty.
Sources close to both situations tell us that the only real concerns either player have are that their ability to play in the tournament would not be effected by going to Ohio State. Given precedent and case histories, that's nearly a certainty that the class of 2006 would have no worries of being unable to play in the postseason.
Just for a public opinion, however, we went to Dayton Dunbar assistant coach Al Powell, who assisted with Cook's recruitment for some insight on what Cook, as well as his AAU teammates Mike Conley and Greg Oden of the Spiece Indy Heat are looking for.
Since Powell helps with the Indy Heat, he knows that Conley and Oden were keeping an eye on the NCAA wondering if there was anything to worry about. With virtually no chance of their class being prohibited of making the postseason, Powell believes the NCAA will not affect their decisions.
"They are comfortable with the situation and what they anticipate being the outcome," Powell said of the Spiece trio. "The only way it would change is if there are bans in the years they would be there."
"They just want to be able to play for the big one, and if there's no major loss of scholarships, as long as there's no loss in postseason play, that's the key thing," he added.
Although he didn't want to completely speak for Conley or Oden, he said that he felt they were not really concerned with the situation, only enough that they at least kept an eye on it.
However, Powell said that doesn't mean they haven't followed it. He also has made sure to keep informed on what's going on by keeping a dialogue about it with the Ohio State coaching staff. The returns are that Ohio State should not receive much more than a loss of a scholarship for a few seasons.
"I'd be lying to say we haven't talked about it (with the Ohio State coaches). We have, and talked about it recently," Powell acknowledged. "Dealing with past similar situations, they are pretty much sensing a loss of a scholarship a year or two, paying back some money, and maybe taking a banner down. That's the sense they feel. Where they get that from is probably past case history. We are pretty much assured that the worst of the worst is over and done with, and I can't say that enough for the other kids to come aboard."
According to Powell, he didn't sense that Conley or Oden would delay their decisions any further than whatever they already plan to decide in order to wait for the NCAA.
As of now, he expects them to make their decisions regardless of the NCAA, and like Cook's family, they hope to have some closure before signing their letter of intents in November later this year. While they will feel better when they get the official word, the expectations are as such that they all could be comfortable with verbal commitments until then.
"What I'm trying to convey to the families is that we will have something concrete before official signing day," Powell said. "I'd be lying to say it wouldn't make the parents feel a little more comfortable if it weren't resolved by official signing day, but they aren't scared away. We don't have a true timetable with the NCAA. We have a good idea, but with the NCAA you just don't know."
The important thing, according to Powell, is that Ohio State's recruiting for the class of 2006 is going on as planned.
That means that in his eyes, the possibility of a "Thad Five" is alive and well. If a recruit doesn't choose Ohio State, he doesn't think this will have anything to do with it.
"The only way we wouldn't go to Ohio State is if there were a ban or something drastic like the death penalty. We just don't anticipate that, which is why we were comfortable going there early," Powell concluded. "But I think the kids are comfortable with the situation, and they (Ohio State) are still going to be able to take the four or five kids they would like to take. Everything will be done prior to their arrival, at least that's the hope."