Ohio State Receives Official NCAA Notice, Avoids Worst Allegations

The Ohio State University received an official notice of allegations from the NCAA last week regarding the ongoing investigation into the program’s mishandling of information.  As part of an investigation dating back to last year, both the university and the NCAA determined that head coach Jim Tressel failed to notify the proper authorities after being informed of illegal benefits received by six of his players.

The Bucks are likely to face stiff penalties when the NCAA rules this August (AP)

Since these facts came to light, Ohio State has suspended and fined Tressel.  He apid a $250,000 penalty and is slated to miss the first five game of the 2011 season,a self-imposed ban that was upped from the university’s original two-game suspension.

Since adminsitering its internal punishment, the school has been waiting to hear from the NCAA.  That wait is now over.

The notice of allegations addressed Tressel’s actions and inaction, stating that he was dishonest and that he “falsely attested” that he reported critical information to the proper channels in 2010.  Last fall, Tressel and the university claimed that they had no knowledge of violations committed by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and five of his teammates.  But more recently, it was revealed that Tressel was alerted to the situation last April.  It was also proven that he notified a personal mentor of Pryor’s even as he failed to pass the information along to his own administration and compliance office.

Or so the accusations go.

The extent to which Tressel is truly guilty (versus being a possible fall guy for the university) may never be known.  But it’s inarguable that he lied and misled investigators in a significant way.  The program will have to appear before the NCAA’s Infractions Committee on August 12th.

But the news isn’t all bad for Buckeye fans.  In fact, as serious as this situation is, the program actually avoided the most damaging allegations.  The notice from the NCAA did not accuse Ohio State or Tressel of “a lack of institutional control” or of a “failure to monitor”.  These two violations have traditionally been the worst in the sense that the NCAA doles out particularly severe punishments where they’re concerned.

Although the Buckeyes are likely to face substantial penalties, it appears as though they have escaped the most damaging charges.

That’s somewhat surprising considering that the NCAA’s notice went well beyond Tressel’s current situation.  It included references to Jim O’Brien’s payment of a basketball recruit; the former men’s coach was later fired and replaced by Thad Matta.  The notice also discusses a payment made by a booster to former quarterback Troy Smith.

Tressel was blasted in the NCAA's notice, but avoided the most damaging allegations (AP)

With a pattern of mistakes established, it wouldn’t have been out of line for the NCAA to include one or both of the charges related to oversight.

The Buckeyes and their fans should feel like the team dodged a real bullet here.  While the resolution of this fiasco won’t be pretty, it also won’t be nearly as damaging as it might have been.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that while it’s hard to argue against Tressel’s guilt, he did contact an FBI agent within days of receiving emails from a former player-turn attorney last April.  Those emails implied that the violations committed by Pryor and company were part of a larger web of acitivty that was under federal investigation.  Tressel has since claimed that part of his reasoning for not notifying the proper authorities was a desire to avoid interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation.

However, the fact that he contacted Pryor’s metor mitigates whatever good intentions he might claim he had.

Ohio State released a generic and fairly uninformative statement in the wake of the NCAA’s notice, saying, “the university will continue to work cooperatively with the NCAA during the response phase to the NCAA that now begins, and will have no further comment until the process is completed.”