The hot topic for the B1G this off-season should have been the addition of Nebraska and all the things associated with that: great, storied program coming to a great, storied conference, the new divisions (names aside), and a conference championship game.
When it was first reported that several Ohio State players had received free tattoos in exchange for sports memorabilia back in December of 2010, it seemed like a fairly serious, but straightforward and not catastrophic deal. Things like this happen on a regular basis in college football, and virtually no program is immune to these kinds of problems. The players involved were probably going to be suspended for a few games, they would have to pay for the benefits they received, and life goes on. At the time, the biggest controversy was that the players involved were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl, after Bowl officials and B1G Commissioner Jim Delany lobbied NCAA officials on the players' behalf. Yeah, if only that had been the biggest controversy.
Were it only that simple.
Point: OSU's day of reckoning is nigh. They ran fast and loose with the rules, their coach lied to the NCAA, and they give a new definition to the phrase 'Lack of Institutional Control'. They are going to be justly hammered with a three year bowl ban, and a substantial reduction of scholarships over the same period of time, if not more.
But not long after OSU's thrilling Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas, reports started coming out of Columbus that became more ominous by the day. The first was that Jim Tressel had known about the tattoo issue in April of 2010, and committed the cardinal sin of lying to the NCAA about it...for over 8 months. Tressel's hold on the head coach position seemed to get more tenuous by the week, and when Sports Illustrated came out with a cover story that was essentially a hatchet job to get Tressel to resign, Tressel resigned on Memorial Day. OSU hater, I'm not defending Tressel and his cover up by calling this story a hatchet job, but it was. There were virtually no new allegations, the story went back to his days at Youngstown State, and every 'source' for that story had dubious creditability issues, at best.
But I digress.
Soon, allegations came out that players received free cars, and that seemed to be confirmed when Terrelle Pryor rolled up to a team meeting (the one Jim Tressel announced his resignation at) driving a Nissan 350Z sports car with dealer plates on it. It just felt like OSU was not only breaking the rules, but giving the college football world the finger while doing it.
A few days after that, it was alleged that Pryor received up to $40,000 for signing autographs from an individual named Dennis Talbott. In NCAA parlance, that's essentially pay-for-play, and that's about as bad as it can get. SMU got the death penalty for that back in 1987, Alabama got hit hard with sanctions because of it, and USC just got hit pretty hard for that as well. And it wasn't just Pryor, but multiple players:
The parent of one former Ohio State player told "Outside the Lines" that he saw Talbott provide what he called "stacks of money" to active Buckeyes players, including a player now in the NFL.
If Terrelle Pryor or anyone did receive any money, much less 40 large, for capitalizing on his status as an Ohio State football player, the NCAA is going to come down firecely on the Buckeyes, regardless of how cooperative the University has been in the investigation, whether they self reported or not. There's just no way somebody in the University didn't know about this. No way. And since OSU disassociated themselves from Dennis Talbott midway through the 2010 season, it looked like they knew.
Free tattoos for jerseys evolved in to an iconic coach having to resign for trying to cover up the tattoo controversy amidst free cars for everyone and a play for pay mentality rampant in the program. Something at OSU is terribly, terribly wrong.
Throughout this whole process, there has been blood in the water for Ohio State. A lot of people want to see Ohio State made an example of, and the press coverage has been relentless. Pick up a paper or go to ESPN, you would get the feeling that OSU had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and for good measure, made a sex tape with Casey Anthony.
And oh, the press conference. That disastrous, terrible, what-the-fucksaw-was-that car wreck that played out live for the world to see. When the news hit that Tressel knew of the allegations eight months before the NCAA was told about them, OSU AD Gene Smith, President G. Gordon Gee, and Jim Tressel held a press conference to try and 'stay ahead of the story'. They not only didn't stay ahead of it, but the firebreak they hoped would occur only consumed them more.
Smith stonewalled any serious question that was asked, Jim Tressel mentioned 'federal drug investigation' and 'OSU football players' in the same sentence, and not only DIDN'T Tressel apologize, he very diplomatically gave everyone a defiant kiss my ass. And when Gee said 'I hope Jim Tressel doesn't fire me', it screamed of a program gone WAY off course, and the NCAA was indeed going to make an example of THE Ohio State University. It was a disaster in every sense of the word, and it looked like OSU was not only guilty, but they were hiding a lot more and it was only a matter of time before something even bigger and more scandalous was going to hit the street.
Look at what happened to USC. They were playing fast and loose with the rules, players (or family members) were getting paid because of their status as USC football players or relationship to said players, the head coach had his head in the sand, much like Tressel seemingly did...only he didn't lie to the NCAA. And that's the kicker. Tressel LIED to the NCAA, which when you boil everything down to the core, is the central issue here.
Lying and covering up is what's going to get OSU hammered, because the NCAA will not be made a fool of. It doesn't matter that they do that to themselves on a daily basis, but by God, no one else will do that to them. The head coach was cheating, not an assistant, not the water boy, not a booster funneling money to a player without anyone knowing about it. That makes the whole program dirty by default, and THAT takes LOIC to a new level. Players were running around Columbus with their hands out, taking anything and everything they could get, and Tressel, as the titular head of the program, willingly turned a blind eye to almost all of it. By willful ignorance, he created an environment in which all of this could not only happen, but flourish. $40,000...for signing autographs, and no one knew? How can that NOT be LOIC?
But it's not that simple, because nothing is that simple.
Counterpoint: OSU haters are reading everything they believe, and when the NCAA infractions are announced and they aren't nearly as bad as everyone thinks...nee, HOPES they will be, there will be a lot of outrage about 'getting away with it'. Only, they aren't getting away with anything.
Okay, let's separate the wheat from the chaff in this. What OSU is going to be judged on, assuming there are no changes to what the NCAA has investigated to this point, is outlined in what we call an NCAA Notice of Allegations. The one the NCAA gave to OSU alleges eight very specific and pointed allegations, including:
1) Selling of memorabilia, to include jerseys, gold pants, and championship rings for tattoos, and getting discounts fort tattoos because of their status as Ohio State players. There are seven of those allegations.
2) Jim Tressel not being truthful to the NCAA when he found out about these activities going on, and knowingly letting players that should have been ineligible to play in games.
Notice you'll read nothing in there about cars, Pryor (or anyone else) getting money for signing autographs, lack of institutional control, failure to monitor, the murdering of innocent babies and impaling them on spikes, starting a world war, nothing. Now, could the NCAA come back and re-investigate OSU if they find some credible evidence to those allegations? Yes, of course they can. And could they issue another Notice of Allegations or amend the current one? Yep, they definitely could (Well, I don't think they can amend the current one anymore. There was a July 5th deadline to do that, and to my knowledge, it was not amended. But they can still issue a new one if they want to). And if that crap was going on, I'll be the first guy to say OSU should get as severe a punishment as possible short of the death penalty (no program deserves that). Make no mistake, I want Ohio State to kick your team's ass, but I want them to do it fairly and above board. But right now, all of the white noise regarding everything that isn't associated with these allegations have been just that, white noise. Let's look at it:
The additional allegations of up to 20-some players getting free tattoos as opposed to the original five were made by a convicted felon who has a drug problem and has been in and out of jail, an unamed source, and a former player with a tremendous axe to grind against OSU. The sources for the SI story were so shaky The Columbus Dispatch, a paper that has been pretty harsh towards the Buckeyes in this whole affair, chose not to run with the allegations. Is it possible that these might later be proven to be accurate? Sure. In the beginning of the steroids scandal that engulfed baseball, no one initially believed Jose Canseco, and everyone believed Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens. But right now, there are 50 pieces of additional memorabilia that could have been sold by those players in question, and 48 of 50 are accounted for. So it looks like there's not much to that allegation, at least for the time being. And the parents for two of the additional players, John Simon and Storm Klein, are so upset about what they consider to be false accusations, they are considering legal action against Sports Illustrated.
As to the free cars, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has cleared the players and dealers involved of any improper benefits or discounts to the players in every single transaction. Every one. The investigation on that has been closed by the University.
As to the most damaging and damning of these allegations--Pryor receiving $40,000 for signing his autograph--let's just say that is hotly disputed. The website Sports By Brooks claimed there were checks from Talbott to Pryor that were deposited into Pryor's bank account, and that the NCAA had cited the University with 'dozens' of payments, but Pryor's attorney said that was not true. And he said so pretty adamantly, with a defiant tone you usually don't find in someone who is trying to hide guilt. To date, there have been no 'smoking guns' produced in terms of cancelled checks that would prove that allegation, nor has the NCAA amended their notice of allegations to Ohio State to add this infraction to the list. I would think that if this paper trail did exist, as SBB alleges, it would have been easy to find...yet the NCAA has not done anything with what would easily be the most serious of all these allegations.
So, let's compare and contrast the poster child that everyone is holding up to condemn OSU with, and that's Southern California under AD Mike Garrett and Pete Carroll. The USC sanctions are harsh, but those penalties were meted out due to problems in three athletic programs, two coaches, two players from different sports, OJ Mayo and Reggie Bush, and an athletic director that tried to block and obfuscate the NCAA investigation at every turn. When the NCAA issued their findings against USC, they said, in terms of declaring a LOIC:
When citing the lack of institutional control finding, the committee noted the university failed to heed clear warning signs; did not have proper procedures in place to monitor rules compliance; failed to regulate access to practice and facilities, including locker rooms; and in some instances failed to take a proactive stance or investigate concerns. As a result, three different individuals who triggered NCAA agent rules committed violations involving the former football and men's basketball student-athletes.
There are no agent issues with any OSU players, and when you get to the heart of it, it's still five guys on the football team getting improper benefits, with the coach lying about it. The coach has resigned, and the players in question have either left the program or will be suspended for five games, and will probably have to pay some sort of restitution. And OSU has been cooperating with the NCAA at every turn. As soon as they found out about Tressel's deception, they reported it to the NCAA, and have given the NCAA everything they have asked for. With everything except the tattoo scandal seemingly resolved, the compliance issues aren't nearly as bad as they seemed a month ago, there are no access issues, and OSU has been very proactive in this whole investigation.
In the end, will any of it matter? Tough to say. I think you can make a legitimate argument on either side for or against the LOIC. If the NCAA Finds that there was a lack of institutional control, OSU will get slapped pretty hard. If the NCAA deems that this was an isolated incident between Tressel and a few players, they'll get probation, forfeiture of wins, and maybe a one year bowl ban, but that's it.
This is just my opinion, but I think the NCAA told OSU on the down low that if Tressel was still the coach come August, the penalties would be harsh, because they allowed him to remain in place after committing what many people feel is the one thing you can't do to the NCAA, especially the head coach. But I also think they told OSU that if Tressel was no longer the coach, they would take everything else in consideration (full cooperation, self reporting of everything, no new allegations (hopefully)) and go relatively light on the Buckeyes.
No matter how the NCAA decides, though, it won't be good enough for a lot of people. Those of you that want the death penalty will be sorely disappointed, as will those of you who feel Tressel really didn't do anything wrong. The truth lies somewhere in the middle of that, and assuming that there aren't any more allegations that the NCAA slaps OSU with, and come August all we're dealing with is what's in the current Notice of Allegations, I think the punishment will be lighter than most people anticipate.
But that's okay, because the Oregon situation is about to blow up, and they'll make OSU look like choirboys.
And there will be enough faux outrage for everyone.