OSU players weren#039;t aware teammates were ineligible

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2003

COLUMBUS -- A day after athletic director Andy Geiger announced that 10 Ohio State football players had been declared eligible by the NCAA, several teammates said Thursday they were never aware the players were ever ineligible.

''I didn't even know. What are you talking about?'' tailback Maurice Hall said when asked about the reinstatements. ''Really? I didn't hear anything about that.''

In a story in Thursday's edition of The Columbus Dispatch, Geiger said the players were reinstated by the NCAA after they were declared ineligible Aug. 14 for being paid an hourly wage by a health care company for signing autographs.

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Geiger said the 10 players -- who were not identified except for third-team All-American wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble -- had violated NCAA rules by signing autographs on the job during the Ohio Health Care Association's convention May 5-8 in Columbus. The players were paid an hourly salary to work at a convention booth reportedly operated by NCS HealthCare.

A spokesman for NCS HealthCare declined to comment Thursday.

Geiger called the violations ''an honest mistake.''

The players forfeited paychecks of less than $100 to more than $200 to Ohio State. The university, following NCAA rules, donated the money to charities chosen by the players. The players also submitted written statements of wrongdoing.

A university spokesman said Geiger was unavailable for further comment Thursday.

Hall, tailback Lydell Ross, cornerback Dustin Fox and kicker Mike Nugent were caught off guard by the news of the ineligibility and subsequent reinstatements. None said they had any knowledge that any of their teammates were ineligible.

It was yet another surprise for the defending national champions, who have had a series of off-the-field problems over the past few months.

Starting tailback Maurice Clarett's finances are being investigated by the NCAA after he acknowledged exaggerating a theft report. Clarett claimed in a police report that he lost more than $10,000 in cash and possessions when a car he borrowed from a local dealership was broken into in April. Clarett is also at the center of an Ohio State investigation of academic fraud by athletes.

A former Ohio State teaching assistant who met with the NCAA and members of an Ohio State investigative committee for more than two hours on Wednesday said she was asked about three other football players: Gamble, sophomore cornerback E.J. Underwood and Chris Vance, a wide receiver who exhausted his eligibility last season.

Nugent, a first-team All-American last year, said the controversies may lead people to conclude that Ohio State is a rogue program.

He said that when football players at the University of Georgia got in trouble for selling championship rings, he jumped to a similar conclusion.

''I kind of looked at that and I was like, 'What kind of a program are they running?' I'm one of those people who applies that what 10 guys do, the whole team's like that,'' Nugent said. ''You just can't do that. There are some things going wrong, but … hopefully everyone doesn't look at the whole team as a bunch of guys who are doing things wrong.''

Hall said it was frustrating that there has been a drumbeat of allegations against the program. He said the team sat through a 2 1/2-hour presentation by the university's compliance department at the start of fall camp.

''They made sure we knew all the rules,'' he said.

The 10 players who were reinstated were permitted to be a part of the team and participate in practices. Clarett, who is eligible, has been barred from practice until the NCAA's investigation has been resolved.

Ross was asked how he would handle Clarett's situation.

''I would just try to do what's right,'' he said.