Ohio State: Tressel Admitted to Knowingly Playing Ineligible Players
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — According to Ohio State, former head coach Jim Tressel admitted to playing two student athletes last season despite the fact he knew they likely should have been ineligible.
In its response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations released Friday, Ohio State reported that Tressel told university officials he played Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey during the 2010 season with the thought that they would eventually be ruled ineligible for committing NCAA violations.
Photo by Dan Harker
“While explaining the extenuating circumstances surrounding his failure to report the information, Tressel admitted during his February 8, 2011, interview that he understood that not reporting the information constituted a NCAA violation,” Ohio State’s response stated.
“(He knew) ‘there would be consequences,’ including NCAA violations involving the student-athletes for selling memorabilia at some point. He did not ‘look at’ eligibility issues prior to December 2010, although he thought the involved student-athletes would eventually be ineligible.”
During his February interview—after university officials had discovered the email exchanges with Christopher Cicero—Tressel said that he allowed the student-athletes (Pryor and Posey) to participate in the 2010 season even though he knew that NCAA violations had occurred because he felt the federal investigation superseded any NCAA eligibility concerns.
“As he indicated throughout his February interview, Tressel believed there was a ‘hierarchy’ of issues, with the federal criminal investigation having the highest priority,” the Ohio State responses stated.
“He indicated that the NCAA issues would be resolved once the ramifications of the federal investigation were resolved.”
Based upon the e-mails he received from Cicero in April, Tressel knew that two of the student-athletes likely had sold awards and received free or discounted tattoos from Edward Rife, the owner of Fine Line Ink in Columbus.
According to Ohio State, Tressel reported that after receiving the emails from Cicero, he then forwarded them to Ted Sarniak before holding brief individual conversations with both Pryor and Posey.
“Tressel reported that he did not ask them directly about selling awards or apparel but told them to make proper choices and be careful with whom they associate,” Ohio State’s response stated.
“Tressel said the intent of the conversation was to discourage any impermissible association between the student-athletes and these types of individuals.”
According to Ohio State, Tressel never came forward with the information, even when he signed the NCAA Certificate of Compliance form in September indicating he had reported his knowledge of any potential violations to the institution.
When Ohio State received the letter from the Department of Justice in December, Tressel met with Athletic Director Gene Smith and other University officials who asked Tressel about his knowledge of the information.
“Senior Associate General Counsel for Athletics Julie Vannatta asked Tressel if he had been contacted by anyone about this matter or if he knew anything about it,” Ohio State stated in its response to the NCAA.
“Tressel replied that while he had received a tip about general rumors pertaining to certain players, such information was not specific and pertained to the players’ off-field choices.”
In the response, Ohio State maintains that it interpreted Tressel’s responses to mean that the tip related to the social decisions being made by certain student-athletes.
Tressel also told Vannatta in December that he “did not recall” from whom he received the tip and that he did not know that any items had been seized. According to the report, Tressel told University officials in January that he was simply protecting the confidentiality of Cicero and the federal investigation.
“Tressel believed the information Cicero provided in the first email contained hearsay, but when he received the second email that stated the information was confidential, it raised his level of awareness more than after the first email,” Ohio State’s response stated.
“Tressel said he decided he would not forward the information to University personnel due to the federal implications (obstruction of justice) and the fact that Cicero stated in his email that the information provided should remain confidential.”
Cicero had informed Tressel that Rife was being investigated by the federal government for drug trafficking. While he admitted to being scared for his players, Tressel also believed that any wrongdoing committed by Pryor, Posey or any other players would eventually come to the surface.
“Tressel stated he was confident that when the criminal investigation was completed, the information would come out,” Ohio State stated.
“He believed that at some point, it was likely that the two named student-athletes could be involved in criminal activities or NCAA issues.”
Even with that in mind, Tressel allowed them to play the entire 2010 season, including the 2011 Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas, but told University officials in February that he understood the institution was “going to get as our works deserve” and that “we were going to pay the fiddler.”
Tressel paid the ultimate price for his actions on May 30 when he announced what is now being called his “retirement” under the urging of University officials.
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