Maurice Clarett isn't the only ex-Buckeye to allege improprieties at Ohio State. A number of players tell of similar experiences.
Marco Cooper, a linebacker suspended after two drug-possession arrests, says he enjoyed perks described by Clarett. When Cooper needed wheels, he says he went to a local Dodge dealer, got keys to a car and was allowed to return it whenever. Cooper never paid or signed papers. "There's no records for that stuff," he says. "There can't be." Just as there are no records for signed helmets and balls he says players use as currency around town for cars and clothing. "It starts at the No. 1 locker and goes all the way around the room," he continues. "You don't even know who you're signing for."
Cooper says a teammate once came home with a friend and some furniture for their apartment. The friend, an OSU student, was the son of a prominent booster. "He gave us furniture all the time," Cooper says. "At least $2,000 worth of nice tables and couches." In an interview last December, Curtis Crosby, an ex-Buckeye cornerback from Columbus, said he and other players accepted the same friend's generosity. He claimed that five to 10 teammates would go out to eat, none of them seeing the tabs for meals that cost hundreds of dollars.
Like Clarett, Cooper says he worked a no-show landscaping job set up through the football staff and would come and go as he pleased. He says he was paid $10 to $12 an hour and always put down in for 30 hours. "I never worked 30 hours." He adds that he received at least $2,600 in cash and never filed paperwork or went through the compliance office. He knows at least eight teammates who did the same. Crosby also says he worked bogus jobs.
But Cooper's account differs from that of Richard McNutt, a cornerback who worked on another landscaping crew. McNutt says he did anything his crew manager asked. "I can only speak for myself. All I know is I worked." (After an ankle injury ended his career, McNutt became a student-assistant for head coach Jim Tressel; he now coaches the secondary at D3 Washington & Jefferson in Pennsylvania.) Chris Vance, a star wideout in 2001-02, also denies seeing any improper benefits but says he believes Clarett. "I don't think he's lying. If he feels it's right to speak out, then I'm behind him 100%."
Cooper is back at Ohio State, taking 10 credits a quarter and hoping to return to the team or to transfer. But transferring won't be easy. After Crosby became academically ineligible, he left in 2002 and spent two semesters at Columbus State CC. He then met with officials at Grambling, who saw a transcript that included Officiating Basketball and Officiating Tennis and denied nearly half of his credits. "What are they doing up there at Ohio State?" he says an adviser asked.
They're doing some things competitors aren't, according to an ESPN poll of the Big Ten and of the BCS top 15 from 2003. Four of the 23 schools surveyed offered officiating courses, but only Ohio State has sport-specific classes. Nine schools gave credit for playing football, but OSU topped the list with a maximum of 10 career credits. Seven schools offered a football coaching course, but only four (Indiana, Miami of Ohio, Mississippi and Ohio State) let their head coach teach it.
In two years at OSU, LeAndre Boone says he took whatever courses his athletic adviser suggested: "He'd say, 'Take this class; this professor loves football players.'" After two years Boone left for D1-AA Hampton, where he could play right away. But he went from academic junior at Ohio State to barely a sophmore at Hampton. After playing one game he was found to have a career-ending heart condition, and he's since moved with his wife and two daughters to the one place he knew he could get a degree: Ohio State.
Despite acing courses like Officiating Softball and Power Volleyball, Fred Sturrup (in car, left) became academically ineligible for 2001 and lost his scholarship. He thought about leaving and met with Youngstown State coaches, but after hearing transcript horror stories from teammates, he asked for a chance to stay. To get through spring ball while he got his grades in order, he unloaded furniture for $7.50 an hour. He'd ask teammates for quarters to make phone calls, then spend them once a day on Wendy's 99-cent menu. For four months he lived in his 1971 Cadillac. If Sturrup made a mistake, he says, coaches ran him until he was exhausted.
"I thought they were going to kill him," Crosby says.
Sturrup has given up on being a Buckeye, but not on his education. He hopes to graduate from Ohio State this spring. "They stuck their foot in my ass," he says. "But I'm not letting them stop me from getting my degree."