By now, the NCAA's case against Ohio State looks like a a sturdy house with many rooms, several of which could be filled at this point with the evidence that — at minimum — ex-coach Jim Tressel intentionally covered up his knowledge of improper benefits violations that would have cost him multiple starters for at least part of the 2010 season. By the time OSU goes in front of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in August, the formal charges are likely to extend well beyond a handful of jerseys in a tattoo shop.
As of this morning, though, the charges apparently will not include allegations that players were getting sweetheart deals on vehicles from local dealerships, thanks to an all-clear signal from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State football players did not receive improper deals when buying cars from two Columbus-area dealerships, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles said Tuesday following an investigation of 25 vehicle sales.
The Ohio BMV undertook its review following allegations that the dealerships sold vehicles to Ohio State athletes and family members at below market rates.
The BMV's 65-page report issued Tuesday said the certificates of titles for cars sold by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to players and families accurately reflected the vehicles' sales prices. The investigation also rejected allegations that the sales prices did not reflect the true cost of the vehicles because players provided dealers with tickets, jerseys and other memorabilia in place of cash.
"We found no evidence in the dealers' business records that tickets and/or sports memorabilia were included in the sales," the report said.
Those conclusions seem to vindicate salesman Aaron Kniffin, who's dealt regularly dealt with Buckeye athletes at both dealerships over the past decade, and who said in an affidavit last month that "The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I've done for all my other customers." The BMV says that's true, despite longstanding suspicion to the contrary on campus and specific allegations to the contrary by former players.
The lingering car-related question the BMV report leaves unanswered: What were now-former quarterback Terrelle Pryor's arrangements on the multiple loaner cars he brought onto campus throughout his career? The report goes out of its way to note that driving dealer-owned cars is perfectly legal under state law ("the statute that governs the use of dealer-plated vehicles by third parties expressly permits dealers to allow any member of the public to operate dealer-owned vehicles"), which is a pretty "duh" statement, but it doesn't address the specifics of Pryor's loaners and obviously has no interest in whether or not they ran afoul of NCAA rules. That remains one of many open questions.
But again, with the paper trail leading from Jim Tressel's hard drive, it doesn't fundamentally change anything about the NCAA's basic case. Tressel indisputably knew about multiple violations involving his star quarterback and others before the season, communicated extensively about them with people outside of the program but (as far as we know) none within, signed a compliance form that said he knew nothing, knowingly kept multiple ineligible players on the field for an entire season, successfully lobbied to keep those same players eligible for the bowl while still claiming to have known nothing even after the violations had come to the attention of the NCAA and then the entire country.
In retrospect, the memorabilia sales that started the ball rolling when they came to light just before Christmas are beginning to look like very small potatoes, and it's likely Tressel knew that, too. Anyone who was ever really concerned about the cars in the big picture hadn't been paying enough attention.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.