Matta, Smith Relieved To Be NCAA-Eligible

We have comments from OSU athletic director Gene Smith and men's basketball coach Thad Matta on the penalties handed down by the NCAA against the program. Smith and Matta were relieved to hear that the current team, now 24-4 on the year, will be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. Smith also discusses the timing, while Matta deals with negative recruiting against OSU. Click this free link for more.

After almost two years of uncertainty, Ohio State got closure with the NCAA and can now officially look ahead to participating in The Big Dance.

The NCAA will release brackets for the 2006 men's basketball tournament on Sunday. But Ohio State learned early Friday that its current team, now 24-4 after a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Penn State, will be eligible for the tournament.

The school avoided a second season of a postseason ban when the NCAA announced penalties in connection with violations that occurred on former head coach Jim O'Brien's watch. Those violations included a $6,000 cash payment by O'Brien to the family of one-time recruit Aleksandar Radojevic and illegal extra benefits provided to former OSU guard Boban Savovic.

The NCAA placed the school on three years' probation, but did not add to the one-year postseason ban OSU self-imposed for the 2004-05 season. The school must return roughly $800,000 in NCAA Tournament monies received from the 1999-2002 seasons, when Savovic was a member of the team.

The school must also vacate the NCAA Tournament records from the four years Savovic played, including the 1999 Final Four appearance. It is likely that notations hanging in tournament banners inside Value City Arena will be changed.

OSU also limited their men's basketball scholarships to 11 this season, instead of the allowed 13. Other penalties include a public reprimand and a reduction in on-campus visits by basketball recruits next year.

Current OSU coach Thad Matta and athletic director Gene Smith met with the media in Indianapolis, where the Buckeyes are competing in the Big Ten tournament.


Gene Smith and Thad Matta answer questions in Indianapolis

Matta praised his team for dealing with last year's postseason ban and playing as well as it has under the circumstances this year. He also lauded how Smith, OSU's athletic director since last April, has handled the situation with the NCAA.

"(The Ohio State players) have done a tremendous job of blocking everything out and moving forward," Matta said. "From the day Gene (Smith) has come in, he has done a tremendous job of letting me know his feelings on what he thought was going to happen.

"Quite honestly, it was exactly what we told the kids was going to happen. We knew kids that were in the third grade when this happened probably weren't going to be punished. We had great confidence in that. It would have been a devastating blow had it gone the other way."

Smith told reporters he received word two days ago that the NCAA ruling was imminent. He then received the documentation from the NCAA early this morning and shared the news with Matta.

"We received the report at 8:18 this morning," Smith said. "I called Thad (Matta) shortly thereafter. I think he was on the elliptical machine and I think he drove that thing straight through the window. He just wanted this thing to end. He was happy there was closure and just felt that now he can take his young men out on that court and perform without that cloud over their head. He felt pretty good that it was done."

Matta added, "It was the first time an elliptical has ever gone forward. Those things are usually stationary.

"Gene told me he would give me a call as soon as he found out. I sat in my room this morning, starting at about 6 a.m., waiting for the call. It was great news just to put the finalization to it all. As I announced it to the team today, they were as elated and I think relieved. They know the stress I have gone through on this deal. They were excited and I know the seniors were very excited for the younger players and for the coaches."

Matta discussed what he told his team prior to the game with Penn State.

"When we came in here today, I said I had some great news," Matta said. " ‘The ruling came out and this program is in terrific shape. The thing that we talked about came true today; we are going to postseason play. You younger guys are going to have the opportunity for the rest of your careers at Ohio State to compete in postseason play.' They were excited.

"I didn't have to say a lot. They have seen our staff, our strength coach, our trainer's commitment and our energy, enthusiasm and passion to coach these guys. The one thing I say about recruiting is that my job hinges on it. I have to go out and recruit. The thing that makes it special is that our players are our best recruiters."

Some media members have made hay out of the fact that Matta's contract would have allowed him to leave if OSU received a postseason ban. With the Indiana job coming up at season's end, some have surmised that Matta might want to leave OSU.

The coach was asked if he is committed to coaching OSU next year, when a star-studded collection of new recruits including Indiana stars Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. will arrive.

"The one thing I have to be careful about is that contractually I can't say anything (about other jobs)," Matta said. "But I can say this: In July 2004 when we came to Ohio State, we had a vision for this program. This vision is to get Ohio State back and built it into one of the greatest programs in college basketball.

"Today is a great day because it is the first day in 18 or 19 months that we actually know where we are. As much as we speculated, followed through and did the case studies, it finally came to an end today. Now we know and now we move forward."

There were reports that OSU's recruits had "out clauses" in their letters of intent that would have allowed them to go elsewhere if the school received another ban. Matta was asked if today's ruling cements those recruits' status as future Buckeyes.

"With the recruits, those kids chose Ohio State," Matta said. "They chose to play for us. Ohio State is one of the greatest places I have ever seen. To have this burden lifted off of us; the smoke cleared. My wife (Barbara) cried tears of joy today because I have been tough to deal with for a long, long time."

With the NCAA's ruling complete, Matta revealed publicly that he and his staff members have had to deal with other schools negative recruiting against Ohio State over the last two years. Matta said schools have told recruits any number of lies against his staff and the program.

"The one thing I have learned through this whole process is how cutthroat some people can be in this business," Matta said. "We have been linked by others that we're the ones who committed these things. That's what I have always said that I don't want to be guilty by association by being at Ohio State.

"As Gene and I talked last night, a lot of people may say, ‘Probation, probation,' and they may try to get to our (recruits). But we've been on probation since we've been at Ohio State. I think it would be an eye opening experience if people knew some of the other schools that are on probation.

"I take great pride in running this program the right way. The probation doesn't scare me. I have a terrific staff and they know the rules. We're going to run this thing the right way. The probation does not mean a whole lot to me."

Smith was asked exactly what the positive is in today's announcement by the NCAA.

"The positive is closure," he said. "The reality is that we're able to bring this to a close at this time. We're going into the Big Ten tournament and we want our student-athletes to have the opportunity to participate in the tournament, understand that if there were to be any sanctions that they would have to deal with as they go through this tournament and ultimately when the tournament was over, those sanctions do not exist.

"They can play without that stress of wondering and can position themselves with the opportunity to chase that dream in the NCAA tournament, and now they know that they can realize that dream. So I think that is a huge positive for those young men."

All along, Smith – a former NCAA infractions committee member – said he did not think the school would face a second year of a postseason ban. But he admitted that possibility existed until it was resolved today.

"I never thought this case was deserving of a second postseason ban," he said. "The institution did the right thing last year in putting that in place and positioned us where we would not have to face that in the future. I was confident about that and shared that with Thad and his staff.

"That is the most positive thing about the findings. But the sanctions that we face are still disheartening and harsh against our program. To give back $800,000, that is money that could help our current student-athletes or help some other part of the institution. The probation we can deal with, as Thad said. That's how we operate anyway."

The NCAA came down hard on O'Brien and former assistant coach Paul Biancardi, now the head coach at Wright State. If O'Brien gets a job at another college in the next five years, he and his new school must appear before the NCAA's infractions committee to discuss whether he will face additional limitations.

Biancardi was prohibited from all recruiting activities until Oct. 1, 2007.

It was revealed that O'Brien and Biancardi were the ones who pushed for the two delays in the NCAA infractions committee hearings. OSU strenuously objected to those delays, Smith said.

"That was very frustrating," Smith said. "We felt when we went before the committee in December that we were well prepared. Everyone in the room had some opportunities to prepare themselves. We were extremely disappointed and very angry and we shared that with the committee."

By the same token, OSU asked the NCAA to act quickly in deciding on sanctions so the current team could enter the conference tournament knowing whether it would be eligible or not for the NCAA Tournament.

"We asked the committee when we left the hearing to do everything they possibly could to get this complete prior to Selection Sunday," Smith said. "The reason is obvious. They worked diligently to do this. Typically, they provide the institution with 48 hours notice that the report is coming. Then they provide the institution with the report 24 hours prior to it actually being released to the public to allow the institution to correct any factual errors deviated from that process.

"I didn't find (the timing) odd at all. I wanted closure. I wanted these young people to have the chance to step on the floor at 12 and know that they could taste the dream."

More Comments

Here are more comments from OSU athletic director Gene Smith:

* On whether the probation will change the way things are run -- "The probation basically states that you must not have a major violation during those years of probation. The reality is that if you do have a violation that you face other significant sanctions. The reality is that we have a compliant environment as the committee obviously alluded to in their report and with what (committee vice chair and professor of law at the University of Nebraska) Josephine Potuto had shared. We just have to continue to operate as we have operated and we will be fine. As Thad Matta says, he's been on probation since he's been here, and I think we'll have to continue to behave that way."

* On how much money Ohio State will have to return -- "It will be slightly less than $800,000; $530,000 of that will be paid right away. The Big Ten, for the remaining part of it, will I think over the next three years, reduce our share of the NCAA basketball tournament share. But is basically a little south of $800,000."

* On the timing of former head coach Jim O'Brien's damages hearing -- "It is my understanding that the damages hearing has been scheduled for sometime in mid-April. I don't know the exact date but it is public information so it's on some website somewhere. But I know it's the middle part of April."

* On why the school still fought the "failure to monitor" allegation -- "We felt the institution had done a marvelous job of monitoring. Once we got into the hearing and began to discuss things with the committee, we felt it was in our best interest to back away from that."

* On the 1999 Final Four banner coming down -- "The regular season games are still in tact. The personal statistics as an athlete are still intact. The reality is we participated with an ineligible player. That is against NCAA rules. They, as being a part of that team, will have to bear that burden. That is the truth. You can't sugar coat that at all. That's reality.

"I haven't really thought about (when the banner will come down). I really don't know. We will probably do it sometime soon."

* On a possible postseason ban not being issued -- "The committee considers everything when they go into deliberations so we had no clue what they would ultimately decide. I never felt, as I shared at the hearing, that this case was deserving of a two-year postseason ban. I felt the institution made the right decision when it self-imposed the postseason ban last year. We did try and argue that case in the hearing and the committee obviously heard our message."

* On team and individual vacancies -- "This is strictly NCAA tournament, not the regular-season games. The ineligible student-athlete's statistics will be vacated, but not the other student-athletes' (statistics).

"Regular season records are intact. If you read the penalties, it says NCAA tournament contests, it does not say regular season. Typically when there is a regular season penalty where the games are vacated, they would say regular season. I believe all four years are listed."

* On if Big Ten championships will be vacated -- "The Big Ten has a separate process. They will look at these penalties and then their committee will look at these penalties and then their committee will determine if anything else needs to be done."

Here are comments from Matta:

* On the NCAA's decision affecting his team -- "We have approached this season as though this exact finding was going to be. As I told our guys, had there been a decision that they wouldn't let our guys go (to the NCAA tournament), there was going to be 66 teams in the NCAA tournament this year. We were going to play somebody."

* On the former players who are getting their NCAA tournament appearances vacated -- "I have gotten to know the players that were involved in that period. Once of the biggest battle cries I will be on throughout my speaking tours and anytime I can address the Buckeye fans is that I don't want Michael Redd, Sconnie Penn and the guys involved on that team to be looked at as if they were part of something bad.

"Those guys did accomplish something special, as they continue to do in their lives. I have made a tremendous commitment to them. Those guys didn't have anything to do with it. They have made Ohio State proud and continue to make Ohio State proud. I don't ever want them to be tarnished whatsoever for what they did or what they didn't do."

The Players' Take

Here were comments from several players on the announcement that their team will be eligible for next week's NCAA Tournament:

* Jamar Butler -- "It's a big relief. Now we can just go through this tournament and practice and know we have no ban to the postseason. We can go to the NCAA Tournament."

* Je'Kel Foster -- "It's a big relief. It's like we just took 100,000 pounds off our back. I am proud for the program. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is good news for us.

"You just didn't know what was going to happen. It was always in the back of your mind."

* Ron Lewis -- "It's not secondary to us because we have the title and we're still striving for other titles. We want to keep our eyes on the prize, and that's winning championships.

"I don't really understand everything that's happening. But I know we no longer have a ban on our shoulders."

* Terence Dials -- "It was one of those things where it was a sigh of relief. ‘Let's go out there and play and not think about it.' "


 

 



Buckeye Sports Top Stories

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\r\n
\r\n \r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"After almost two years of uncertainty, Ohio State got closure with the NCAA and can now officially look ahead to participating in The Big Dance.

The NCAA will release brackets for the 2006 men's basketball tournament on Sunday. But Ohio State learned early Friday that its current team, now 24-4 after a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Penn State, will be eligible for the tournament.

The school avoided a second season of a postseason ban when the NCAA announced penalties in connection with violations that occurred on former head coach Jim O'Brien's watch. Those violations included a $6,000 cash payment by O'Brien to the family of one-time recruit Aleksandar Radojevic and illegal extra benefits provided to former OSU guard Boban Savovic.

The NCAA placed the school on three years' probation, but did not add to the one-year postseason ban OSU self-imposed for the 2004-05 season. The school must return roughly $800,000 in NCAA Tournament monies received from the 1999-2002 seasons, when Savovic was a member of the team.

The school must also vacate the NCAA Tournament records from the four years Savovic played, including the 1999 Final Four appearance. It is likely that notations hanging in tournament banners inside Value City Arena will be changed.

OSU also limited their men's basketball scholarships to 11 this season, instead of the allowed 13. Other penalties include a public reprimand and a reduction in on-campus visits by basketball recruits next year.

Current OSU coach Thad Matta and athletic director Gene Smith met with the media in Indianapolis, where the Buckeyes are competing in the Big Ten tournament.


\r\n\r\nGene Smith and Thad Matta answer questions in Indianapolis\r\n\r\n

Matta praised his team for dealing with last year's postseason ban and playing as well as it has under the circumstances this year. He also lauded how Smith, OSU's athletic director since last April, has handled the situation with the NCAA.

\"(The Ohio State players) have done a tremendous job of blocking everything out and moving forward,\" Matta said. \"From the day Gene (Smith) has come in, he has done a tremendous job of letting me know his feelings on what he thought was going to happen.

\"Quite honestly, it was exactly what we told the kids was going to happen. We knew kids that were in the third grade when this happened probably weren't going to be punished. We had great confidence in that. It would have been a devastating blow had it gone the other way.\"

Smith told reporters he received word two days ago that the NCAA ruling was imminent. He then received the documentation from the NCAA early this morning and shared the news with Matta.

\"We received the report at 8:18 this morning,\" Smith said. \"I called Thad (Matta) shortly thereafter. I think he was on the elliptical machine and I think he drove that thing straight through the window. He just wanted this thing to end. He was happy there was closure and just felt that now he can take his young men out on that court and perform without that cloud over their head. He felt pretty good that it was done.\"

Matta added, \"It was the first time an elliptical has ever gone forward. Those things are usually stationary.

\"Gene told me he would give me a call as soon as he found out. I sat in my room this morning, starting at about 6 a.m., waiting for the call. It was great news just to put the finalization to it all. As I announced it to the team today, they were as elated and I think relieved. They know the stress I have gone through on this deal. They were excited and I know the seniors were very excited for the younger players and for the coaches.\"

Matta discussed what he told his team prior to the game with Penn State.

\"When we came in here today, I said I had some great news,\" Matta said. \" ‘The ruling came out and this program is in terrific shape. The thing that we talked about came true today; we are going to postseason play. You younger guys are going to have the opportunity for the rest of your careers at Ohio State to compete in postseason play.' They were excited.

\"I didn't have to say a lot. They have seen our staff, our strength coach, our trainer's commitment and our energy, enthusiasm and passion to coach these guys. The one thing I say about recruiting is that my job hinges on it. I have to go out and recruit. The thing that makes it special is that our players are our best recruiters.\"

Some media members have made hay out of the fact that Matta's contract would have allowed him to leave if OSU received a postseason ban. With the Indiana job coming up at season's end, some have surmised that Matta might want to leave OSU.

The coach was asked if he is committed to coaching OSU next year, when a star-studded collection of new recruits including Indiana stars Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. will arrive.

\"The one thing I have to be careful about is that contractually I can't say anything (about other jobs),\" Matta said. \"But I can say this: In July 2004 when we came to Ohio State, we had a vision for this program. This vision is to get Ohio State back and built it into one of the greatest programs in college basketball.

\"Today is a great day because it is the first day in 18 or 19 months that we actually know where we are. As much as we speculated, followed through and did the case studies, it finally came to an end today. Now we know and now we move forward.\"

There were reports that OSU's recruits had \"out clauses\" in their letters of intent that would have allowed them to go elsewhere if the school received another ban. Matta was asked if today's ruling cements those recruits' status as future Buckeyes.

\"With the recruits, those kids chose Ohio State,\" Matta said. \"They chose to play for us. Ohio State is one of the greatest places I have ever seen. To have this burden lifted off of us; the smoke cleared. My wife (Barbara) cried tears of joy today because I have been tough to deal with for a long, long time.\"

With the NCAA's ruling complete, Matta revealed publicly that he and his staff members have had to deal with other schools negative recruiting against Ohio State over the last two years. Matta said schools have told recruits any number of lies against his staff and the program.

\"The one thing I have learned through this whole process is how cutthroat some people can be in this business,\" Matta said. \"We have been linked by others that we're the ones who committed these things. That's what I have always said that I don't want to be guilty by association by being at Ohio State.

\"As Gene and I talked last night, a lot of people may say, ‘Probation, probation,' and they may try to get to our (recruits). But we've been on probation since we've been at Ohio State. I think it would be an eye opening experience if people knew some of the other schools that are on probation.

\"I take great pride in running this program the right way. The probation doesn't scare me. I have a terrific staff and they know the rules. We're going to run this thing the right way. The probation does not mean a whole lot to me.\"

Smith was asked exactly what the positive is in today's announcement by the NCAA.

\"The positive is closure,\" he said. \"The reality is that we're able to bring this to a close at this time. We're going into the Big Ten tournament and we want our student-athletes to have the opportunity to participate in the tournament, understand that if there were to be any sanctions that they would have to deal with as they go through this tournament and ultimately when the tournament was over, those sanctions do not exist.

\"They can play without that stress of wondering and can position themselves with the opportunity to chase that dream in the NCAA tournament, and now they know that they can realize that dream. So I think that is a huge positive for those young men.\"

All along, Smith – a former NCAA infractions committee member – said he did not think the school would face a second year of a postseason ban. But he admitted that possibility existed until it was resolved today.

\"I never thought this case was deserving of a second postseason ban,\" he said. \"The institution did the right thing last year in putting that in place and positioned us where we would not have to face that in the future. I was confident about that and shared that with Thad and his staff.

\"That is the most positive thing about the findings. But the sanctions that we face are still disheartening and harsh against our program. To give back $800,000, that is money that could help our current student-athletes or help some other part of the institution. The probation we can deal with, as Thad said. That's how we operate anyway.\"

The NCAA came down hard on O'Brien and former assistant coach Paul Biancardi, now the head coach at Wright State. If O'Brien gets a job at another college in the next five years, he and his new school must appear before the NCAA's infractions committee to discuss whether he will face additional limitations.

Biancardi was prohibited from all recruiting activities until Oct. 1, 2007.

It was revealed that O'Brien and Biancardi were the ones who pushed for the two delays in the NCAA infractions committee hearings. OSU strenuously objected to those delays, Smith said.

\"That was very frustrating,\" Smith said. \"We felt when we went before the committee in December that we were well prepared. Everyone in the room had some opportunities to prepare themselves. We were extremely disappointed and very angry and we shared that with the committee.\"

By the same token, OSU asked the NCAA to act quickly in deciding on sanctions so the current team could enter the conference tournament knowing whether it would be eligible or not for the NCAA Tournament.

\"We asked the committee when we left the hearing to do everything they possibly could to get this complete prior to Selection Sunday,\" Smith said. \"The reason is obvious. They worked diligently to do this. Typically, they provide the institution with 48 hours notice that the report is coming. Then they provide the institution with the report 24 hours prior to it actually being released to the public to allow the institution to correct any factual errors deviated from that process.

\"I didn't find (the timing) odd at all. I wanted closure. I wanted these young people to have the chance to step on the floor at 12 and know that they could taste the dream.\"

More Comments

Here are more comments from OSU athletic director Gene Smith:

* On whether the probation will change the way things are run -- \"The probation basically states that you must not have a major violation during those years of probation. The reality is that if you do have a violation that you face other significant sanctions. The reality is that we have a compliant environment as the committee obviously alluded to in their report and with what (committee vice chair and professor of law at the University of Nebraska) Josephine Potuto had shared. We just have to continue to operate as we have operated and we will be fine. As Thad Matta says, he's been on probation since he's been here, and I think we'll have to continue to behave that way.\"

* On how much money Ohio State will have to return -- \"It will be slightly less than $800,000; $530,000 of that will be paid right away. The Big Ten, for the remaining part of it, will I think over the next three years, reduce our share of the NCAA basketball tournament share. But is basically a little south of $800,000.\"

* On the timing of former head coach Jim O'Brien's damages hearing -- \"It is my understanding that the damages hearing has been scheduled for sometime in mid-April. I don't know the exact date but it is public information so it's on some website somewhere. But I know it's the middle part of April.\"

* On why the school still fought the \"failure to monitor\" allegation -- \"We felt the institution had done a marvelous job of monitoring. Once we got into the hearing and began to discuss things with the committee, we felt it was in our best interest to back away from that.\"

* On the 1999 Final Four banner coming down -- \"The regular season games are still in tact. The personal statistics as an athlete are still intact. The reality is we participated with an ineligible player. That is against NCAA rules. They, as being a part of that team, will have to bear that burden. That is the truth. You can't sugar coat that at all. That's reality.

\"I haven't really thought about (when the banner will come down). I really don't know. We will probably do it sometime soon.\"

* On a possible postseason ban not being issued -- \"The committee considers everything when they go into deliberations so we had no clue what they would ultimately decide. I never felt, as I shared at the hearing, that this case was deserving of a two-year postseason ban. I felt the institution made the right decision when it self-imposed the postseason ban last year. We did try and argue that case in the hearing and the committee obviously heard our message.\"

* On team and individual vacancies -- \"This is strictly NCAA tournament, not the regular-season games. The ineligible student-athlete's statistics will be vacated, but not the other student-athletes' (statistics).

\"Regular season records are intact. If you read the penalties, it says NCAA tournament contests, it does not say regular season. Typically when there is a regular season penalty where the games are vacated, they would say regular season. I believe all four years are listed.\"

* On if Big Ten championships will be vacated -- \"The Big Ten has a separate process. They will look at these penalties and then their committee will look at these penalties and then their committee will determine if anything else needs to be done.\"

Here are comments from Matta:

* On the NCAA's decision affecting his team -- \"We have approached this season as though this exact finding was going to be. As I told our guys, had there been a decision that they wouldn't let our guys go (to the NCAA tournament), there was going to be 66 teams in the NCAA tournament this year. We were going to play somebody.\"

* On the former players who are getting their NCAA tournament appearances vacated -- \"I have gotten to know the players that were involved in that period. Once of the biggest battle cries I will be on throughout my speaking tours and anytime I can address the Buckeye fans is that I don't want Michael Redd, Sconnie Penn and the guys involved on that team to be looked at as if they were part of something bad.

\"Those guys did accomplish something special, as they continue to do in their lives. I have made a tremendous commitment to them. Those guys didn't have anything to do with it. They have made Ohio State proud and continue to make Ohio State proud. I don't ever want them to be tarnished whatsoever for what they did or what they didn't do.\"

The Players' Take

Here were comments from several players on the announcement that their team will be eligible for next week's NCAA Tournament:

* Jamar Butler -- \"It's a big relief. Now we can just go through this tournament and practice and know we have no ban to the postseason. We can go to the NCAA Tournament.\"

* Je'Kel Foster -- \"It's a big relief. It's like we just took 100,000 pounds off our back. I am proud for the program. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is good news for us.

\"You just didn't know what was going to happen. It was always in the back of your mind.\"

* Ron Lewis -- \"It's not secondary to us because we have the title and we're still striving for other titles. We want to keep our eyes on the prize, and that's winning championships.

\"I don't really understand everything that's happening. But I know we no longer have a ban on our shoulders.\"

* Terence Dials -- \"It was one of those things where it was a sigh of relief. ‘Let's go out there and play and not think about it.' \"


 

 


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