New Ohio State football coach Luke Fickell has spent the first two-and-a-half months of his tenure talking about making sure his players eliminate distractions and try to control only what they can control.
However, there is quite a potential for distraction Friday. Fickell and other Ohio State representatives – including president Dr. E. Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith and former head coach Jim Tressel – are in Indianapolis this morning to meet with the NCAA Committee on Infractions regarding the major violations that led to Tressel’s forced retirement May 30 and the suspensions of multiple players.
In addition, Ohio State will be staging its first fall practice in full pads Friday afternoon at 3:30, a time moved back because of the meeting.
But in keeping with his motto, Fickell says he’s keeping his focus heading into the meeting.
"Happiness will be getting back here tomorrow because I'm excited about practicing in full pads,” said Fickell, who plans to fly back to Columbus in time for practice. “That's probably to me the most important thing. I haven't thought a whole lot about it. My focus is here on the guys and that football field and what we have to do to be prepared."
Whether the new head coach will be tasked with saying a whole lot in front of the committee is up for debate. He hasn’t been named in any of the allegations against the school, and Ohio State and the NCAA seem to be in agreement on the major points of the case.
Still, the coach’s presence is required, and he’s going in with an open mind – and nothing to hide.
"I have not talked a whole lot about it,” he said. “I'm not really worried. I don't know what to expect. Sometimes that's the best thing, kind of like when I went to my first media day. I really didn't have any clue as to what to expect. You just prepare and whatever comes your way, you react."
"I hope I don't have to say anything. It's not going to be about me. I don't know that I've been told a whole lot that I will have to say. I don't know. I guess it'll be interesting to see the process and see how everything goes."
Despite a recent – and disputed – report that the NCAA recently told Ohio State that its football program could face further allegations, the meeting shouldn’t be all that contentious.
OSU spokesperson Jim Lynch released a statement that the school expects to speak only about the two major violations listed in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations delivered in April. Ohio State issued its response in early July, essentially agreeing with the governing body’s case.
That includes allegations that eight players on the 2010 team sold memorabilia to and received tattoo discounts from local tattoo artist Edward Rife, as well as the fact that Tressel did not forward information about that situation to higher ups, as required, and then played players he knew were likely ineligible.
In response, the players – including departed quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three remaining offensive starters – have been suspended, Tressel has been forced out and the university has imposed two years of probation and vacated all wins from the 2010 season, including its Big Ten championship share, in an effort to stave off further punishments.
In turn, the NCAA notified Ohio State in mid-July that it largely agreed with the school’s findings on the matter and that it was not charging the school with a failure to monitor its football program or a lack of institutional control in the matter.
OSU center Michael Brewster said he couldn’t help but feel better about things after that report came out.
“I think the first reaction is you hear that and you feel like things are going to be better off, but (sports information director Jerry Emig) and Coach Fick said the investigation isn’t over yet,” he said. “Until it’s all said and done we’re not out of the woods, but I’d say personality it’s a little reassuring.”
The goal of the current trip will be to avoid further sanctions, such as a scholarship reduction or a bowl ban, by presenting the case that Ohio State as an institution did everything reasonably possible to prevent the violations.
OSU also has taken started an investigation into whether its sports compliance department should be moved from outside the umbrella of athletics and whether certain issues should be monitored more closely. A program has been started to educate the community about the perils of providing players with illegal benefits, as well.
The NCAA's decision is not expected until a few weeks after the meeting.
Ohio State will be joined at the meeting by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who often travels with league schools who appear before the Committee on Infractions.
“I’m typically at the far end of the meeting,” he said at the league’s annual Media Days in late July. “The infractions committee usually asks me if I have any opening comments. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. A day or two later toward the end of the hearing, they’ll ask me if I have any closing comments. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
“Really the presentation of the case to the NCAA, I would describe, is 95 percent institution dominated. If a school asks me – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t – ‘What do you think about how we’re approaching it?’ I’ll give them a comment.”
BSB staff writer Matthew Hager is in Indianapolis and will report on any comments or developments from OSU’s meeting.
Follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook.