Buckeyes Are Driven to Embarrassment

 Two weeks ago, we covered the Notice of Allegations that the Buckeyes received from the NCAA, which curiously left out the charge of "lack of institutional control" and seemed to place blame squarely on rogue coach/all-around good guy Jim Tressel.  Last week, we covered the NCAA’s equally curious decision to charge Boise State with lack of institutional control despite the school’s decision to self-sanction a football team that hadn’t committed a major violation.

Bob Hunter’s right - Ohio State fans must be frustrated.  Understandably so.  After all, no one likes to see his school undergo this kind of rigorous scrutiny by the media, opposing fans, and the NCAA.  Unfortunately for them, it’s about to get worse. 

On Friday, May 6th, the head of Ohio State’s massive compliance department announced that it would investigate at least 50 automobile purchases made by student-athletes and their families.  The catch?  The same salesman, Aaron Kniffin, made every sale, including one where paperwork shows that former Buckeye linebacker Thaddeus Gibson paid $0 for a 2-year old Chrysler 300.

Ruh-roh.

In their defense, compliance director Doug Archie says there’s "nothing to believe a violation occurred," and Jeff Mauk, owner of Jack Maxton Chevrolet, wants everyone to know that he doesn’t give cars away for free.  And indeed, Gibson claims he was unaware of any $0 price, claiming that he "paid for the car, and I’m still paying for it." Maybe there’s nothing here but speculation and innuendo.

Of course, there’s always this:

Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final."

Archie said that he has spoken to Kniffin only once, never reviews sales documents and has not directed players to any dealerships.

I’m no genius, but unless Archie is speaking for only himself, one of them is lying.  I’m legitimately surprised they didn’t take the time to coordinate their statements.  After all, the Buckeyes compliance department has already shown what a sham it really is.  Over the past several years, Buckeye compliance has self-reported the most secondary violations in the nation (by a wide margin) without figuring out a way to curtail the misconduct of their athletes. It claims to have been caught completely off-guard by December’s tattoo scandal and the Tressel email cover-up.

Now, once again Archie’s office is playing dumb.  It took contact from the Columbus Dispatch in order to get Archie’s attention on these car deals, despite the fact that he knew Kniffin had attended games as the guest of players and had to ban him several years ago from the player pass list.  And Kniffin’s already been a figure in a car inquiry before – he’s the salesman who lent a car to Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a three-day test drive.

Make no mistake about it, this is very bad news for Ohio State.  It’s a scandal you can’t pin on Jim Tressel.  This weekend, CBSSports.com ran a piece by Adam Jacobi that makes this point clearer than anything I could ever write:

That, in fact, is what makes this potential scandal so pernicious: it has little, if anything, to do with Jim Tressel and the previous scandal.  Indeed, what was most striking about the allegations levied against Tressel was that they didn't implicate OSU as a whole, leaving open the possibility that OSU could paint Tressel as a rogue coach operating in flagrant defiance of his contract, fire him, and wash their hands of the matter.  But here, the possibility exists that players were getting the green light from the compliance department to break compliance rules.  That's something that simply firing Tressel isn't going to sweep under the rug.

The premise of Jacobi’s post is that this recent scandal "might place the very legitimacy of the compliance department at stake."  Honestly, we’re well past that.  They self-report minor violations in order to enhance their credibility, but never get to the root of the problem to prevent them from happening.  Then they try retain plausible deniability by feigning confusion.  Apparently, it’s been a recipe for success.  After all, Jim Tressel beats Michigan.

This kind of nonsense isn’t just embarrassing for Ohio State.  It’s embarrassing for the Big Ten, especially when other conferences report on it at length.  Joe Paterno can barely survive a 7-6 season without calls for his head, even though he won 61 games over the six prior years.  What would the reaction in State College be to these kinds of issues?

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