Ending six months of silence, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett has told ESPN The Magazine in this week's edition that he "took the fall" for the school during a 2003 NCAA investigation and that he's talking now because he wants to "clear his name" with National Football League owners and general managers.
Clarett says that while he was at Ohio State in 2002 and 2003 head coach Jim Tressel, as well as certain members of his staff and boosters, provided him with improper benefits. He says he covered up Tressel's improprieties during the NCAA investigation and afterward, Ohio State "blackballed'' him from the football program.
According to Clarett, Tressel arranged loaner cars for him and Tressel's brother, Dick, found him lucrative landscaping jobs that he did not even have to show up for. He says members of Tressel's staff also introduced him to boosters who'd slip him thousands of dollars, and the better he played, the more cash he'd receive. He says boosters eventually began inviting him into their homes or would meet him out in the community.
"When you'd leave, [the booster] sets you straight," Clarett told The Magazine. "They say, 'You got any money in your pocket?' They make sure your money's straight."
Clarett also says he likely would have been ineligible for Ohio State's national title season of 2002 if the football staff had not "aligned'' him with an academic advisor whose goal was simply to keep him eligible. He says the academic advisor enrolled him in Independent Study courses and also put him with hand-picked teachers who would pass him whether he attended their classes or not. He says his advisor also introduced him to a tutor who prepared outlines and told him what to write for assignments.
Another former Ohio State player, linebacker Marco Cooper (2000-01; Spring 2002), corroborated many of Clarett's comments. Cooper, who was suspended from the team following two arrests for drug possession, says he also had bogus landscaping jobs, that a booster helped furnish his apartment, and that he was able to borrow cars from local Columbus dealerships in exchange for signed OSU memorabilia.
In a story separate from the Clarett issue, another former Ohio State player, current Maryland running back Sammy Maldonado, says he was placed in so many courses that did not put him on the road to graduation that only 17 of a possible 40 credits earned would transfer to his new school.
Ohio State officials have declined to comment on many of the allegations. School President Karen Holbrook, Jim Tressel and Dick Tressel refused to respond through spokespersons, while Athletic Director Andy Geiger said he would not answer questions until after the magazine story appeared, if then.
"We went through a yearlong investigation of our academic programs, everything that [Clarett] has to allege,'' Geiger said. "He vowed to me that he would do something to try to get us and this may be what he's trying to do. So he's on his own.
"We dealt with this guy [Clarett] for 18 months. I just hope you've checked into the background and history of who you're dealing with.''
Clarett's former academic advisor and tutor also declined comment. The NCAA, which investigated Clarett for potential academic and financial irregularities in the summer of 2003, said it is against its policy to discuss the Clarett case.
Clarett, 21, who gained 1,237 yards and scored 18 touchdowns in 2002, his only collegiate season, says he was asked during the 2003 NCAA investigation whether he received a loaner car from Tressel, and, to protect the coach, he says, he answered no. He says when he was asked about other indiscretions, he answered, "I don't know" or "I don't remember," which was a violation of NCAA Rule 10.1, requiring forthright answers.
"What would have become of Ohio State if I said everything?'' Clarett told The Magazine. "Half the team would have been suspended, and it would have been worse for everybody. I was like, 'Why don't I just take it?'"
The school suspended him for the entire 2003 season, and when Clarett asked to be reinstated for 2004, he says the athletic department systematically "blackballed him" by taking away the teachers and tutors.
Clarett then tried applying for the 2004 NFL Draft, and was first ruled eligible and then ineligible, because he wasn't the requisite three years removed from high school. He says he was "depressed" by the court's ultimate decision to ban him, but is now working out in anticipation of the 2005 draft in April. He says he is hoping this winter to play in this winter's East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl, all-star invitationals that would be his first football games in two years.
Several pro executives say, as of now, the running back could go as low as the fourth or fifth round. Clarett contends he will change any negative perceptions at the NFL combine in February.
"I'm thinking, 'NFL GMs know college players take money,' " Clarett says. "It was nothing like I stole something. Nothing like I'm running from the law or I'm dragging a girl down the stairs. No domestic violence. No nothing. [But] I got to clear myself up now, because it's affecting the minds of the GMs."