Thursday, June 2, 2011
Attorney explains Terrelle Pryor loaners - Plenty of blame to go around at Ohio State -
Plenty of blame to go around at Ohio State
Great Article By Mark Schlabach
Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee first ruffled feathers last fall when he suggested college football teams like Boise State weren't worthy of playing for a BCS title because mightier teams like the Buckeyes don't play the "Little Sisters of the Poor."
Who knew that Gee was actually running the School of the Conveniently Blind and Deaf?
On Wednesday, Gee told reporters in Columbus, Ohio, that OSU athletics director Gene Smith's job is safe, even as the Buckeyes are neck-deep in one of the ugliest scandals in recent college sports history, which is saying a helluva lot after what we've witnessed over the past 18 months or so.
At least Gee knows his job his safe.
After Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel resigned under a cloud of controversy Monday, who is left at OSU with enough power to actually fire the university president?
Chances are Tressel will never coach another college football game. But if Ohio State is really concerned about doing the right thing, it will have a new quarterback, athletics director, compliance department and maybe even a president when it opens the season against Akron on Sept. 3.
Tressel, who guided the Buckeyes to their first national championship in 32 years and at least a share of seven Big Ten titles in 10 seasons, committed the cardinal sin of college coaches: He lied to his superiors and NCAA investigators and covered up allegations of rules violations for more than nine months.
Gee and Smith were just as culpable when they accepted Tressel's paper-thin defense of confidentiality and tried to sell it to the rest of us. OSU's compliance department gets much of the blame because it didn't know about it.
As is often the case, Tressel's cover-up was far worse than Ohio State's crimes.
It is alleged that at least five current Buckeyes football players sold memorabilia and merchandise for free tattoos and cash. Tressel allegedly knew of the violations several months before NCAA investigators learned of the transgressions, yet he continued to remain quiet even as Ohio State officials weighed whether or not to suspend star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four of his teammates from playing against Arkansas in last season's Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Tressel lied and paid a steep price in the end, forfeiting one of the sport's premier jobs and a $3.7 million annual salary.
But if there's any justice and honesty left at the school that proudly refers to itself as The Ohio State University, Tressel won't be the only Buckeye paying a price.
There's plenty of blame to go around:
• Pryor, who has led the Buckeyes to a share of at least three Big Ten titles and two victories in BCS bowl games, assumes much of the blame, as do the rest of OSU's infamous "Tat 5."
Driving a new car to a team meeting probably wasn't Terrelle Pryor's best idea.
Along with Pryor, running back Dan "Boom" Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas were suspended for the first five games of the upcoming season for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards for free tattoos and cash.
Ohio State's best chance at a fresh start is cutting ties with Pryor altogether. If I'm OSU interim coach Luke Fickell, I don't want a bonehead like Pryor being the face of my team. In fact, Fickell should get rid of Pryor just for his arrogance and stupidity if nothing else.
With NCAA investigators now taking a closer look at Pryor's use of automobiles at Ohio State -- Sports Illustrated reported earlier this week that he has driven as many as eight different cars while playing for the Buckeyes -- he flaunted his new sports car to them earlier this week.
Before a team meeting Monday, Pryor arrived at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center driving a recently purchased coal-black Nissan 350z. The car, which is reportedly titled to Pryor's mother, had a temporary dealer license plate.
It was later discovered that Pryor is driving on a suspended driver's license, after he failed to produce proof of insurance when he was stopped by police for running a red light in February.
Ray Reitz, who was Pryor's coach at Jeanette (Pa.) High School, said his former star is being unfairly targeted for OSU's problems.
"He's a scapegoat," Reitz told USA Today. "That's what I see. He's been in a fishbowl since he's been there. It's a life lesson in how fast people turn on you."
Or, in Tressel's case, it's a life lesson on how quickly people can let you down.
• Smith, who played football at Notre Dame and also worked as an athletics director at Iowa State and Arizona State, never seemed comfortable standing behind his more famous football coach, even after OSU announced nearly three months ago that Tressel would be suspended for the first two games of the upcoming season and fined $250,000 (the suspension was later increased to five games).
Smith really can't be blamed for the mess because Tressel didn't tell him what he knew. But Smith is guilty of orchestrating a drive-through investigation back in December, when OSU announced that the "Tat 5" would be eligible to play in the Sugar Bowl and then serve five-game suspensions in 2011.
With Pryor and the other four inked Buckeyes playing, OSU defeated the Razorbacks 31-26 in New Orleans. When the NCAA committee on infractions is done with OSU, it will still have an 0-10 record against SEC teams in bowl games.
While announcing Tressel's suspension March 8, Smith told reporters that OSU "did not have a systematic problem in our program."
Apparently, the Buckeyes only had a deceitful coach and an athletics director who was naive enough to believe him.
• Gee's bow-tied neck has been on the line ever since he uttered a few now-infamous words at the news conference announcing Tressel's suspension and fine.
When Gee was asked if he ever actually considered firing Tressel for covering up the alleged violations, he replied: "No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."
In two sentences, Gee all but confirmed what many of us already believed about Ohio State and other major football programs across the country: The football coach is the most powerful man on campus.
Ohio State is scheduled to appear before the NCAA committee on infractions in early August.
The Buckeyes' problems involve more than its recently retired football coach.
Their problems also involve a lack of institutional control.
Attorney explains Terrelle Pryor loaners
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his mother, Thomasina, have been interviewed in Columbus, Ohio, by an NCAA investigator about his use of loaner vehicles, a source close to the situation said Thursday.
An attorney for Pryor, Larry James of Columbus, said that Pryor has on occasion in the past three years utilized "three or four loaner vehicles" from the same dealer, Auto Direct Columbus, Inc. -- not up to eight, as has been reported.
James also questioned a report in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated on the Buckeyes' NCAA problems, saying the story is "90 percent wrong."
"I think there's a misperception about Terrelle, there's a misperception about the overall program as brought about in part by the Sports Illustrated article that everybody's just taken to the bank," James said Thursday.
The Sports Illustrated report described a country-club atmosphere at a local tattoo shop for Buckeyes players and that at least 28 of them are either known or alleged to have traded or sold memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules.
Ohio State has suspended five players -- including Pryor -- for the first five games this fall, with another player suspended for one game. Jim Tressel was forced to resign as coach Monday.
"Obviously, if you know these other kids that are in this Sports Illustrated article, if you spent any time around them, you know that that story is 90 percent wrong on those kids," James said.
Scott Novak, a spokesman for Sports Illustrated, said, "We stand by our reporting."
James said that Pryor's mother purchased two vehicles for Pryor while he was a high school athlete in Pennsylvania, and that both vehicles ran into trouble, including a Hyundai Sonata that "died," and a Dodge Charger that "ran into problems" in Columbus and needed an engine overhaul.
James said Pryor's mother then purchased her own vehicle from a Columbus car dealership on "word of mouth."
Said James: "It was basically a deal where friends who had gone to the dealer say, 'This guy can be helpful to you.' It wasn't about a special deal. It was just that everyone knew to go there. If I'm a businessman and I can create a feeder system for athletes and parents to where people know to go there, what's wrong with that?"
James said that within the past 10 days, Pryor's mother purchased a 2007 Nissan 350Z sports car with about 80,000 miles on it for her son from Auto Direct.
James said the vehicle was financed for "about $11,000" and that the payments are about the same as those she had been making on the Charger.
James said that Pryor needed the use of loaners because of servicing. "It's a customer-friendly service," he said.
James said neither Pryor nor his mother had paid for the loaners.
"Now, does the public get the same deal? I have not done an audit on that," James said. "What I can tell you is the owner of that dealership will tell you that (Pryor) gets treated like every Tom, Dick and Harry."
If Pryor received benefits deemed not available to the general public or deemed as preferential treatment, the NCAA could extend the five-game suspension the quarterback received at the end of last year, which he will serve at the start of this season, for extra benefits received from a tattoo-parlor owner in Columbus.
Ohio State's compliance department monitors the vehicles purchased by athletes. But James said that as for the loaners, "I don't think Ohio State had to sign off on that. It's not necessary for loaners."
James said he could not comment on the NCAA's interest in the relationship between Pryor and mentor Ted Sarniak, a Pennsylvania businessman. But he did say he believes Pryor's actions are not unusual.
"I've done law for 30 years and when you look at the facts -- three or four vehicles and a use of loaners when a car is in the shop for repair, you will find this is nothing out of the ordinary," he said.
James said Thursday that Pryor has had his driving privileges in Ohio reinstated. Officials at the Ohio Department of Public Safety said Wednesday that Pryor's driving privileges had been suspended for 90 days because he failed to produce proof of insurance when pulled over for a stop-sign violation Feb. 19 in Columbus.
James said Pryor had since shown proof he had insurance. James said he had a copy of the insurance policy that was in place at the time of the stop.
Storm Klein's father threatens action
The father of Ohio State linebacker Storm Klein said his son told the NCAA on Wednesday that he did not obtain tattoos, money or drugs from a Columbus tattoo shop in exchange for autographs or memorabilia.
"My son has no tattoos on his body," Jason Klein said. "I have all of his memorabilia. What has been written is preposterous. My son has been routinely tested for drugs and has never had a positive test."
Jason Klein said he will hire an attorney and plans to take action against Sports Illustraed, which published a story that cited an anonymous tattoo shop employee as identifying Storm as one of at least nine active players alleged to have made such trades.
Jason Klein said he believes all the players were interviewed by the NCAA and that others have made similar denials.
"These kids have been demonized," Jason Klein said. "It has been my son's dream to play for Ohio State and we are devastated by what has occurred."
Jason Klein said he could not say if his son had ever visited the tattoo shop involved in the investigation. Earlier Thursday, Sports Illustrated said it stands by its story.
.Ohio State selling out Pryor?
Now central in another subject of study, Terrelle Pryor is a convenient scapegoat. On Monday, the day Tressel resigned, someone leaked to the Columbus Dispatch that Pryor was the focus of a "significant" NCAA investigation into memorabilia sales, impermissible benefits and questionable cars. Who was the leak? Well, I'd bet a Nissan 350Z that it was someone within Ohio State's athletic department. NCAA sources are notoriously tight-lipped. And besides, no one benefits from Pryor becoming the focus of media and fan scrutiny more than the Buckeye athletic administration, especially at that precise moment in time. And boy has it worked.
Posted by just BS at 8:32 PM