Gee critical of Smith after latest NCAA violations

Published 2:43 am Friday, November 11, 2011

The Associated Press


COLUMBUS — The NCAA accused Ohio State for the first time of a “failure to monitor” for permitting a booster to continue to have contact with players after he was involved in NCAA problems earlier in the year.

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Ohio State President Gordon Gee expressed disappointment Thursday in athletic director Gene Smith for not properly monitoring the actions of Robert DiGeronimo, who got several Buckeyes football players into trouble with the NCAA.

The university agreed to reduce its football scholarships by five over the next three years as the latest self-imposed punishment over a year of violations and sanctions.

In the letter to Smith, dated on Thursday, Gee wrote, “I am disappointed that this is where we find ourselves. You know I find this unacceptable.”

In information released on Thursday, it was also revealed that DiGeronimo had hidden in a locker in order to hear coach Jim Tressel’s speech prior to a game.

The NCAA handed Ohio State a second letter of allegations covering all violations that have occurred since it sent the initial letter this summer. The first letter dealt with violations stemming from players taking cash and discount tattoos from a Columbus tattoo-shop owner, and a subsequent cover-up by Tressel. The latest letter covers violations not covered during Ohio State’s hearing before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Aug. 12.

The reduction in football scholarships would seem to be a token sanction that would have little effect on the football program, accounting for only one or two scholarships per year in a program that is permitted 85.

The university previously announced it will repay the $338,811 it received as its portion of bowl revenues last year from the Big Ten. It also vacated the Buckeyes’ 12-1 record in the 2010 season including a Sugar Bowl win and agreed to go on two years of NCAA probation.

The university had also suspended several players and forced the resignation of Tressel.

The university previously said that DiGeronimo arranged cash payments of $200 to four current or former players at a Cleveland sports banquet earlier this year.

The university also said DiGeronimo overpaid five players by $1,605 while they were working for businesses owned and operated by the DiGeronimo family.

Ohio State said Thursday it should have done more to monitor DiGeronimo’s activities.

Smith said the athletic department has consistently worked with the NCAA to investigate any allegation, take responsibility and self-report its findings to the NCAA.

“That is what we have done on this last open issue, and we accept that we should have done more to oversee Mr. DiGeronimo’s activities,” Smith said in a statement.

He added, “On a personal note, I deeply regret that I did not ensure the degree of monitoring our institution deserves and demands.”

DiGeronimo did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.

He told The Columbus Dispatch: “They’re trying to put it all on me, the supposedly rogue booster.

“They want to get all the heat off them.”

The university said in its latest report to the NCAA that DiGeronimo had been an Ohio State booster since the 1980s, when he was part of a group known as the “committeemen” who helped recruit players before such practices were outlawed.

DiGeronimo contributed more than $72,000 to the athletic department since 1988 and had been a season ticket holder for years, the report said.

DiGeronimo was one of a group of outsiders who had access to Ohio State’s locker room on game days, a practice that Tressel stopped after taking the head coaching stop, according to the report.

After that ban, Tressel caught DiGeronimo trying to hide in a locker to listen to Tressel’s pregame speech and ordered him and another individual out of the locker room, the report said.

In 2005, Tressel and then Smith also ordered DiGeronimo to stop providing lunches to members of the athletic department coaching staff.

Despite these actions, the university said it should have done a better job monitoring DiGeronimo’s interactions with players away from the university, including attendance at an annual charity event where DiGeronimo was on the event’s board, as well as taking jobs with DiGeronimo’s excavation business.