Football scandal puts focus on Ohio St president

In the wake of football coach Jim Tressel’s stunning

resignation, attention is now focusing on the job security of Ohio

State President Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith.

Both Gee and Smith offered unwavering, and in the case of Gee,

gushing-to-the-point-of-embarrassing support for Tressel at a March

8 news conference.

Since then, it’s become clearer that the NCAA may take a hard

line on the university’s transgressions, and Tressel’s resignation

under pressure was likely the first attempt to minimize damage to

the university.

But the university is already facing new allegations about its

football program, including questions about cars driven by

quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a growing number of alleged

violations involving players’ sales of OSU memorabilia. Ohio State

faces an Aug. 12 date with the NCAA’s committee on infractions,

which could lead to vacated games and seasons, a bowl ban and

recruiting limitations.

The setbacks couldn’t come at a worse time, as Gee leads a $2.5

billion fundraising campaign, OSU’s biggest ever, and the

university prepares for a tuition increase in light of decreased

state aid.

Ohio State trustees referred calls to Gee’s office, and both Gee

and Smith declined comment on Tuesday.

Both were thought to be distancing themselves from Tressel –

despite their earlier praise of the coach’s integrity and honesty –

in the weeks leading up to Monday’s stunning resignation. Likewise,

both played roles in Tressel’s shocking departure.

Tressel was forced to step aside in the midst of an NCAA

investigation of his program. In his resignation letter, he called

the inquiry by the sport’s sanctioning body a ”distraction.”

Five top players – including Pryor – were suspended in December

for the first five games of the 2011 season for accepting cash and

tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor. Edward Rife, a big

Buckeyes fan and sports memorabilia collector, owned Fine Line Ink.

Dozens of autographed items including jerseys and gloves, along

with Big Ten championship rings and even Pryor’s Fiesta Bowl

sportsmanship award, were discovered in a raid on Rife’s business

by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Tressel received an email in April 2010 telling him of the

players’ involvement with Rife and also disclosing that they were

selling the items, a clear violation of NCAA rules against improper

benefits for athletes. Yet Tressel did not notify his Ohio State

superiors, the NCAA or the university’s compliance department as he

was required by the NCAA and his own contract. Instead, he

forwarded the original email to Pryor’s ”mentor” in his hometown

of Jeannette, Pa.

Smith met with Tressel on Sunday night and again on Monday,

making it clear that the coach needed to resign. Gee also had a

hand in the situation. He selected a special, eight-person

committee of administrators and members of the university’s board

of trustees to review and analyze all aspects of the issues

surrounding the beleaguered football program.

In a note to the board of trustees notifying them of Tressel’s

resignation, Gee said he had been ”actively reviewing” the

matter.

Even if the NCAA – which continues to investigate Ohio State’s

athletic department – were to find nothing else wrong with the

program, there has been a rising tide of dissatisfaction with both

Smith and Gee by alumni, fans and donors.

Gee, in his second stint as president of Ohio State in addition

to being in charge at West Virginia, Colorado, Vanderbilt and

Brown, has been a rainmaker for the university, bringing in large

donors and large contributions. It’s the biggest reason why the

energetic man in the trademark bow tie is the highest-paid Division

I university president in the country at around $1.2 million.

Gee didn’t help his cause with a joke he made at a March 8 news

conference when asked by a reporter if he had considered firing

Tressel.

”No, are you kidding?” Gee said. ”Let me just be very clear:

I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

That could not have played well with administrators and

academicians fighting the lingering image of Ohio State as a

football factory.

Smith also heaped praise on Tressel during the March news

conference, saying, ”He is our coach and we trust him

implicitly.”

In a subsequent interview with The Associated Press, Smith

conceded that the news conference had been ”a nightmare.”

Now with Tressel out of the picture, both Gee and Tressel are

the easiest targets left. With the NCAA still probing the athletic

department and with headline-grabbing reports almost every day that

athletes were coddled and received cash and cars, they are taking

the heat from fans and media.

Their fate will rest in the hands of the board of trustees and

the movers and shakers behind the scenes of one of the nation’s

largest universities.