Terrelle Pryor facing significant inquiry

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On the same day coach Jim Tressel resigned in the wake of an NCAA investigation, The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the NCAA and Ohio State are looking into whether star quarterback Terrelle Pryor received cars and other extra benefits.

Pryor, who will be a senior this fall, has already been interviewed at least once by investigators, the paper reported.

The newspaper cited unnamed sources who said this is the most significant inquiry of Pryor. The NCAA and Ohio State are also probing more than 50 car purchases by Buckeyes players, their families and friends.

He and four other players have been suspended for the first five games this fall for accepting improper benefits from a local tattoo-shop owner. A sixth player, freshman linebacker Jordan Whiting, who received a discount on tattoos, must sit out the first game of the 2011 season. Tressel knew of those benefits and did not report it to Ohio State or NCAA officials.

Tressel resigned early Monday citing NCAA violations which he said had "been a distraction" for Ohio State.

The newspaper's sources say that Pryor has been connected to at least six vehicles during his time at Ohio State.

Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch would not confirm to the newspaper whether Pryor is being investigated.

"The university continues to work with the NCAA as they investigate matters involving our football program, and we will continue to do so until the conclusion of the investigation," Lynch said. "We are unable to comment on specific players' situations because of federal law."

The Dispatch reported in January that Pryor had been stopped three times for traffic violations over the past three years, each time driving cars that were owned by a car salesman or a Columbus used-car dealership where the salesman worked.

The salesman, Aaron Kniffin, told the newspaper that while working at a dealership in 2008, he allowed Pryor to drive his SUV to Pryor's hometown of Jeannette, Pa., and show it to his mother. Pryor did not buy the vehicle.

Kniffin also said he arranged for Pryor to use a 2009 Dodge while Pryor's car was being worked on at another dealership where Kniffin worked.

"He looked at a lot of cars," Kniffin told ESPN "Outside the Lines" reporter Tom Farrey.

Kniffin said Pryor had a white Hyundai Sonata when he met him. But he wanted a better car, and so in 2008 Kniffin, as a salesman at Jack Maxton Chevrolet, loaned him a 2004 GMC Yukon Denali. He was ticketed in that vehicle for speeding in eastern Ohio. Pryor didn't buy the Denali because, according to Kniffin, family members didn't approve.

Pryor later traded in his Sonata for a Dodge Charger, acquiring it, according to Kniffin, through a dealership near his hometown of Jeannette. "His dealer always seemed to have a better price than me," Kniffin said.

Still, Pryor kept turning to Kniffin for cars, or at least loaner cars. He test-drove a Dodge Challenger worth close to $20,000 before that deal was nixed, Kniffin said, by Ohio State officials. "They wouldn't let him drive it because it was too high-profile," he said.

Kniffin said Pryor never ended up buying a car from him.

At least one of the dealerships has dozens of autographed jerseys hanging up inside its offices. Pryor said, at the time, that he doesn't remember signing his jersey that hangs in the dealership.

"I sign a lot of stuff for Buckeye fans -- I don't like to turn down fans," he said. "But I don't do it to get any favors or discounts."

Investigators are also looking into Pryor's relationship with a businessman in his hometown, Ted Sarniak, who has served as his mentor. Sarniak was a prominent player in the recruitment of Pryor, considered the nation's No. 1 quarterback recruit when he graduated from high school.

Ohio State has refused an Associated Press records request seeking communications between Ohio State officials, coaches, Tressel and Sarniak, citing a federal privacy law that shields students.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN "Outside the Lines" reporter Tom Farrey was used in this report.