Businessman gave Smith gifts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004

COLUMBUS (AP) - Ohio State athletic officials learned about quarterback Troy Smith's relationship with a Columbus businessman from the company's attorney, The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday.

That tip in a Dec. 9 phone call led to Smith's suspension from Wednesday's Alamo Bowl game for violating team and NCAA rules by accepting gifts from the booster.

The newspaper identified the booster as Robert Baker, 46, of Springfield, who watches football games from a 35-yard-line luxury suite in Ohio Stadium.

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Geoffrey Webster, 56, an attorney for Poly-Care Services, a provider of health care products with headquarters in Columbus, confirmed for the newspaper on Monday that Baker gave Smith an unspecified amount of cash.

''It certainly had a smell to it,'' said Webster.

Baker, the former executive director of the Ohio Academy of Nursing Homes, helped found the company. He left Poly-Care about a month ago, a receptionist said Tuesday.

Baker, who is not an Ohio State graduate, did not return phone messages left by the Dispatch at his home. A home telephone listing for him could not be found on Tuesday.

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger declined to comment on the report, saying, ''It's an ongoing investigation.'' Geiger has refused to identify the booster, saying he was following the university's longtime practice of protecting a booster's identity.

Smith has not commented on his suspension as part of an agreement with Ohio State.

As part of his responsibilities for Poly-Care, Webster handles employee code-of-conduct investigations. He was given incident reports from two employees who questioned Baker's relationship with Ohio State football players, the newspaper reported.

Webster, who is an Ohio State alumnus, told the newspaper he hopes the university takes away Baker's suite and football tickets. A telephone message was left at his Columbus office Tuesday.

The NCAA defers those decisions to individual schools unless there is a major infraction, spokesman Erik Christianson said. Geiger has called Smith's violation minor.

A message seeking comment was left with athletics spokesman Steve Snapp, in Texas for the bowl game.

''This whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth,'' Webster said. ''The university has to do something to get rid of this small group of boosters.''