Smith: probe cost at $800,000

Published 1:16 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The NCAA investigation into Ohio State’s football program has cost the school’s athletic department about $800,000 so far.

Athletic director Gene Smith confirmed the figure on Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press.

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The Buckeyes football program has been embroiled in a memorabilia-for-cash scandal that broke late last year and resulted in coach Jim Tressel losing his job after 10 years. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor also has left the school.

Ohio State goes before the NCAA’s committee on infractions this Friday. The NCAA can either accept Ohio State’s self-imposed penalties, which include two years of probation and vacating last year’s 12-win season and share of the Big Ten championship, or it can add to them.

Tressel was pressured to step down May 30 in the wake of the scandal. Under his tenure, the Buckeyes won the 2002 national championship and twice lost in the BCS title game.

When Ohio State officials initially discovered in January that Tressel knew players had accepted improper benefits — they were trading Buckeyes memorabilia for cash and tattoos at a Columbus tattoo parlor — they suspended him for two games and fined him $250,000. Tressel later agreed to serve a five-game suspension.

Yet when Smith announced the coach’s final termination agreement last month, Tressel, who earned more than $3.5 million last year, did not have to pay the fine.

Terms of the agreement, which prevent each side from suing the other, also permitted him to receive the final month of his salary — around $54,000 — and to retain his health benefits through June.

Smith declined to discuss the details of the investigation and the cost other than to confirm the bottom line, which he said was about $800,000 “at this point.” Ohio State contracted with The Compliance Group, run by a former NCAA enforcement officer, to consult on the investigation and manage the school’s case. It also paid for an IT company to come in and help search through staff emails for information regarding the violations.

Asked several weeks ago about the rising cost of the investigation, he said, “I just say, pay the bill. Let’s do what we have to do to get it right.”

Also on Wednesday, cited numerous anonymous sources who said that the NCAA sent a letter to Ohio State last week notifying the school that its investigation is still ongoing. The story said the letter could result in a second notice of allegations and a second trip through the NCAA justice system.

Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch responded that the university does not anticipate discussing any additional allegations with the committee on infractions on Friday other than those it self-reported in March 2011.

“The latest letter I saw from the NCAA to President Gee did not mention any additional allegations,” Lynch said in an email. “The university has not received any additional allegations from the NCAA.”

In Indianapolis at a retreat for university presidents which included Gee, NCAA President Mark Emmert declined comment on the Ohio State situation.

“We have a process in place and we’ll let that process work out,” he said.

Asked about Ohio State’s impending hearing and the latest revelations on Wednesday, Ed Ray, Oregon State’s president and the chair of the NCAA’s executive committee made it clear that there are divisions within the NCAA’s house.

“These are really important matters (dealing with Ohio State), and there’s a real firewall between the work that that group (the infractions committee) does and the rest of the NCAA,” he said. “We don’t meddle and we don’t talk about where they are in their evaluation.”

Tressel learned in April 2010 that at least two of his players had accepted money or discounted tattoos from the tattoo-parlor owner, who was the target of a federal drug-trafficking investigation. Despite the terms of his contract and NCAA bylaws which required him to report such information to his superiors or compliance officials, Tressel said nothing. He even signed a form on Sept. 13 certifying that he knew of no violations and had reported everything he knew.

It was not until this January, while working on an appeal of the players’ suspensions, that Ohio State discovered emails which showed Tressel had known about the improper benefits and had still put players on the field throughout the 2010 season whose eligibility might have been compromised.

Tressel’s lawyer has confirmed that his client will be going to Indianapolis for Ohio State’s hearing before the committee on infractions.