A clearly unhappy Jim Tressel abruptly ended his Thursday afternoon press conference after being questioned about the status of junior wide receiver Ray Small.
In an interview that lasted four minutes and 52 seconds, Tressel confirmed that Small would not be making the trip to Northwestern this weekend but expressed hope that he would rejoin the team at a later date. Small’s father, Ken, told BuckeyeSports.com on Wednesday evening that his son had been suspended for the next two games for violating team rules.
Tressel said Ray Small has been suspended for one game “to start with” but did not rule out the possibility of his return to the program.
The Cleveland native has endured a rocky time at Ohio State while occasionally showing flashes of potential both as a wide receiver and a punt returner. Aside from being cited for driving a car with unregistered license plates last year, he has not run afoul of the law and instead has reportedly repeatedly missed classes and appeared late to team meetings.
His father did not deny those accusations, but pointed out that other players have received lesser punishments for perceived more serious transgressions. Ken Small pointed out the fact that junior defensive tackle Doug Worthington was arrested and charged with OVI prior to the 2008 season but received just a half-game suspension. However, that appears to have been Worthington's only transgression while at OSU.
Tressel, whose lip quivered at one point during the press conference as he unsuccessfully tried to steer the topic of conversation away from Ray Small’s status, said his policy is to handle each situation on an individual basis.
“That’s, I think, the way to do things,” he said. “Do we have a set in stone, if this then this, (policy)? On some things we do. We have departmental policies and institutional policies. Some team policies, but we try to work with young people and bring them from where they are to where they would like to be.”
The fact that Ray Small was evidently working with a shorter leash than other players did not help him in this situation.
“I think even if you move it toward football, which is what we’re here to talk about, if a guy makes repetitive mistakes in football you’re probably going to lose opportunities to play,” Tressel said. “The same would be with anything off the field. If a guy’s repetitive it’s going to impact.”
Whether he plays another down with the Buckeyes will be determined by “just what you do from this point on,” Tressel said. Ken Small said Wednesday he does not see his son’s career continuing in Columbus.
Although Small’s father said his family has spoken with the OSU coaching staff about potentially transferring out of the program, Tressel said the topic has not come up in the last few days and said he could not remember if it had been previously discussed.
Tressel has not spoken to Ken Small since his son was suspended Wednesday, but added that he was not upset with him for talking to media outlets.
During the spring, Ray Small has said he was close to being off the team while he dealt with disciplinary issues. He had his jersey number changed from No. 4 to No. 82 and did not receive a biography in the team’s 2008 media/recruiting guide as he worked his way out of what Tressel later termed a “pretty big” doghouse.
Players and coaches alike praised his work ethic during the summer and fall, however, and he was OSU’s leading receiver through the first three games of the season with 14 receptions. In the last six games, he has caught just four passes but has seen himself on the field in crucial situations.
He has emerged as the team’s leading punt returner with 18 returns for 238 yards including one that went for a 69-yard touchdown. His average of 13.22 yards per return is 14th-best in the country. In his absence, Tressel said wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline will be the top two options with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher serving as the backups.
Asked if Ray Small had dealt with any prior disciplinary issues during the 2008 season, Tressel said, “I remember you guys talking about ‘is Ray in the doghouse or is he out of it yet?’ or so forth. I suppose yeah.”
After leading the team with six catches against USC in week three, Ray Small saw just one play of action the following game against Troy. His father said the coaches inserted his son into the lineup to prevent him from being able to qualify for a redshirt.
Asked about the situation, Tressel said, “Gosh, I don’t know,” before abruptly ending the press conference.
“OK guys, thanks,” he said. “I appreciate it. I thought we were going to talk about Northwestern. Thanks.”