Ohio State University football scandal

The Ohio State University football scandal concerned NCAA rules violations and other incidents committed by the Ohio State Buckeyes football team during the tenure of former head coach Jim Tressel from 2001 to 2011. An investigation of the program was joined by the NCAA, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Justice. As a result of the investigation, Ohio State's football program was punished with sanctions.[1]

Ohio Stadium is the home of Ohio State Buckeyes football.

The sanctions were announced on July 8, 2011, and affected the Ohio State football program from 2011 to 2015. The punishment involved Ohio State vacating all wins from the 2010 season (including the 2011 Sugar Bowl win), a postseason ban in 2012, two years of NCAA probation, a five-year show cause for head coach Jim Tressel, and a reduction of five scholarships over three years.[2] Tressel would resign from Ohio State as a result of the scandal.



The origins of the scandal date back to when Maurice Clarett, a member of Ohio State's 2002 national championship team, accused the university of major NCAA violations. The New York Times in July 2003 received information from a teaching assistant that Clarett had received preferential treatment from professors, claiming he never attended any classes during his time at Ohio State. Clarett was suspended for the 2003 season on September 10, 2003, by athletic director Andy Geiger. Geiger claimed that Clarett received special benefits worth thousands of dollars from a family friend and repeatedly misled investigators. However, the investigation did not find sufficient evidence of academic misconduct, and Clarett was not ruled ineligible.[3] Clarett claims that head coach Jim Tressel asked him to "take the fall" for Ohio State during the investigation, naming five other former players in his official story including Sammy Maldonado and Marco Cooper, and that he received substantial benefits from Tressel and his brother, including access to cars.[4]

The scandal


The scandal then took off when five players - Terrelle Pryor, Devier Posey, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas, and Boom Herron were suspended by the NCAA for the first five games of the 2011 season for receiving improper benefits on December 22, 2010. However, the players were allowed to participate in the upcoming Sugar Bowl game against Arkansas. The suspensions resulted from an incident where the players received tattoos for autographs. The players also sold several items given to them by the university, including Big Ten championship rings, jerseys, and other football-related awards for tattoos.[5] Head coach Jim Tressel denied any involvement and knowledge of the players committing these violations.

The scandal originated from Fine Line Tattoos and Piercings in Columbus. The owner of the parlor, Edward Rife, was being investigated by the FBI for felony drug trafficking. Tressel was first notified of the arrangement in April 2010 when he received several e-mails from Chris Cicero, a local attorney and former Ohio State football player. It was later revealed that Tressel never forwarded the e-mails, nor the information contained in them about potential violations, to his school's compliance office or the NCAA. In December 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice notified Ohio State that that at least six current players, including Pryor, had traded team memorabilia for tattoos or cash at the parlor. A report from Sports Illustrated revealed that they had found evidence that the cash for memorabilia scandal dated back to Ohio State's 2002 national championship team, and that as many as 28 players were involved. Sports Illustrated also discovered allegations that Ohio State players had traded memorabilia for marijuana.[6][7][8]

Records of roughly 50 cars owned by current and former Ohio State football players, including Pryor, were also investigated. Former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small revealed that players were selling memorabilia and getting deals on cars that cost more than they could afford, stating that “They have a lot (of dirt) on everybody, cause everybody was doing it.”[9][10] Multiple media outlets including ESPN reported that Pryor was driving with a suspended license.[11] Pryor was seen driving a Nissan 350Z to team meetings and workouts. Former Ohio State basketball player Mark Titus claimed that students at the university knew that Buckeye football players were driving cars they could not afford, stating "you'd have to be blind to not notice it."[12]

No, are you kidding? ... I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me.

Ohio State President Gordon Gee, when asked whether he would fire Tressel[13]

On January 3, 2011, Tressel's email exchanges with Cicero were leaked to the university. On January 16, Tressel confessed that he had covered up the violations committed by the players. On March 8, Ohio State suspended Tressel for the first two games of the 2011 season and fined him $250,000 for not informing the university of NCAA violations and denying knowledge of the players receiving improper benefits.[14][15] Tressel's suspension would later be increased to five games by the university. However, Ohio State president Gordon Gee assured Tressel that he would not be fired.

On April 25, 2011, the NCAA accused Tressel of withholding information and lying to keep Buckeyes players on the field. In their notice of allegations sent to Ohio State, the NCAA stated that Tressel's actions were considered "potential major violations" which had "permitted football student-athletes to participate in intercollegiate athletics while ineligible." The report also said he "failed to comport himself ... (with) honesty and integrity" and that he lied when he filled out a compliance form in September stating that he had no knowledge of NCAA violations by any of his players.[16] Tressel claimed that he lied about the violations because he didn't want to jeopardize the FBI's investigation into Rife and that he feared for his players' safety. However, it was revealed that Tressel only spoke with two players, never inquired of the two if other players were involved and also in danger, nor in his discussions with players ever mentioned Mr. Rife, the tattoo parlor, or the selling of Ohio State merchandise. The NCAA's report explicitly refuted the credibility of Tressel's excuse.[17] On May 30, Tressel resigned as Ohio State's head coach.[18] On June 8, Terrelle Pryor announced that he would forgo his senior year as a result of the scandal.[19]



The NCAA issued sanctions against Ohio State on July 8, 2011. Ohio State was forced to vacate all wins from the 2010 season (including the 2011 Sugar Bowl win), they were issued a postseason ban for the 2012 season, two years of NCAA probation, a five-year show cause for Jim Tressel, and a reduction of five scholarships over three years.[2]

Criticism of sanctions


These sanctions have been criticized by college football writers, and there have been calls for the NCAA to reinstate the Buckeyes' wins due to new NIL rules. Terrelle Pryor has called on the NCAA to reinstate their wins from the 2010 season, stating that "The affirmation of NCAA athletes’ rights to make a living from their name, image and likeness is a huge step in the right direction. Armed with the correct resources and support, we know they'll show what we felt to be true all along — not letting athletes capitalize on what ultimately is their hard work was unjust and unnecessary. Now that fundamental right has been granted to a new generation of athletes. Now that they finally have the freedom to share in some of the millions of dollars in revenue they generate for their coaches, their institutions, their conferences and the NCAA as a whole, we would like to see our hard won accomplishments reinstated."[20]

In May 2022, the Ohio House of Representatives adopted a non-unanimous symbolic resolution calling on the NCAA to reinstate the team's wins and records.[21] Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News has also called on the NCAA to reinstate Ohio State's wins due to the new NIL rules, stating that "it’s a frustrating change for certain fan bases that have seen their favorite programs dragged through the NCAA mud for violations that were ridiculous when they happened and would be fully legal and above board now."[22]

See also



  1. ^ "Ohio State vacates all 2010 victories". ESPN. July 8, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  2. ^ a b "Ohio State gets one-year bowl ban". ESPN. December 20, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  3. ^ "Timeline: The rise and fall of Maurice Clarett". ESPN. August 9, 2006. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  4. ^ Williams, Ted; Stollar, Aaron (November 9, 2004). "Clarett: I 'Took The Fall' For Buckeyes". The Lantern. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  5. ^ "Terrelle Pryor, 5 other Ohio State football players suspended – This Just In". CNN. December 23, 2010. Archived from the original on December 26, 2010. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  6. ^ Dohrmann, George; Epstein, David (June 6, 2011). "The Fall of Jim Tressel (Page 1)". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  7. ^ May, Tim (March 10, 2011). "OSU football: Source of e-mails to Tressel revealed | BuckeyeXtra". The Columbus Dispatch. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  8. ^ Wagner, Mike; May, Tim (March 25, 2011). "Ohio State football: Tressel's emails were forwarded". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  9. ^ "Pryor's cars now focal point of NCAA probe". ESPN. Associated Press. May 31, 2011. Archived from the original on April 14, 2023. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  10. ^ Dirlam, Zach (June 1, 2011). "Scandal at Ohio State (Part 1 of 5): The Tattooed Five and Tressel's Cover Up". Bleacher Report. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  11. ^ "Terrelle Pryor's license suspended". ESPN. May 31, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  12. ^ Dohrmann, George; Epstein, David (June 6, 2011). "The Fall of Jim Tressel (Page 3)". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  13. ^ Freking, Grant. "Give Tressel the boot". The Lantern. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  14. ^ Staples, Andy (March 8, 2011). "Tressel gets two-game suspension, $250K fine for rules violation". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  15. ^ Greenberg, Martin J. (January 10, 2012). "Tattoogate (January 10, 2012)". Marquette University. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  16. ^ Miller, Rusty (April 25, 2011). "NCAA alleges Tressel lied to hide NCAA violations". Associated Press. Retrieved May 11, 2024.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Schlabach, Mark (December 20, 2011). "NCAA sends message to Ohio State". ESPN. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  18. ^ "Jim Tressel tenders resignation". ESPN. May 30, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  19. ^ "Quarterback Terrelle Pryor giving up senior season". ESPN. June 8, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  20. ^ Bromberg, Nick (July 13, 2021). "Ex-Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and others ask for 2010 team to have vacated stats and wins reinstated". Yahoo Sports. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  21. ^ "Lawmakers want Ohio State's 2010 football season restored". WCMH-TV. May 20, 2022. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  22. ^ Fagan, Ryan (April 30, 2020). "Ohio State's Tattoo Gate, Alabama's T-Town and other scandals that would be legal under new NIL rules". The Sporting News. Retrieved May 11, 2024.