The long process of NCAA investigations

BY foxsports • April 4, 2011

His 9-1 record against the University of Michigan suggests there isn’t much Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel could learn from the archrival Wolverines. But if Tressel is looking for encouragement in the face of an ongoing investigation into his admitted violation of the NCAA’s most serious bylaw, Ann Arbor is where he can find it.

The NCAA spent more than 14 months investigating major infractions committed by Michigan’s coaching staff, under since-fired head coach Rich Rodriguez, before ruling in November 2010.

That gives Tressel an optimistic timetable to hold onto in his hopes for coaching the final seven regular-season games this fall after serving a five-game suspension. He and Ohio State officials hope that self-imposed five-game penalty will be sufficient for falsifying an NCAA rules compliance form last September and twice misleading university investigators in December.

The length of the Michigan investigation is common among recent major infractions investigations, meaning Tressel likely won’t suffer an NCAA Committee on Infractions ruling before he completes his 11th season at Ohio State.

It took almost two years, until Feb. 22 this year, before the NCAA completed its investigation the University of Connecticut men's basketball program for recruiting violations. It sanctioned coach Jim Calhoun with a three-game suspension for the 2011-12 season, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.

Likewise, the NCAA required more than one year to complete its investigation before it ruled last Dec. 15 on major infractions in the Arizona State baseball program.

It’s therefore likely Tressel will coach the second half of this season and in Ohio State’s expected bowl game before he and the school will have a decision to make.

He could resign in advance of the NCAA’s eventual ruling on the matter, thus sparing the school the risk of having him still in place in fall 2012 and suffering stringent penalties because he remains on the job.

It has long been a strategy of schools facing an NCAA investigation for a coach’s violation of bylaw 10.1-(d), which prohibits providing false information, to change coaches and therefore mitigate the potential damage of the most severe sanctions under consideration.

Step one of the NCAA inquiry is already under way, with investigators of the NCAA Enforcement Staff on campus poring through Tressel’s communication records and interviewing witnesses.

Ohio State will be learn of those investigators’ findings in an official Letter of Inquiry, which the school will address in advance of the NCAA then issuing a formal Notice of Allegations.

In the Michigan case, the lag time between the NCAA Letter of Inquiry and Notice of Allegations was four months.

Ohio State will have 90 days to respond to the Notice of Allegations, or it can admit to everything in that report and move to a summary judgment phase to quicken the process.

That would, however, deny Ohio State the right to appeal whatever sanctions the NCAA imposes.

Michigan took the full 90 days to respond to its Notice of Allegations, despite disputing only one of the five major rules infractions charged by the NCAA.

Nearly three months after that, Michigan appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing that lasted 7-1/2 hours.

Tressel, whether he is the coach or not, would likely attend the Committee on Infractions hearing and attempt to explain why he did not notify any school officials in April 2010 when he received the first of four detailed emails outlining likely NCAA rules violations by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and receiver DeVier Posey.

Pete Carroll had resigned his position at USC and taken over as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, but he returned for the Trojans’ hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in February of last year.

The investigation into USC's men’s basketball and football programs took more than four years to complete.

Michigan waited nearly three months from its hearing before the Committee on Infractions until receiving a final ruling.

Tressel, therefore, will have plenty of time to coach this season in advance of a final ruling from the NCAA, but he very well might have to contend with in-season distractions of the matter coming to its conclusion during the 2012 season.

Tressel appeared to contradict himself at the March 8 press conference announcing his NCAA violations when, in his opening statement, he said, “I probably, or definitely, didn’t move forward with this information to anyone, simply because in my mind, I couldn’t think as to who that best would be.“

Later in that same press conference, Tressel appeared to try answering affirmatively when he was asked if he had forwarded the emails to anyone. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith stopped the coach from answering, saying that matter was part of the ongoing NCAA investigation.

The Columbus Dispatch has since reported that Tressel forwarded the emails to Ted Sarniak, a 67-year-old glass factory owner in Jeannette, Pa., Pryor’s hometown.

Ohio State says Sarniak is a “mentor” to Pryor, and does not meet the NCAA’s definition of a booster. CBS Sports reported Friday that Ohio State knew Tressel had forwarded the emails to Sarniak in advance of the March 8 press conference on campus.

Gene Marsh, a 1978 Ohio State graduate and former head of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Friday that Tressel’s reputation for integrity and character will work to his advantage when he comes before the Committee on Infractions.

“There are human beings on the enforcement staff and human beings on the committee,” said Marsh, who now works for a Birmingham law firm that specializes in NCAA litigation. “It’s not a machine. It’s not a calculator. It’s folks.

“In the end, folks take a look at things like a life’s work, the inner workings of an entire profile and their character in their life as a coach and in their life as an individual.“

If the NCAA does take Tressel’s reputation into account, it will be interesting to see if it also factors in his one previous individual brush with the NCAA that bears a striking resemblance to this case.

In February 2000, 11 months before his hiring at Ohio State, Tressel was the head coach at Youngstown State when it received scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions for violations involving star quarterback Ray Isaac, who had taken money and extra benefits from a former trustee.

Youngstown State was first notified of those allegations in a letter to the school in January 1994 from a former NCAA director of enforcement, which prompted the school president to call five meetings with Tressel and the school’s athletic director.

The NCAA ruling on the matter said, “the executive director of intercollegiate athletics and the head football coach assured the president that these allegations were baseless.“

The NCAA said of Tressel’s investigation of the matter: “There were no interviews with the other coaches, members of the football team, the former student-athlete in question or the former trustee/booster. There was no in-depth investigation of the information received in 1994 regarding possible NCAA violations.”

Four years later, the violations were discovered during court testimony in a jury tampering trial, which led to Youngstown State being found guilty of a lack of institutional control.

The NCAA said it would have been within its right to strip Youngstown State of its 1991 Division I-AA national championship won with Isaac, who was in violation of extra-benefits rules, but it chose not to impose that penalty.

Follow Bruce on Twitter@BHOOLZ

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