Ohio State’s 2011 football season received a new complexion Thursday when the university announced NCAA sanctions for six players who violated preferential treatment bylaws.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver DeVier Posey, running back Dan Herron, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas - all juniors - have been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season while linebacker Jordan Whiting will miss the opener.
All of the players are expected to be able to play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas on Jan. 4 because of an “acknowledgement they did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred,” according to NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon.
Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith acknowledged the university’s position it did not do enough to let the players know they are not permitted to sell items they receive as part of participation in athletics.
"Our rules education program is one of the best in this country,” Smith said. “I am so proud of our compliance team and our university and our department and the great education system we have in place, but with this particular bylaw only were not as explicit as we should have been in '07-'08 and '08-'09. With everything else, we're at the top of the charts, but in this one we did not do as good a job as we should have done.”
According to the news release, all the players must repay money for receiving discounted services related to their status as student-athletes, and five of them must also repay the value of items they sold.
Adams, an All-Big Ten left tackle, must repay $1,000 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, and Herron, an All-Big Ten tailback, must repay $1,150 for selling his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000 and receiving $150 worth of discounted services.
Two-year starter Posey must repay $1,250 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,200 and receiving discounted services worth $50, while honorable mention All-Big Ten quarterback Pryor must repay $2,500 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award and the gold pants jewelry charm he received from the university for playing in the defeat of Michigan in 2008.
Thomas also sold his gold pants and conference championship ring from 2008 and he must repay a total of $1,855 for those items as well as $155 for discounted services.
Whiting must repay $150 for discounted services received.
The repayments will go to charity.
The school has a 30-day window in which to file an appeal.
"We will work within that 30 days and try to get that appeal done,” Smith said. “We believe the sanctions are severe. While we believe sanctions should be rendered because a violation did occur, we do believe we will be able to submit mitigating circumstances for the NCAA to consider and hopefully reduce the number of games our young men are currently being sanctioned for.”
Smith said no further players are involved in the incident, which occurred in November 2009, or in danger of additional punishment.
“We’re very fortunate that we do not have a systemic problem in our program,” he said. “This is isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular instance.”
According to the OSU AD, this saga began to unfold Dec. 7 when someone from the United State Attorney’s office contacted the school to inform it Ohio State items had been seized in a raid of a local home and business.
After an interview with the possessor of the items alleged players sold some of them to him, the investigators turned their attention to the university.
“We interviewed our athletes on Dec. 16, and I want to thank them for being honest, forthright, telling the truth and being remorseful. That allowed us to move expeditiously,” Smith said.
Sunday night the school sent its report to the NCAA and declared the players ineligible. The NCAA interviewed the players on Tuesday and after requesting and receiving some additional information from Ohio State reinstated the players for the bowl game and rendered sanctions for the 2011 regular season games.
Smith said the players were trying to help their families when selling their memorabilia.
“The decisions they were decisions that a lot of people were faced with when trying to deal with the economic times all of us in this country were struggling with, so these young men went into their decision with the right intent,” he said.
Head coach Jim Tressel said he was proud of how the affected players had responded to their mistakes but added, "I think ultimately we as coaches feel the buck stops here. We need to make things even more crystal clear than when the compliance officer might spend time with our team or whatever it may be, the bottom line is we feel as if that is our responsibility so obviously we don't feel good about the fact we fell short."