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Dr. Saturday

SI story reveals 28 players may have been involved in memorabilia trading

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For hours yesterday, media and a fans sat on pins and needles waiting for Sports Illustrated to publish its highly anticipated story about Jim Tressel and Ohio State football.
When it was finally released, the story showed that the level of improprieties and the numbers involved far exceeded what we'd previously discovered.

According to SI, at least 28 -- not just the six who have been suspended -- players have traded memorabilia for tattoos, including nine current players and nine former players, who could still count toward Ohio State penalties because of the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations on violations.

One former Buckeye, defensive end Robert Rose, whose career ended in 2009, told SI that he had swapped memorabilia for tattoos and that "at least 20 others" on the team had done so as well. SI's investigation also uncovered allegations that Ohio State players had traded memorabilia for marijuana and that Tressel had potentially broken NCAA rules when he was a Buckeyes assistant coach in the mid-1980s.

Last Friday, SI informed Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch of the new allegations and asked that Tressel be made aware of them. Lynch said the school would have some comment by the end of the day. No comment came, and on Saturday, Lynch told SI to contact Tressel's lawyer, Gene Marsh, for any response from the coach; Lynch also said he could not confirm that Tressel had been apprised of the new allegations. The implication was clear: Ohio State was distancing itself from Tressel. (E-mails from SI to Tressel and to Marsh and multiple phone messages for Marsh went unanswered.)

The story goes on to recount nearly 30 years worth of improprieties under coach Jim Tressel, including Tressel, back when he was an Ohio State assistant in the early 80s, allegedly fixing a summer camp raffle so elite players would win the best prizes.

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It talked about improprieties at Youngstown State, Tressel's previous head coaching stop and during the past 10 seasons at Ohio State. And while not all of the information was news — ESPN published a similar piece on Tressel back in 2004 — it continued to drive home the overwhelming notion that there has been a pattern of lack of institutional control while Tressel has been at the helm.

As the dust settles after a litany of journalism bombs have been thrown at Tressel and Ohio State, all eyes will turn to the NCAA and the punishment it plans to hand down. Pete Thamel of the New York Times wrote Tuesday morning that the NCAA, which is supposed to hear the Ohio State case on Aug. 12, will likely push back the timeline to ensure every last little morsel comes out about the school and Tressel's transgressions.

After Tressel and Ohio State get their day in front of the N.C.A.A., it will become clearer whether the recent calls from the new N.C.A.A. president, Mark Emmert, for stiffer penalties for cheats are a reality or just white noise in the face of another scandal.

What's known in the Tressel case is that he misled the university and the N.C.A.A. about his knowledge of his players receiving improper gifts, essentially allowing star players who should have been ineligible for at least a portion of last season to take the field. And what's known about Ohio State is that the university seemingly did everything possible to save its coach, first suspending him for only two games and then slowly nudging him down the plank as the allegations and negative publicity loomed larger…

Two issues will figure prominently in how culpable the N.C.A.A. finds Ohio State. The first is how the university explains reports that dozens of players received deals on cars from a local dealership. If Ohio State consistently turned a blind eye to something that was an obvious extra benefit for its players, it could result in serious repercussions.

The university, especially Gee and Smith, will also have to explain why it initially decided to suspend Tressel for just two games when his lying and cover-up appeared worthy of his being fired from the start. In an era when lying to the N.C.A.A., as in the cases of Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant and the Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl, has become a mortal sin, Buckeyes administrators will have to justify why they thought Tressel should have missed only games against Akron and Toledo. That's a punishment essentially comparable to having an N.F.L. coach miss preseason games.

The Sports Illustrated story wasn't the bomb many expected it to be, but it's yet another thing the NCAA can point to while it's deliberating on a punishment. It probably won't be the death penalty that SMU received in the 80s because that set the program back 25 years and the NCAA can't afford to do that to a place like Ohio State. But trust that the punishment will be harsher than the one handed out to USC. The Trojans were basically penalized for the actions of one player, the NCAA has at least 18 and a coach to finger at Ohio State.

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