NCAA places Ohio State on three years' probation

Updated: March 10, 2006, 6:11 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State was placed on three years' probation Friday and ordered to erase all references to its 1999 trip to the Final Four and three other tournament appearances under former coach Jim O'Brien.

The decision by the NCAA does not affect this season's team, which is 24-4 and ranked seventh in the country. The announcement came about two hours before the top-seeded Buckeyes' 63-56 win over Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

"The positives are closure," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in Indianapolis before the game. "We're going into the Big Ten tournament and we want our student-athletes to have the opportunity to participate in this tournament understanding there won't be any sanctions they have to deal with. ... They can play without that stress."

The banner hanging from Value City Arena's rafters will be altered to erase any mention of the team's run to the national semifinals in 1999, and record books will be changed to delete pictures and statistics for the four tournament teams that included ineligible player Boban Savovic. The university must also repay about $800,000 in tournament revenues from 1999-2002.

"The news we got today was great for the university, but the players in this locker room knew we were going" to the NCAA tournament, said center Terence Dials, the Big Ten's player of the year. "I would have been really shocked if they would have said we couldn't go."

The NCAA came down hard on O'Brien and former assistant Paul Biancardi, now the head coach at Wright State. If O'Brien gets a job at another college in the next five years, he and his new school must appear before the NCAA's infractions committee to discuss whether he will face additional limits.

"I wouldn't even dream of asking any other program to jump through hoops to give me an opportunity to get back in," O'Brien said by telephone from Boston.

Biancardi was prohibited from recruiting until Oct. 1, 2007. If he does, Wright State could face NCAA sanctions.

Ohio State had acknowledged eight of nine violations alleged by the NCAA. The school fired O'Brien in June 2004 and held last season's team out of the postseason to try to avoid any additional penalties. The Buckeyes also limited their men's basketball scholarships to 11 this season, instead of the allowed 13.

Other penalties announced Friday include a public reprimand and a reduction in on-campus visits by basketball recruits next year.

Coach Thad Matta, who will welcome one of the nation's top recruiting classes next season, said he was glad to put the two-year investigation behind him.

"The confusion is gone," he said.

Seven violations involved the men's basketball program under O'Brien. The other two involved women's basketball and football.

O'Brien was fired after he told then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he gave a recruit $6,000 in 1999.

Last month O'Brien won his lawsuit accusing the university of wrongfully firing him. Ohio State could have to pay him as much as $9.5 million. O'Brien, the Buckeyes coach for seven years, said Friday that his reputation has been damaged.

He says the loan of his own money to Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 prospect from Serbia, was not a violation because he knew Radojevic already had forfeited his amateur status by playing professionally.

"The $6,000 payment was a blatant violation," NCAA infractions committee vice chairwoman Josephine Potuto said in a news release. "The circumstances surrounding this violation are especially troubling because the former coaches concealed the cash payment from administrators at the institution for over five years."

The payment became public amid a court battle over another situation that led to three other violations.

Kathleen Salyers had sued two prominent boosters, saying they failed to pay her the $1,000 a month they promised to feed, house and support Savovic. Salyers also said she did schoolwork for Savovic.

The NCAA said the player committed academic fraud and the university did not adequately monitor his living situation.

In addition, five women's basketball players received free dental work totaling $13,760 in violation of NCAA bylaws. Troy Smith, the star quarterback in the Buckeyes' victories over Michigan the past two years, received $500 from a booster. Smith was suspended for the team's 2004 bowl game and the 2005 opener.

Ohio State point guard Jamar Butler, recruited by O'Brien but playing for Matta, said the future was bright.

"We know what's going to happen - and that's nothing, which is good," he said. "Now we can concentrate on the games."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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