Scandal at Ohio State (Part 1 of 5): The Tattooed Five and Tressel's Cover Up

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IIJune 1, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Head coach Jim Tressel of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Unless you’ve had your cable subscription terminated, stopped surfing the Internet and haven’t read the newspaper since December, there’s no way you haven’t heard about the current scandal going on at the Ohio State University.  

Early Monday morning, Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel announced his resignation. Tressel received e-mails in April of 2010 about five of his top players running afoul of the NCAA rules, but did not forward them to his superiors or the university’s compliance office. 

In December 2010, the Buckeyes suspended star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan “Boom” Herron, wide receiver Devier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and receiving discounted services at a local tattoo parlor. 

As it turns out, the “Tattooed Five” were just a layer of smoke pouring out from a now ferocious wildfire of potential major violations. Records of roughly 50 cars owned by current and former Ohio State football players are being investigated. 

In addition, former Buckeye wide receiver Ray Small was quoted in a recent article published by The Lantern, which is Ohio State’s student newspaper, about himself and other players selling memorabilia and getting deals on cars. “They have a lot (of dirt) on everybody,” Small said, “cause everybody was doing it.” 

If you dig deeper, which, out of fear, many Buckeye fans probably have not, this is not the first time Ohio State has come under fire from the NCAA since Tressel took over as head coach in 2001. Additionally, Tressel’s checkered history goes back to his tenure as the head coach of Youngstown State University.

All of this would make for one extremely long article, so I am going to break it down into five separate articles focusing on the various issues. 

These articles will detail the tattoo scandal, alleged discounts on cars, Small’s allegations and how they relate to what other players have said about possible violations at Ohio State, the reports from Sports Illustrated’s newest article, Tressel’s botched cover-up, along with his history of trouble with the NCAA, and what all of this means for the future of the Buckeyes.

The trouble began brewing for the Buckeyes on December 23, 2010. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith acknowledged Pryor, Herron, Posey, Adams and Thomas committed NCAA violations by selling memorabilia and received discounted services at Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor.

The local tattoo parlor is owned by Eddie Rife, who is currently being investigated for federal drug trafficking. 

The Buckeye players were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, but were controversially allowed to play in the 2011 Nokia Sugar Bowl. The five apologized to all of the Ohio State fans, teammates and the university at a press conference held on December 28, “We’re very remorseful to everyone around us, everyone in this room,” Thomas said. “We realize we made a mistake.” 

Pryor sold his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award and his 2008 gold pants, which are given to all of the Ohio State players every season they beat the University of Michigan. He was ordered to repay a total of $2,500. 

Adams and Herron were each ordered to repay $1,000. Adams sold his Big Ten championship ring and Herron sold his jersey, pants and shoes. Herron must also repay $150 in discounted services. Posey must repay $1,200 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring and for receiving discounted services. 

Linebacker Jordan Whiting received a one game ban for receiving discounted services as well. Also, there was a seventh player who was simply referred to as “g” in the documents. “G”’s identity is unknown, but this player sold a 2010 Rose Bowl watch to Rife for $250.  

The five games the players will miss are home games against Akron and Toledo, followed by a road trip to Miami (FL), and then two more home games against Colorado and Michigan State. The first game the suspended Buckeyes will be allowed to play in will be on the road against Nebraska. 

After the Buckeyes defeated Arkansas in 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl with key plays late in the from the members of the “Tattooed Five,” everything seemed to be forgotten about the transgressions in Columbus.

However, Ohio State reappeared in the crosshairs of the NCAA in March. The Columbus Dispatch reported Tressel had received e-mails about his players committing NCAA violations.  

Chris Cicero, a Columbus lawyer who played football at Ohio State as a walk-on, sent the e-mails to Tressel in April of 2010. Tressel replied “Thanks. I will get on it ASAP.” The two reportedly exchanged close to a dozen other e-mails after Tressel’s initial reply.

Only problem was, Tressel never forwarded the e-mails concerning his star players to Smith, university president Gordon Gee or the compliance office. But, Tressel did decide to forward the information to Pryor’s mentor Ted Sarniak.   

As soon as Tressel failed to notify his superiors of this incident, he violated his contract. In September of 2010, Tressel signed an NCAA document that said he had no knowledge of any rules violations. 

Tressel knowingly lied and covered up his players wrong doings because he had a team ranked highly in the preseason polls and had a great shot at another Big Ten and national championship. 

I’m not buying that Tressel felt he was looking out for the confidentiality of his players in simply sweeping these e-mails under his sweater vest. He didn’t think he would get caught and knew his team would not be a contender without the accused players.

The Buckeyes finished the season 12-1 and won a share of the Big Ten Championship.  Talk about winning the wrong way.

The NCAA is still investigating the situation regarding Tressel and will present their findings to Ohio State at a compliance hearing on August 12. 

Ohio State should have terminated Tressel’s contract as soon as they caught wind of all of this during their own internal investigation, but instead waited until their hand was forced to take action.

“The Ohio State fan base blindly is supporting Ohio State and Jim Tressel,” Herbstreit said. “It’s almost gotten to the point that he beats Michigan, he wins 10 games, he goes to BCS bowl games, they’ll support him no matter what he does. If this would have happened to John Cooper, not only would they have fired him, they would have actually lined it up and had a firing squad and fired him.” 

I have a feeling Mr. Herbstreit is right. If Tressel had a record of .500 or worse against Michigan, and maybe one or two BCS appearances, he would have been fired over a month ago. 

The only reason Tressel decided to resign Monday was because of the Sports Illustrated article which was set to be released the following morning. There will be more on those allegations in one of the articles I will publish this week. 

Check out the second installment tomorrow, which will shed some light on the allegations that players received “loaner cars” and Ray Small's comments to The Lantern.


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