Urban Meyer’s first Ohio State team will not be going to a bowl game.
The NCAA released its final infractions report against OSU on Tuesday afternoon, and by far the biggest sanction was a one-year bowl ban that will take effect for the 2012 season, punishment for a failure-to-monitor charge as well as the cover-up of NCAA violations by former head coach Jim Tressel.
Ohio State previously could have banned its football program from postseason play but maintained all along that it was unlikely to face this type of punishment.
“Some of you know we looked at cases from January 1, 2007, that were similar to us and looked at rulings relative to those, that's actually what drove us to imposing some of the sanctions that we ultimately came up with,” athletic director Gene Smith said Nov. 28, the day OSU hired Meyer. “When you look at all previous cases, there's no precedents (for a bowl ban). There were a couple of those more egregious than ours. And I'm hopeful we won't have that.”
Meyer has also publicly said before that he had talked to a number of people in college sports who had indicated a severe punishment was unlikely.
“Before I got here, I did a lot of research and contacted a lot of people outside of Ohio State,” he said Monday in a meeting with reporters. “I wanted to hear from people I trust who know the NCAA, and while I wouldn’t use the word ‘assure,’ they were talking about the overall integrity of this institution.”
Those words were replaced by disappointment Tuesday by Ohio State officials.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the NCAA’s decision,” Smith said. “However, we have decided not to appeal the decision because we need to move forward as an institution. We recognize that this is a challenging time in intercollegiate athletics. Institutions of higher education must move to higher ground, and Ohio State embraces its leadership responsibilities and affirms its long-standing commitment to excellence in education and integrity in all it does.
“My primary concern, as always, is for our students, and this decision punishes future students for the actions of others in the past. Knowing our student-athletes, however, I have no doubt in their capacity to turn this into something positive – for themselves and for the institution. I am grateful to our entire Buckeye community for their continued support.”
In addition, the NCAA increased Ohio State’s self-imposed penalty of five lost scholarships over three years by four. The Buckeyes will be reduced to 82 scholarships each of the next three seasons, down three from the maximum of 85.
OSU also received an extra year of probation, upping its proposed punishment of two years to three.
Those penalties from the NCAA are in addition to OSU’s previous self-imposed sanctions, which included the vacation of all 12 wins in the 2010 season, the return of $338,811 for participating in the Sugar Bowl at the close of that campaign, the forced resignation of Tressel in May and the disassociation of booster Robert DiGeronimo and former quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
The NCAA also announced Tuesday that Tressel has been given a five-year show-cause penalty, meaning a school hoping to hire Tressel will be forced to petition the NCAA in order to do so.
“Of great concern to the committee was the fact that the former head coach became aware of these violations and decided not to report the violations to institutional officials, the Big Ten Conference or the NCAA,” the Committee on Infractions stated in its report.
Ohio State, which finished 6-6 this season, will play Florida in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. The Buckeyes will feature five players involved in the initial scandal that rocked the university last December and others who received preferential treatment from DiGeronimo.
The issues first came to light last Dec. 23 when Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas – all set to be seniors in 2011 – and Jordan Whiting broke NCAA rules by receiving discounted tattoos from and selling personal OSU memorabilia to tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife. Former OSU linebacker Dorian Bell and former fullback Jermil Martin also received impermissible benefits from Rife. Those players who stayed at OSU were given punishments ranging from one to five games in 2011.
A local attorney had told Tressel of the possible violations in April 2010, but the former coach did not forward those claims up the chain of command as mandated by NCAA rules.
His lengthy show-cause penalty speaks to how serious the NCAA Committee on Infractions found that breach of protocol.
“The committee noted that the former head coach had at least four different opportunities to report the information, and his failure to do so led to allowing several football student-athletes to compete while ineligible,” the NCAA noted in a press release today “Many of these student-athletes were key contributors to the team’s winning 2010 season.”
Ohio State also vacated the 2010 season shortly thereafter, hopeful that the self-imposed penalties would pass NCAA muster.
But just days before the season opener in September, players Jordan Hall, Travis Howard and Corey Brown were suspended for two games for receiving money for taking part in a Cleveland benefit dinner put together by longtime booster DiGeronimo.
That name later came back to haunt Ohio State in early October when Posey, Herron, Marcus Hall, Melvin Fellows and Etienne Sabino were found to have received money for work not performed for DiGeronimo’s Cleveland-area construction-related businesses.
At the time, OSU disassociated DiGeronimo from the school, but the NCAA still hit the university with a failure-to-monitor charge in the case, the second-harshest penalty a university athletic program can receive in the eyes of the NCAA.
“The committee noted that NCAA Bylaw 19.5.2(g-3) specifically identifies a failure to monitor as an aggravating factor in imposing competition restrictions,” the COI report indicates. “The institution agreed that it failed to monitor the representative. As indicated earlier in this report, the representative was well-known by athletics department staff members, including the former head coach. Although in recent years, steps had been taken to restrict the representative's access to athletics department offices and playing venues, he was someone who had, for many years, been conferred a special status within the Ohio State athletics department.”
The bowl ban also includes a ban on participating in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game. Ohio State’s status as a repeat offender from former cases involving basketball coach Jim O’Brien and quarterback Troy Smith did not help it when it came to postseason play, as the committee stated, “Bylaw 19.5.2(g-5) specifies that an institution's status as a repeat violator is an additional aggravating factor in the imposition of competition restrictions such as a postseason ban.”
The COI noted it considered a multiyear postseason ban but did not impose one “after weighing the aggravating factors and the overall seriousness of the case in light of other recent major infractions cases where a multiple year postseason ban was imposed.”
The members of the Committee on Infractions who reviewed this case included Dr. Dennis Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and chair of the Committee on Infractions; Britton Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA; John S. Black, attorney; Melissa (Missy) Conboy, deputy director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame; Roscoe Howard Jr., attorney; Eleanor Myers, faculty athletics representative and law professor at Temple University; James O’Fallon, law professor and faculty athletics representative for University of Oregon; and Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.