Memorabilia selling by Ohio State players might have sparked the firestorm in Columbus, but coach Jim Tressel's actions (or lack thereof) have kept the blaze burning.
The NCAA's Notice of Allegations to Ohio State was released publicly Monday, and while the news might not be too bad for the school, it looks bad for The Vest. Here's the full Notice of Allegations and the NCAA's letter to Ohio State.
Ohio State's biggest fear in waiting for the Notice to arrive had to be the NCAA finding evidence of other major violations around the program. Tressel's actions opened the door to the NCAA to examine any other possible problems, but at least for now, the focus is on the memorabilia sales. Although the NCAA wants to learn more about Ohio State's connection to people like Edward Rife, the local tattoo parlor owner under federal investigation; Christopher Cicero, the Columbus attorney who first informed Tressel of the violations; and Ted Sarniak, who mentors quarterback Terrelle Pryor and whom Tressel contacted about the violations, it doesn't appear to be gearing up to hammer the school.
The NCAA did warn that it could treat Ohio State as a repeat offender because of previous violations involving football player Troy Smith and basketball coach Jim O'Brien. This is a concern because of the penalties for repeat offenders, but since Tressel is the only athletic department staffer who knowingly violated NCAA rules, Ohio State can make a strong case to be spared.
The NCAA's notice doesn't include serious charges like "failure to monitor" or "loss of institutional control" that can bring the most damaging penalties for a school. This is definitely setting up for Ohio State to vacate games from the 2010 season in which the ineligible players participated, but I don't know how much further the punishment will go if nothing else surfaces. Probation is very likely and perhaps scholarship losses, but is a postseason ban warranted?
The NCAA confirmed in the Notice that the players' situations have been resolved with the five-game suspensions, which were upheld in March.
Let's move on to Tressel, who had quite a bit of communication about the violations but none with the folks in Ohio State's athletic department. The Columbus Dispatch obtained documents that show Tressel corresponded multiple times with Sarniak and Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero, who first alerted him of the potential violations.
The coach also contacted an FBI agent, Harry Trombitas, who told The Dispatch that their conversation didn't relate to the potential violations or the federal investigation.
Trombitas said he believed the call involved Tressel seeking information on behalf of a "friend of the coach or a former player who knew of a kid interested in [a career with] the FBI." Trombitas said he and the coach never discussed the situation underlying the NCAA violations leading to the school's proposed five-game suspensions for Tressel and five players.
The records also show Tressel communicated with Pryor and Pryor's high school quarterbacks coach Roy Hall, who told The Dispatch their conversation didn't relate to the potential violations.
One nugget from a Tressel email to Cicero:
"I told [blacked out name] to steer clear. Is there any way I could get all the ring names? I have a little plan once this year's rings arrive."
I wonder if Tressel's "little plan" included players having to show their Big Ten championship rings to the coach, proving they hadn't sold them.
Tressel is mentioned throughout the Notice of Allegations, which alleges that the coach "failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics as required by NCAA legislation and violated ethical-conduct legislation when he failed to report information concerning violations of NCAA legislation and permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition when ineligible." Again, this isn't a revelation, but the NCAA clearly isn't pleased with the coach. It would be truly surprising if Tressel doesn't get hit with additional penalties.
The timetable going forward is interesting. Ohio State has until July 5 to respond and is scheduled to appear before the Committee on Infractions at its Aug. 12 meeting in Indianapolis.
To give you a sense of how these things go, Michigan officials met with the Committee around the same time last August but didn't receive a ruling until early November. If the same timetable holds, Tressel will be back on the sideline after his self-imposed five-game suspension when the verdict comes down.
It will be interesting to see what type of defense Ohio State provides in August. As valuable as Tressel has been to the program, Ohio State must protect its brand from potentially crippling sanctions. Tressel, meanwhile, will have to be in full senatorial form to convince the committee members he shouldn't be hammered.