Trustees: OSU needs ‘soul-searching’

Published 10:37 pm Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — Ohio State needs to do a lot of “soul-searching” in the wake of the memorablia-for-cash and tattoos football scandal that forced coach Jim Tressel to resign and quarterback Terrelle Pryor to leave school, a university trustee said Friday.

After weeks of silence, the oversight panel for Ohio State — a school of more than 50,000 students — is beginning to comment on the memorabilia scandal. It will spend up to six weeks reviewing the athletic department’s entire response to the scandal, though members say they do not know of any other NCAA rules violations right now.

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“We have a lot to look at in sort of the soul-searching of what is most important in the game of life,” trustee Jerry Jurgensen, retired chief executive officer of Nationwide Insurance, said in remarks to the full board on Friday.

“The cracks here weren’t really cracks of rules and procedures,” he said. “They were cracks in a value system.”

Jurgensen, often an independent voice on the board, was quickly contradicted by board chairman Les Wexner, billionaire chairman and founder of Limited Brands and a major donor to the university.

“I don’t think we have a lot of soul-searching to do, not at all,” Wexner said. “We have a lot of heart celebrating to do for the good that this university does.”

Neither Wexner nor Jurgensen would comment after the board meeting. Ohio State President Gordon Gee took Wexner’s side, saying “the university is moving forward and we feel very strongly about the fact that we have much to celebrate today.”

Tressel’s 10-year Ohio State head coaching career, which included a national championship and seven Big Ten titles, ended in disgrace when he stepped down May 30 after failing to tell alert his superiors that players were getting improper benefits under NCAA rules.

The coach knew players received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment and did not tell anyone at Ohio State or the NCAA for more than nine months. NCAA rules — and Tressel’s contract — specified that he had to disclose any and all information about possible violations.

Wexner defended the board’s silence Friday, saying that, rather than making public pronouncements, trustees decided to devote their energy to working with university administrators to make sure the proper processes, reviews and protocols were in place.

“We’ve got a very sound process of work,” Wexner said.

“I’m pleased and I think the board is pleased with the work to date and the way we’ve progressed that work in an orderly, focused and thorough manner.”

Trustee Robert Schottenstein said on Friday that Ohio State’s athletic compliance program is good but there might be room for improvement.

The program, with eight compliance officers, has added two positions since the scandal broke last December, but those positions were being discussed before the news of the memorabilia sales broke. The program oversees hundreds of athletes, including 85 football players on scholarship.

“The NCAA has been in here a number of times and claimed that our athletic compliance process is outstanding,” Schottenstein said Friday. “They may be right. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to change it, though.”