Thursday, September 11, 2003

Clarett suspended, questions continue


OSU defends program, says star could return

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Ohio State announced Wednesday that it has suspended Maurice Clarett for the season, ending a 2 1/2-month investigation and dimming its aspirations of a repeat national championship.

Separate news conferences by athletic director Andy Geiger and football coach Jim Tressel turned contentious as each man defended OSU's institutional control, although under their watch Clarett received benefits that Geiger said partially occurred during the 2002 national championship season.

"I think there is an enormous amount of naivete about the amount of control a coach can or should exert over 100-some-odd student-athletes that participate in his program," Geiger said.

The Buckeyes' national title isn't in jeopardy of being stripped.

Geiger said the suspension was in response to Clarett's violation of two different NCAA bylaws - one involving acceptance of improper benefits, the other concerning false or misleading comments to university and NCAA questioning. There were two violations of the former bylaw, 14 of the latter.

[IMAGE] OSU coach Jim Tressel said Wednesday that, in retrospect, some of Maurice Clarett's actions last year should have raised flags.
(Associated Press photo)
Geiger shared that news with Clarett and Clarett's mother, Michelle, on Wednesday morning. When the Claretts emerged from the meeting, they told reporters they didn't know whether he would remain at OSU.

"Nothing has been decided if we go, if we stay," Michelle Clarett said.

Her son said, "I'd just like to say there's two sides to every story."

As for receiving benefits, which reportedly have included cash and use of a mobile phone, Geiger said the value of those benefits "is in the thousands of dollars." The penalty protocol for that bylaw, Geiger said, is at least 50 percent of a season.

As for misleading investigators, reportedly for 14 contradictory statements during four interviews between June and August in an investigation of his finances, Geiger said that penalty protocol is also at least 50 percent of a season.

That suggests Clarett might have missed only half the season had he been truthful in his answers.

"We hope the NCAA considers a suspension for this season to be sufficient," Geiger said.

Clarett can't appeal this suspension to the NCAA, because it is OSU's disciplinary decision.

He'll remain on scholarship at OSU should he stay. Yet restoring his eligibility, here or elsewhere, will take some doing.

KEY DATES
July 29: Ohio State confirms the NCAA is investigating Clarett's claim that more than $10,000 worth of items was stolen in April from a car he borrowed from a dealership. Clarett's attorney later acknowledges many items belonged to the dealer and that Clarett exaggerated some items' value. OSU says he will be held out of team activities.

Aug. 22: Ohio State says Clarett probably will serve a multigame suspension, but will be allowed to resume practicing with the team.

Sept. 2: Ohio State again bars Clarett from practice.

Sept. 10: OSU announces Clarett is suspended for the season.

CLARETT'S OPTIONS
Stay at Ohio State. If Maurice Clarett (right) kept his nose clean, he'd probably be reinstated for next season, which surely would be his last before entering the NFL draft.

Transfer to another Division I-A school. Unlikely, because he'd have to sit out a year and also be subject to an NCAA suspension, which probably would mirror the full-season penalty OSU just handed down.

Transfer to a Division I-AA school. He could avoid sitting out a season but still would be subject to an NCAA suspension. Grambling State and Youngstown State have been mentioned as likely possibilities, but representatives from both schools said they have not been contacted by Clarett or his family.

Challenge the NFL's early-entry draft rule that requires players to be out of high school for three years, and thus doesn't allow Clarett to enter the draft until 2005. This has been painted as risky because of a likely lengthy legal process, though he might be able to go this route while still enrolled in college.

Play in the CFL until eligible for the NFL draft. Should he go this route, his negotiating rights already have been claimed by the Montreal Alouettes. But the average salary in the CFL is about $34,000 in U.S. currency.

Clarett must pay restitution for the financial benefits he received. If he stays at OSU, he must meet a series of conditions that Geiger has arranged - and wouldn't share with reporters. Clarett also still faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge for falsification in Franklin County Municipal Court.

Tressel tried to distance himself from previous comments that were perceived as his wanting Clarett to leave, saying that if Clarett follows guidelines, he might be able to return to practice later this season.

"I think Maurice knows that I love him," Tressel said. "If he does the things that you need to do, I would certainly be excited about him being back with this group."

Clarett's family and advisers have talked about options including transferring, challenging the NFL's early-entry rule, and playing in the CFL. Ohio State begins classes Sept. 24.

The Clarett family's Columbus-based attorney, Scott Schiff, and Clarett's New Jersey-based lawyer, Alan C. Milstein, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Geiger said the NCAA had not determined that the school could be blamed for the violations, or that the Fiesta Bowl victory was in jeopardy. Because the NCAA is not in charge of the bowl system, it does not have the power to strip a school of a national title.

"It doesn't matter" when improprieties occurred, Geiger said. "If the university was unaware or uninvolved, then the university is not culpable."

What's more worrisome is the damage to the program's perception. The Buckeyes allowed a freshman player to live in an off-campus apartment - they're supposed to be in dorms - and receive numerous benefits without the school's knowing.

"I can remember ... once or twice in the last year and a half saying, 'Hey, I heard that you have this or that,' " Tressel said. "He would give a response as to, you know, what that's all about.

"So, obviously, you know, maybe we should have hoisted some red flags that we didn't."

Besides this saga, an OSU panel is still looking into allegations of academic improprieties involving athletes.

"I think that there has been a hit to who we are and what we stand for, and we need to strive very hard to erase that or adjust it so that we're seen in favorable light," Geiger said. "I think our programs basically are respected. ... I think Coach Tressel is an exemplary representative of this university."

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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