Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Almost two years after “Tattoo-Gate” shook Ohio State’s athletic department to its core, changes to the way it monitors violations are being implemented. But one official says no matter how good compliance may be, there might always be a chance that a player or coach slips through the cracks.
In December 2010, a scandal surfaced that rocked Buckeye Nation, ultimately resulting in the resignation of former OSU football coach Jim Tressel, a bowl ban for the 2012 season and vacating the 2010 season. Five OSU football players were suspended for improperly receiving benefits in the form of tattoos in exchange for autographs and OSU memorabilia, and since what has come to be known as “Tattoo-Gate” has surfaced, OSU has experienced a compliance shift.
In an 805-page report sent to the NCAA this August, the Buckeyes’ athletic compliance staff presented its plans to make itself more apt to handle and prevent a scandal like the one that made national headlines almost 24 months ago. The Buckeyes football team now faces preventative measures, some of which OSU athletics director Gene Smith said are a novelty.
OSU football players will randomly be audited by compliance staff to ensure they still have all the memorabilia they’ve collected throughout their careers at OSU.
“There’s time when you have to bring them in to certify that you’ve retained them and, or certify where they are,” Smith said in an exclusive interview with The Lantern on Oct. 3. “Because you may give them to your mom, you might have a divorce situation and your mom is somewhere else. We gotta certify that she’s got it. So we periodically do those spot checks. That’s an audit to make sure you still have the things that we gave you.”
The process is entirely random, Smith said.
“It could be tomorrow, so it’s just kinda like drug testing,” Smith said.
Going forward, OSU will limit the opportunity for athletes to take home their memorabilia. Smith said OSU will store memorabilia for the players and give it to them when they leave the university.
“We retain a lot of things, so we build a locker room in our equipment room,” Smith said. “So for certain jerseys and helmets, we keep those here until you graduate or your eligibility expires because, you know, somebody may leave and we give them their stuff.”
Auditing, however, isn’t limited to memorabilia. Players’ cars are subject to the practice, too.
“You have a car, you register that car with us,” Smith said. “We check it every now and then just to make sure there’s no change.
“We’ll go over to the parking lot, walk around, check cars, check their numbers, things of that nature, just to make sure nothing’s changed or see if there’s any new cars that pop up.”
OSU associate athletics director for compliance Doug Archie said the compliance office puts a sticker on registered cars.
“You have to remember that parking lot is a public parking lot … so by putting the sticker in the car, we can easily identify a car that we already knew about,” Archie said.
Smith said the university is very vigilant in checking cars.
“We check them all out, just to be sure that nobody got a loaner that they shouldn’t have,” he said.
Archie said while auditing cars is something they’ve “always done” to an extent, it’s being enhanced and performed more than before.
Josephine Potuto, Nebraska’s faculty representative for the NCAA, said the process of auditing is a “necessary requirement of an effective compliance system.”
Potuto, who spent the NCAA’s maximum nine years on the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, said institutions typically “do a pretty good job of educating student-athletes and staff and boosters and others about NCAA rules” in addition to “maintaining records that need to be maintained from student athletes and staff.”
Where they don’t do as well, she said, is tracking the records for accuracy and following up with those who submitted the records.
“Nobody expects any institution is going to be able to do a one-on-one, you know, running around after everything, checking-everything system,” she said.
OSU’s increased focus on auditing, however, seems to be just a small part of a much larger renovation.
OSU merged all of its compliance program – including athletics – into one system.
The university also increased the athletics compliance staff from seven members to 12. Archie said some members of the staff focus on specific sports.
The best example of this, arguably, is the addition of Brad Bertani, OSU’s assistant athletic director for compliance who was hired in March.
Bertani, who was Tennessee’s associate athletics director for compliance since 2004, is assigned specifically to the Buckeyes’ football team and is paid $90,000 annually.
“He handles all of their immediate compliance needs and he’s right there,” Archie said. “He’s housed in football and travels with them with the idea of them getting so familiar with him that they’ll just view him as an extension of their staff.”
Bertani did not respond to The Lantern‘s request for comment.
Archie said having five more compliance staff members allows them to “make each compliance staff member’s world smaller” with less sports to focus on and “help them to get to know the student-athletes better.”
“Brad knows that whole team by face and by name and is able to interact with them and have down moments with them where they can share stuff and laugh,” Archie said. “I think that goes a long way to when they’re more comfortable with us, they’re more apt to ask questions, and that’s the biggest thing the additional staff members have done.”
But Potuto said a close relationship is not something she would recommend.
“It’s not that it can’t work, but for me, it’s something of a risk to have somebody assigned to a particular sport, because you can get too close to the sport,” Potuto said.
Compliance’s role, she said, is “best maintained when the compliance people are officed with each other and working with each other.”
“It doesn’t mean it can’t work, but as a structural matter,” Potuto said, “I’m more comfortable with putting something of a wall between compliance or academic services and individual sports.”
That said, the consensus between Potuto and Archie is that OSU has effectively positioned itself better than before “Tattoo-Gate.”
“I think we’re in a lot stronger place,” Archie said. “I think that we’re in a much better place than we were two years ago.”
Potuto said the NCAA can only expect so much.
“What the NCAA infractions committee has always said is you need reasonable compliance measures and you need to show that you’re doing reasonable outreach or effective stuff to assure that the compliance is adequate,” she said. “Bad apples can flip through the holes no matter how tiny the hole is. And everybody recognizes this.”
While she said she doesn’t know OSU well enough to speak directly on the matter, Potuto said pa
rt of the battle is creating a culture of compliance among the students, staff, boosters and fans with “people wanting to do the right thing.”
But no system is perfect.
“Adam and Eve ate that apple; we don’t get perfection,” she said. “I think it would be foolish of me to say that (a scandal) could never happen either at Ohio State or Nebraska or anywhere else.”
The infractions committee, she said, looks for a university to have systems in place with “reasonably calculated” measures to deal with potential claims.
Potuto said that’s the “best you can ask from any program.”
“Nobody can control everybody,” Potuto said. “It doesn’t matter what your system is, somebody can get around it for a while.”