The NCAA is now interested in talking with former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett about possible improprieties surrounding the Buckeyes football program, ESPN has learned.
It remains unclear whether the NCAA, which visited Columbus on Nov. 15, will convene a new investigation into academic fraud and booster misconduct after Clarett implicated the school during an interview published in ESPN The Magazine earlier this month.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel and athletic director Andy Geiger have dismissed Clarett's charges during recent media gatherings, but new sources from within the program have told ESPN they believe Clarett, and the NCAA has reason to listen to the allegations.
Three former Ohio State players -- the son of a former Buckeyes assistant coach, an Academic All-Big Ten selection and a current NFL player -- spoke about tutors doing classwork for members of the football team and of a booster culture that spawned "$100 handshakes" and high-paying, low-effort summer jobs.
Former Buckeyes linebacker Fred Pagac Jr., whose father Fred Sr. was an assistant coach at Ohio State for 19 years, says, "There are always people who will help you and cross the line. I've personally seen it happen. You had tutors who if you asked them for help writing a paper they'd end up writing it. You'd go in and ask help about specifics, and then it would end up getting written."
Jack Tucker, an Academic All-Big Ten selection at fullback, also believes tutors complete homework for football players. "Absolutely," he says. "For someone to think it doesn't [happen], they're crazy."
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Drew Carter describes a culture in which football players would find a "hookup" -- a tutor who does their homework for them or a booster who provides an easy, high-paying job -- and pass the information to their teammates. "Someone would be like, 'Man I got a paper due' and teammates would be like, 'Go to this guy,' " Carter says. "He'd write out a rough draft and say, 'Here, do it for yourself.' "
Though a number of other former players have told ESPN they never saw any wrongdoing in Columbus, Carter says it was common knowledge which tutors would do other people's work. "Yeah, the hookup," he says. "When you find that hookup, gotta help your teammates by letting them know about it."
Carter says "hook-ups" were also responsible for finding players cushy summer jobs. "A fan or an [alumnus], that's the hook-up. You go up to the guy through a friend; you don't even know him. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I need an easy job this summer, Coach.' Not like that at all. Somebody on the team has a job and you ask them, 'Is it hard?' And they say no and you say, 'OK, I'm gonna try and get on it.' "
Carter did odd jobs when he was at Columbus for which he says he was paid up to $20 an hour. "You get a paycheck, $1,000 or something like that. It wasn't under the table; my job had my Social Security number and everything. But you still got paid quite a bit of money for sweeping, cleaning up stuff, doing like very, very light work. What you would call nonstrenuous work."
Clarett said he received money "in the thousands" from boosters after posting big rushing totals in games. On the subject of fans and boosters offering "$100 handshakes," Tucker responds as if it were common knowledge. "Yeah, I believe that happens," he says. "I mean, tell me something I don't already know."
Carter, Pagac and Tucker do not believe Tressel set up Clarett with vehicles. But Carter says it should have been obvious to the administration that Clarett was driving expensive cars. It was certainly a popular subject of conversation among players.
"I don't know how he got those cars, but he had them," Carter says. "It was blatant. I'd see him changing cars like every couple of weeks and it was like, damn. I don't know how the coaches could not have seen it."
Asked for a response, Steve Snapp, Ohio State's associate athletics director of communications, said: "In my opinion it's another example of selective journalism on [ESPN's] part and and an attempt to run an unbalanced story."
Last week Geiger criticized Clarett and the players who have backed his claims as "colossal failures."
Carter is offended by Geiger's statement and hopes he, along with Tucker and Pagac, will lend credibility to his former teammates. "Those are good guys who made some mistakes," he says, "but I don't think they're colossal failures. They're my friends, we went through it all together. If guys like Freddie and Jack and me went through it and didn't get in trouble and did everything right, but still, you know, got some perks because of it, are you gonna call us colossal failures, too?
"That's why Ohio State is being afraid -- because if other people, legit people, like Freddie and Jack and myself, say stuff, then they'll be like, 'Oh no.' "
ESPN The Magazine's Tom Friend and David Fleming contributed to this report.