Ohio State’s Tressel Quits Amid NCAA Probe; Fickell Is Named Interim Coach

Jim Tressel, who coached Ohio State University to a national football championship and compiled a 106-22 record there, resigned as new allegations related to a memorabilia-selling scandal emerged.

Former Buckeyes wide receiver Ray Small told the school’s newspaper May 26 that he sold championship rings and received special deals at a car dealership near the Columbus, Ohio, campus. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper said the school and National Collegiate Athletic Association were investigating more potential wrong doing as well.

Almost six months earlier, six players were suspended for selling or trading uniforms and other memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor, an infraction Tressel knew about and failed to report to the NCAA.

“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign,” Tressel, 58, said in a statement yesterday.

Assistant Head Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator Luke Fickell will take over for the 2011-2012 season. The university then will begin the search for a full-time successor, the school said in an e-mail.

Ohio State has been under pressure to act as the date of an NCAA disciplinary hearing approached, the Dispatch said, citing unidentified university sources.

Tressel led the Buckeyes to their first national title in 34 years during the 2002 season. He was 241-79-2 overall, having coached Youngstown State from 1986-2000.

The NCAA notified Ohio State in April that it wouldn’t be cited for a lack of institutional control -- the NCAA’s most serious breach -- after Tressel kept information from school administrators for more than nine months.

Five-Game Suspension

Tressel was suspended by the school for the first five games of the 2011 season and fined $250,000.

Tressel was scheduled to make almost $3.6 million in total compensation between Feb. 1 and Jan. 31, 2012, based on a 2010 addendum to his contract. The original contract said that by resigning, he wouldn’t be entitled to receive further compensation or benefits, according to the Associated Press.

By resigning and not being asked to leave for cause, Tressel also would be eligible to ask for an associate athletic director position that would pay $150,000 per year, according to the contract. Jim Lynch, an Ohio State spokesman, told AP that he didn’t know whether a severance package had been negotiated.

Illegal Sales

The NCAA said that, between November 2008 and May 2010, Ohio State football players sold university-issued sports awards, apparel and equipment to Edward Rife, the owner of a tattoo parlor in Columbus.

The merchandise included 2008 Big Ten Conference championship rings, a 2008 national championship game jersey, a 2010 Rose Bowl watch, a pair of pants and a pair of shoes.

Tressel “knew or should have known” that at least two football players received preferential treatment and sold the awards, clothing and equipment, the NCAA said.

The coach “failed to report the information to athletics administrators and, as a result, permitted football student- athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition while ineligible,” the NCAA said.

Ohio State and Tressel were scheduled to appear before the NCAA’s infractions committee on Aug. 12.

Small, who was with the Buckeyes from 2006-2009, told The Lantern that he had sold memorabilia to cover typical costs of living and that special deals on cars were commonplace.

Rife on May 27 was charged with drug trafficking and money laundering, and agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities, according to the Associated Press.

‘Refocusing’

“We look forward to refocusing the football program on doing what we do best -- representing this extraordinary university and its values on the field, in the classroom and in life,” Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, said in a statement. “We look forward to supporting Luke Fickell in his role as our football coach. We have full confidence in his ability to lead our football program.”

The NCAA and Ohio State are investigating whether quarterback Terrelle Pryor wrongly received cars and other benefits, the Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday. Pryor, Daniel Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas and Mike Adams were suspended for five games for their part in the sale of items to Rife. Jordan Whiting was given a one-game ban.

Ohio State’s 2002 national championship was the seventh in the school’s 120-year history. The 31-24 double-overtime win came after a touchdown by freshman running back Maurice Clarett, who played one season for the Buckeyes before being kicked off the team for receiving improper gifts and lying about it to investigators.

12-1 Season

Last season, the Buckeyes went 12-1, beating Arkansas 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl. They also won their sixth straight Big Ten Conference title and 35th overall, and beat rival Michigan 37-7, giving Tressel a 9-1 record against the Wolverines.

The university’s football program has been through scandal before: Its winningest coach, Woody Hayes, who went 205-61-10 and won three consensus national titles, was fired in 1978 after punching a opposing player from Clemson University during the Gator Bowl.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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