Tressel defends Ohio State#039;s integrity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 17, 2003

CLEVELAND - Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said integrity remains the university's most valuable commodity as the school investigates players' academic performance and whether they received preferential treatment in classes.

''We have a very, very good system for making every attempt to do things as well as one can possibly do them,'' Tressel said in story Tuesday in The Plain Dealer. ''That doesn't mean we won't seek to do them better and seek to see whether we haven't done it as well as we can.''

The university started the investigation after a New York Times report that star tailback Maurice Clarett, a freshman on the Buckeyes' national championship team, had received preferential treatment in a class by being allowed to take two oral exams. Paulette Pierce, the professor of the class, has not responded to requests for an interview.

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Tressel declined further comment on the report.

The NCAA has made inquiries about Clarett that are not related to questions about the football player's academic conduct, athletic director Andy Geiger said.

The Columbus Dispatch, citing sources it did not identify, reported Monday that NCAA investigators have met with Clarett to ask about several gifts, including some that may have come from Cleveland Cavaliers rookie LeBron James.

Tressel said Monday night before leaving to attend ESPN's ESPY Awards in Los Angeles that he cannot be certain Clarett didn't break NCAA rules because it's impossible to monitor players constantly.

''Any time the NCAA comes in, you're concerned,'' Tressel said. ''I'm confident we're doing everything we're supposed to do.''

The inquiry concerns whether someone else could be using James to help establish an agent relationship with Clarett in the future, The Dispatch said. The newspaper reported that Clarett's answers appeared to satisfy the investigators.

Playing with the Cavs at the Boston summer league, James was asked Monday night whether he had let Clarett drive his sport utility vehicle and whether he had attended an Adidas camp with Clarett. He shook his head ''no'' to both questions.

''That's a great friend of mine,'' James said. ''I talk to him every day. He's in a situation right now that he's going to handle. He's a man.''

James' agent, Aaron Goodwin said Monday he didn't know if the NCAA has contacted James.

''Nothing improper has happened between LeBron and Maurice,'' Goodwin said. ''They're both intelligent kids; LeBron wouldn't do anything to cost him his eligibility.''

NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard, citing association policy, declined comment Monday.