Systems failure? OSU keeps saying no

Gene Smith's spit list started out with seven names.

It included the six Buckeyes football players who violated NCAA rules by trading memorabilia items for cash and tattoos, and Edward Rife, the tattoo parlor owner with whom the transactions were made.

At a December news conference announcing the violations, Smith, the Ohio State athletic director, first declared the program did not have a systematic problem with compliance. Give Smith credit: Once he makes an argument, he sticks to it, even when it becomes harder and harder to believe.

While Smith's case has lost credibility, his list continues to grow.

A prominent name was added in March, that of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, who admitted he knew of the violations the previous April but did not come forward.

When Tressel resigned on Memorial Day, Smith and the Ohio State brass shrewdly began placing blame on the coach, especially during a scathing self-report to the NCAA.

It seemed then that Smith's list would be complete. Not quite.

More players have been added, along with a booster, Bobby DiGeronimo, who reportedly has employed Buckeyes players for years and invited them to charity events. DiGeronimo's connection led to three players being suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season.

Bobby D is back in the news, as an NCAA probe into his employment of players has revealed that three Buckeyes received too much compensation for the work they did. Wide receiver DeVier Posey and running back Dan Herron, two players set to come off of suspension this week for their involvement in the tattoo transactions, are ineligible for Saturday's contest at Nebraska and possibly more time. Defensive end Melvin Fellows, who hasn't been playing because of injury, also was overpaid. Linebacker Etienne Sabino was declared ineligible but reinstated for the Nebraska game after paying $60 -- the amount he was overpaid -- to a charity.

According to Ohio State, the overpayment amounts ranged from $60 (Sabino) to $728 (Posey).

Ohio State recently disassociated DiGeronimo from the program. The school has applied to have Posey, Herron and offensive lineman Marcus Hall reinstated.

Do Posey and Herron count once or twice on Smith's list? Just trying to keep all these individuals straight.

"These failures are individual failures, failures of individual athletes, obviously a previous coach," Smith said Monday. "It's not a systemic failure of compliance."

There's that line again. Just a few bad apples. Apple cart's fine. Nothing to see here, NCAA. Keep moving along.

"These individual decisions were made to go off the reservation," Smith said. "At the end of the day, it’s not a systems problem."

Remind me to ask Smith where I can find this reservation. Getting paid for not working? Sign me up!

"These were individual decisions by individual people," Smith said. "It's not 30."

It's getting close.

The individuals on Smith's original list could cram into a double room at a two-star motel. Now Ohio State might need to rent out the presidential suite.

Still, Smith insists Ohio State doesn't have a program problem. Individual problems? Sure. A Tressel problem? Absolutely.

But the individual violations, in his mind, don't merit charges of failure to monitor or lack of institutional control. Remember, the NCAA's infractions committee has yet to rule on Ohio State's case following an Aug. 12 hearing in Indianapolis.

"Optimistic as we move forward in our broader case there are no additional allegations," Smith said. "Optimistic a failure to monitor or lack of institutional control is not an allegation that will emerge."

Smith said the August hearing was held with the understanding that the NCAA would be "investigating additional matters." Ohio State now is putting together a report about the latest violation to the committee, and Smith said a final decision -- one that might close the book on this program's darkest chapter -- will be delayed.

"I anticipate the committee will take longer and hopefully get us an answer sometime this fall," Smith said.

Smith was the one trying to provide answers Monday: on why DiGeronimo for years was approved to host Ohio State players at his charity events; on how Ohio State didn't know about his employment of players; on what lessons can be learned from these violations; on who is held accountable for this; most important, on why he believes the hammer won't drop on Ohio State.

He talked about Ohio State's 1,090 student-athletes, including 200 new ones each year "who come to us with all levels of maturity and immaturity." He talked about the hundreds of community service activities and events Ohio State approves each year for its student-athletes.

"Do we have an individual [from compliance] to be at those? No we don't," Smith said. "Will we do some things differently? No question. But the reality is that's not a systems issue."

Got it.

"I am confident in our compliance program," Smith said. "We do not have a systemic problem. Most people don't understand that."

Those of us on the outside certainly don't. Even some Ohio State fans are mystified by what has taken place in recent months.

Smith has to hope the infractions committee members understand. In the end, their views are the only ones that matter.

Ohio State isn't giving the NCAA many options. How many individual cases must be added up to result in a failure to monitor charge? How many names do they need to see before putting Ohio State on their list?

Yes, there were some incredibly stupid decisions made, particularly by Posey and Herron. But at some point, the individual cases add up to one big program problem.

Smith had better hope his math is the same as the committee's.