Gene Smith says he backs Jim Tressel

CHICAGO -- There's a feeling that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has been distancing himself from embattled football coach Jim Tressel in recent weeks.

But at the Big Ten spring meetings Wednesday, Smith -- while declining to discuss any details of the ongoing NCAA investigation of Tressel -- affirmed his support for the coach, who is entering his 11th season with the Buckeyes.

"Oh, definitely, no question," Smith said. "I haven't changed, I haven't changed. But I'm not talking about the case beyond that."

Smith noted last month in an interview with The Associated Press that Tressel should have apologized at the infamous March 8 news conference, where Tressel acknowledged he failed to notify Ohio State officials of emails he received about some of his players receiving improper benefits.

Smith has also talked about the high legal costs Ohio State is dealing with, calling the ongoing NCAA situation "a nightmare," and confirmed Wednesday that Tressel is responsible for his own lawyers. Tressel, who makes around $3.5 million per season, has hired Gene Marsh to represent him before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Aug. 12 in Indianapolis. Marsh, a member of the NCAA's infractions committee for nine years and chairman for two, is an Ohio State graduate. He has said he never attended a Buckeyes football game during his years as a student.

Chuck Smrt, a former member of the NCAA's enforcement staff, will handle Ohio State's side of the case.

Tressel has received support at the spring meetings from fellow coaches such as Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, as well as from Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, a longtime friend.

"Coaches are great," Tressel said. "They understand all the challenges everyone has. It's good to be with them."

Tressel also talked about new Michigan coach Brady Hoke and the fuel Hoke has added to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.

"Brady's awesome," Tressel said. "Anything that's good for the Ohio State-Michigan game, I'm for it. And Brady's good for it."

Information from ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.