Tressel suspends Small

Published 1:15 am Friday, November 7, 2008

Before walking out of a brief, contentious meeting with reporters on Thursday, an irritated Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said receiver and punt returner Ray Small was suspended for one game ‘‘to start with’’ and that he had handled the situation correctly.

Tressel confirmed that Small, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from Cleveland, will not play when No. 12 Ohio State plays at Northwestern on Saturday. Team spokeswoman Shelly Poe said the suspension was due to a ‘‘repeated violation of team rules.’’

But Small’s father, Ken Small, said he is mystified why his son is being suspended.

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‘‘They’re intentionally trying to blow his career,’’ Ken Small told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in suburban Columbus.

It has been no secret that Ray Small has continually been in and out of Tressel’s doghouse for the past two seasons. His father said that the latest suspension stemmed from missing or being late for some classes and meetings. He also said part of his problems was parking tickets.

Ken Small cited several other recent legal transgressions by Ohio State players and compared them to the minor problems his son has had. One player a year ago was arrested for propositioning a female police officer posing as a prostitute. At least two players have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Ken Small said it was clear his son is being treated unfairly by Tressel.

‘‘He had a couple of incidents, but he never got caught smoking marijuana before the national championship game. Or he never got a DUI, or picked up a prostitute. He was just late,’’ Ken Small said. ‘‘And the punishment is you can’t even go into the (practice) facility? They act like he’s dangerous. These other kids … didn’t get banned from the facility. All they got was being sat down for the first few plays of a game.’’

Tressel hinted that Small was being punished for ongoing problems.

‘‘If a guy makes repetitive mistakes in football, he’s probably going to lose opportunities to play,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘The same would be with anything off the field, if a guy’s repetitive, it’s going to impact (his playing time).’’

Tressel, speaking at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, grew increasingly upset as reporters asked him questions about Small’s suspension. Tressel meets with reporters every Thursday for 15 or 20 minutes after he finishes his radio show.

He abruptly ended the interview after 5 minutes on Thursday.

‘‘OK, guys. Thanks. I appreciate it. I thought we were going to talk about Northwestern. Thanks. Thanks,’’ he said tersely.

As he walked down a corridor lined with trophies from the team’s past, he shook his head in disgust.

Reporters asked him if the suspension was just for one game. Tressel’s brief reply: ‘‘To start with.’’ He also said that the length of the suspension would be determined by what Small does ‘‘from this point on.’’

He also said that Small and his family had never discussed transferring out of the football program — which Ken Small said was not true.

‘‘No, that’s false. That’s an outright lie,’’ he said. He said he and several family members, along with Ohio State defensive lineman Rob Rose, all met with Tressel last spring and they discussed Small transferring. But Ken Small said he talked his son out of it.

Ray Small got off to a great start this season, but his playing time has been drastically cut. He had 14 catches in the first three games to lead the team, then was benched for the third game and didn’t catch a pass in the game after that. After making two receptions against Wisconsin, he didn’t catch a pass during the next two games.

In Ohio State’s most recent game, a 13-6 home loss to No. 3 Penn State on Oct. 25, he had two catches for 37 yards.

He currently is second on the team in receptions with 18 for 149 yards.

The speedy Small is also the Buckeyes’ top punt returner, with 18 for an average of 13.2 yards, tops in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation.

This spring, due to unspecified team infractions, Tressel took away Small’s preferred uniform No. 4 and gave him the No. 82.

Tressel said he was sure that he had both critics and supporters when it came to disciplinary moves.

‘‘I’m sure there’s both ends of the spectrum out there in opinions, like there are about what we’re doing with football,’’ said Tressel, who has also caught heat because of his team’s erratic play this season. ‘‘There’s one end that feels this way and one end that feels that way. Most things lie somewhere in the middle. But I don’t feel bad about how we’ve tried to help any of our guys.’’

Ken Small said Tressel has it in for his son and has no intention of playing him in games.

‘‘Yes, that’s what it sounds like to me,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s saying, ’We’re not going to kick him off the team, but he won’t play.’’’