Players' car deals new layer to OSU saga

Although the NCAA's Notice of Allegations to Ohio State last month brought more bad publicity for coach Jim Tressel and the program, it didn't contain much that the school didn't already know.

Ohio State's big fear throughout this process is that something else would come to light, another layer that could bring more trouble.

It might have just arrived.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Saturday that Ohio State will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of Buckeyes players at two Columbus-area dealerships. According to the newspaper, the school investigation will examine at least 50 sales to both Ohio State players and their relatives to see if any improper benefits were provided.

Ohio State compliance director Doug Archie told The Dispatch, "I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred." Archie also said that he was aware of all the players' car purchases but not those made by their relatives.

NCAA rules don't prohibit athletes from shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants or buying cars at the same dealerships. The rules prohibit athletes and their relatives from receiving discounts that are not offered to the general public.

Some nuggets from the story:

  • Both dealerships call Ohio State's compliance office when athletes are buying cars and provide purchase prices and loan information. Ohio State will occasionally check purchase prices against the Kelley Blue Book values.

  • Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0. ... Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. "I paid for the car, and I'm still paying for it," he said, declining to answer further questions.

  • A salesman who worked at both dealerships, Aaron Kniffin, and one of the dealership owners, Jason Goss, attended seven football games as guests of players, including the 2007 BCS National Championship game and the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. After the 2008 season, Archie removed Kniffin from the players' guest list because Ohio State doesn't allow those who do business with the players to be on the list.

  • Two former NCAA enforcement officials, who spoke to The Dispatch on the condition of anonymity, said there's cause for concern. The two collectively have decades of NCAA compliance experience. Neither had ever heard of so many athletes buying cars from the same salesman.

  • Officials at two national car-valuation companies -- National Automobile Dealers Association and Kelley Blue Book -- were asked by The Dispatch to estimate the value of the cars at the time of purchase. The values they estimated were higher than the price paid in nearly half of the transactions. However, they said it's difficult to accurately evaluate the sales without seeing the vehicles to assess condition and options.

  • Among the players who bought cars from the dealerships are quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, Buckeyes basketball player William Buford and former running back Chris Wells. Cars also have been sold to Pryor's mother and brother and Herron's father, and Pryor also received loaner cars from Kniffin.

  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that the sales prices for the cars were much higher than what is listed on state motor-vehicle records. Goss disputed that claim.

  • Kniffin, who said he is not an OSU fan, has had financial problems since 2006. He now owes more than $130,000 to the IRS, and his $570,000 Delaware County home is in foreclosure.

  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final. Archie said that he has spoken to Kniffin only once, never reviews sales documents and has not directed players to any dealerships.

There's a lot of smoke here for Ohio State at a very bad time. Archie plans to look at the transactions and work with the Big Ten during the investigation. But this could once again open things up to the NCAA, which recently has spent a lot of time in Columbus.

Some folks close to the Buckeyes program told me in March that players' cars could be the next issue, especially if the NCAA began digging. The Dispatch report has to be on the radar in Indianapolis, and it'll be interesting to see how this process unfolds.

Tressel isn't mentioned in The Dispatch report, but there will be questions asked about what he or other Buckeyes coaches knew of these transactions.

Sept. 3 feels like a long way off for the Scarlet and Gray.