NCAA clears Ted Sarniak in '08 review

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The mentor for former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was investigated and cleared by the NCAA in 2008 of allegations that he improperly acted as a booster while helping the player pick a college, according to records released Friday.

Less than three years later, mentor Ted Sarniak was a central figure in coach Jim Tressel's downfall and Pryor's departure from Ohio State.

The records show the NCAA ruled in favor of Sarniak, a hometown friend who went with Pryor on several recruiting visits.

"Our staff could not conclude that the benefits provided by (Sarniak) to the prospective student-athlete constituted a violation," the NCAA's Amy Huchthausen wrote in a letter dated Sept. 17, 2008, to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.

However, Sarniak was told to he could no longer provide money, meals, tickets, presents or a cell phone to Pryor.

"Mr. Sarniak may continue his relationship with Pryor and his family," Ohio State NCAA compliance director Doug Archie wrote to Sarniak on Sept. 5, 2008. "However, since the relationship does not meet the NCAA's definition of a 'pre-existing relationship,' NCAA rules require that the relationship must change."

Sarniak on Friday declined to comment.

In April 2010, then-coach Tressel received an email from a tipster informing him that Pryor and other players had accepted improper benefits from a local tattoo-parlor owner. Tressel did not notify his superiors or the compliance department at Ohio State, as required by NCAA rules and his contract. But he instead forwarded the email only to Sarniak, a businessman in Pryor's hometown of Jeannette, Pa.

Asked why he thought first of Sarniak, he told NCAA investigators, "I felt from a safety standpoint that I needed to alert Ted to the gravity of that," since Pryor was one of the players involved.

That decision led to Tressel being forced to resign on May 30. Pryor subsequently left Ohio State a year early and is hopeful of being included in a possible NFL supplemental draft.

Sarniak has not been accused of any bylaw violations throughout a lengthy NCAA investigation into the Ohio State program covering the past few months.

The records released by Ohio State on Friday had been sought by The Associated Press sought through a public records request earlier this spring. But Ohio State's Office of Legal Affairs declined then to release the records because it said doing so would mean giving up information without the student's consent.

Since Pryor is no longer a student, that reason was nullified.

Sarniak, who runs a glass factory, has declined to speak publicly since the NCAA problems of Ohio State and Pryor first came to light last December.

Pryor was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes, tying the school record for touchdown passes and becoming Ohio State's leading rusher among quarterbacks. But he was always the center of controversy, putting down opponents, complaining about not being an All-Big Ten selection or visibly admonishing teammates after dropped passes or missed assignments.

Last December, after Ohio State had won its record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten title, it was revealed that Pryor and five teammates had received improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner. Pryor and four others were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season -- but permitted by the NCAA to play in the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory over Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- with another player suspended for the first game this fall.

In January, Ohio State uncovered emails Tressel had received in April 2010 telling him of his players' NCAA violations. He had apparently told none of his bosses or the compliance department at Ohio State, contrary to his contract and NCAA rules.

After a series of embarrassing revelations dealing with the football program, Ohio State officials met with Tressel and told him he needed to step down. He resigned on May 30.

Ohio State goes before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Aug. 12. The university has offered to vacate the 2010 season, including the bowl victory, and to go on two years of probation. The committee, whose final decision is not expected until later this fall, could tack on bowl bans, fines and recruiting limitations on top of what Ohio State has proposed.

Smith declined to be interviewed on Friday, saying he was "not speaking again until the hearing is done."

Tressel had made numerous phone calls and sent text messages to Sarniak in the wake of the first disclosure of Pryor's involvement with Edward Rife, the tattoo-parlor owner, who is now awaiting sentencing on federal drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges.

In his interview with NCAA and Ohio State investigators earlier this year, Tressel said he had the utmost respect for Sarniak.

"He appeared to me to be the only one that would tell (Pryor) the right things for the right reasons," Tressel said in the transcript of that interview, released last week. "He didn't wanna just be, you know, hanging onto (Pryor), you know, like a groupie."

Tressel said in the interview that occasionally Sarniak would contact him to give special attention to Pryor.

"Ted might call, you know, maybe twice in the last three years, saying, 'Maybe you need to give him (Pryor) a little hug,'" Tressel said.