COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jim Tressel will pay for his own defense lawyers as the Ohio State head coach faces charges that he was aware his players had received improper benefits and didn’t report it.
Athletic director Gene Smith, attending Big Ten meetings in Chicago with Tressel on Wednesday, confirmed to the AP in a text message that the coach is responsible for his own lawyers.
Tressel, in his 11th year at Ohio State where he makes around $3.5 million per season, has hired Gene Marsh to represent him before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Aug. 12 in Indianapolis.
The NCAA has charged that Tressel “failed to (comport) himself in accordance with … honesty and integrity.” Tressel violated NCAA bylaws – and his own contract’s stipulations – which require that he immediately report all knowledge of any NCAA violations to his superiors, the NCAA or the university’s compliance department.
Marsh, a member of the NCAA’s infractions committee for nine years and chairman for two, is an Ohio State graduate. He has said he never attended a Buckeyes football game during his years as a student.
Tressel traded 12 emails with a former Ohio State walk-on player, now a lawyer, starting in April 2010. Tressel was told that Buckeyes players were trading autographs, uniforms and championship rings for money and tattoos from local tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife. Rife was the subject of a federal drug trafficking case.
Yet Tressel did not tell Smith, Ohio State President Gordon Gee or anyone else at the university what he had learned. He did, however, forward the first email to Ted Sarniak, who is star quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s “mentor” back in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.
The Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 at one point during the 2010 season and finished with a 12-1 mark. In early December, the U.S. Attorney’s office notified Ohio State that it had raided Rife’s home and had come upon dozens of Ohio State items, some autographed. A subsequent investigation revealed that six prominent players – including Pryor – had benefited from the relationship with Rife. The U.S. Attorney’s office pegged the value at $12,000 to $15,000.
Tressel, Smith and Ohio State issued a five-game suspension to Pryor and four other players and a one-game suspension to sixth. Throughout Ohio State’s investigation of the players’ case in December, Tressel never revealed that he knew anything about it.
He had also signed an NCAA compliance form in September swearing that he did not know of any violations.
With Ohio State and the Big Ten asking for leniency, the NCAA permitted the players to play in the Sugar Bowl where the Buckeyes defeated Arkansas, 31-26.
Shortly after the team returned from New Orleans, Ohio State officials began building an appeal for the players. It was while going through staff emails that they discovered Tressel had known he was using potentially ineligible players throughout the 2010 season.
In early March, Ohio State self-reported Tressel’s violations and handed Tressel a two-game suspension (later raised to five games) along with a $250,000 fine. He was also compelled to make a public apology and attend an NCAA compliance seminar. Smith later told The Associated Press that he had had to meet with Tressel before the coach finally issued the apology. Smith also said that the $250,000 fine would not cover the cost of the investigation of the coaches’ violations.
Tressel is attending the NCAA compliance seminar in Tampa, Fla., in June.
His five-game suspension permits him to practice every day with the team throughout the spring, during August workouts and the entire season. The only time he cannot be with the team is during games. Smith has confirmed that the five-game suspension actually amounts to only a 15-hour suspension – the time during which the Buckeyes are playing games.
Chuck Smrt, a former member of the NCAA’s enforcement staff, will handle Ohio State’s side of the case in August.
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