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Gordon Gee: Bowl ban was coming ‘no matter what’

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Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee disagrees with the penalties that were administered to the university’s football program for NCAA rules infractions and seems to think the NCAA tried to make an example of OSU.

During a Feb. 6 meeting with The Lantern, Gee said he believed the NCAA-administered one-year bowl ban and reduction of nine scholarships for infractions dating back to OSU’s 2010 season were dealt to the Buckeyes because “this was Ohio State.” A college sports lawyer and a former OSU football coach disagree with the punishments assessed to the program, but wouldn’t join Gee in saying the NCAA tried to make an example of the Buckeyes.

During the 2010 football season, former OSU coach Jim Tressel failed to report infractions six of his players committed. Buckeyes’ wide receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel “Boom” Herron and defensive end Solomon Thomas each received a five-game suspension in 2011 for selling OSU football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos. Linebacker Jordan Whiting received a one-game ban.

The players finished the season and helped the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record that ended with a 31-26 win against Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. The season was later vacated as part of the university’s self-imposed penalties and the $388,811 of winnings it took from the Sugar Bowl win was donated to charity on Aug. 15.

On Dec. 20, the NCAA announced its penalties for OSU football. Months later, Gee told The Lantern he still disagrees with the NCAA’s ruling.

“First of all, the NCAA — if we would have given up five bowl games, they would have imposed the sixth on us because they were going to impose a bowl ban. This was Ohio State. This was (the NCAA’s) moment in time, and they were going to impose a bowl ban no matter what we did.”

Gee, who focused his comments mostly on the bowl ban and not the reduction of nine scholarships over the next three seasons, said the university’s communicative efforts with the NCAA indicate that OSU has been and continues to be “overly compliant in some ways.”

“I’m a lawyer,” Gee said. “I take a look at precedent. There’s no precedent for a bowl ban for us.”

In a Sunday email to The Lantern, Stacy Osborn, the NCAA’s associate director of public and media relations, said, “The committee stands by the report it issued.”

Under the subheading, “Committee Rationale,” the Committee’s report said:

“The enforcement staff and the institution were in agreement as to the facts of this finding and that those facts constituted violations of NCAA legislation. Further, as previously mentioned, the former head coach was made aware that football student-athletes sold athletics awards, apparel and/or equipment to the tattoo parlor owner, but failed to report the information to athletics administrators. As a result of this failure, the former head coach permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition while ineligible.”

Michael L. Buckner, a college sports lawyer and shareholder of Michael L. Buckner Law Firm in Pompano Beach, Fla., told The Lantern that while he does not subscribe to the idea the Committee on Infractions tried to make an example of OSU, he disagreed with the Committee in the Buckeyes’ case.

“Under the Committee’s logic, Ohio State played ineligible student-athletes in the Sugar Bowl. I have a few problems with their rationale,” Buckner said. “(The Committee) is trying to inject themselves in the judgement of the reinstatement staff and the Committee on Reinstatement. That’s not in their purview. Their purview is to look at violations.”

Buckner said that since the Committee’s final report indicated it was Tressel’s responsibility to report the violations of the student athletes, harsh punishment should have been assessed to “The Vest,” and not the program he was forced to resign from on May 30.

Tressel was assessed a five-year “show cause” order, which would require any NCAA institution to incur penalties if they hired him to coach their football team. Buckner called Tressel’s punishment “hollow.”

“The Committee did not indicate that Ohio State knew, or should have known, that coach Tressel was not being fully honest,” Buckner said. “So how is that Ohio State’s fault? Why should Ohio State be punished with a bowl ban? So from my perspective, the Committee should have been harsher on coach Tressel.”

Former OSU coach Earle Bruce also took issue with OSU’s punishments.

Bruce guided the Buckeyes through the 1979-87 seasons, compiling an 81-26-1 record during his tenure. Bruce also won five bowl games during his time as coach.

During a Thursday phone interview with The Lantern, Bruce said he disagreed with the timing of the bowl ban assessed to OSU.

Bruce also took issue with the punishment given to Tressel, who now serves as vice president of strategic engagement at the University of Akron.

“I’m disappointed in the fact that — what they did, I mean to coach Tressel, they took his job and put him five years out of football … for what should have been a hand slap and a retention of the job. I don’t think it was all together done in the right way or was the right punishment.

“The bowl ban should have affected the players responsible for the rules violations,” Bruce said. “If they wanted to suspend a bowl game, why didn’t they do it last year and get the people that were involved in it,” Bruce said. “If you had the seniors on last year’s team already getting big punishments and take away the bowl game, it wouldn’t have been anything.”

Gee, Buckner and Bruce aren’t alone in their criticism of the NCAA’s penalties — OSU students still feel the penalties were too harsh.

Molly Weiss, a second-year in speech and hearing sciences, said she thinks most football programs have scandals and OSU was one of the few to be caught.

“I think the punishments were too harsh,” Weiss said. “The bowl ban should have been for this past year, not against the new team or the new players.”

Sara Youssef, a fourth-year in economics, agreed and said the penalties were a little much.

“It was disappointing and unfair,” Youssef said. “We punished ourselves and who was wrong? They’re just really extreme ramifications.”

The football team has continued preparations for the coming season in spite of the NCAA-administered penalties.

OSU hired former Florida coach and ESPN analyst Urban Meyer to coach the Buckeyes, a hire that Gee called “the greatest affirmation of the quality of (OSU).”

Since his hiring, Meyer brought in one of the highest-ranked recruiting classes in the nation for the coming season. Meyer has also made roster moves in preparation for the reduction of three scholarships per year over the next three seasons.

Still, Bruce questions the punishments the program will endure for years to come, saying, “I don’t understand the NCAA.”

“I’ve heard some things that I wonder about,” Bruce said. “I think you let the (NCAA) do their job, and they did it with a vengeance.”

OSU begins spring football drills March 28 with the 2012 Spring Game set to take place April 21.

Chelsea Castle and Jenelle Cooper contributed to this story.

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