COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Tuesday that the $250,000 fine levied against coach Jim Tressel for violating NCAA rules may not even cover the cost of the investigation.
"It'll probably eat up the whole $250 (thousand)," Smith said. "I'm not sure. We haven't done any projections."
Declining to address the ongoing NCAA investigation into Tressel's violation, Smith also said he didn't know when Tressel's problems would be resolved.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Smith said Tressel was supposed to apologize in March at a news conference on the situation but failed to do so, and that only after meeting with Smith did the coach finally say he was sorry in a public forum.
Tressel has been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for failing to notify Ohio State officials of emails he received as early as April 2010 which said his players were selling autographs, uniforms, championship rings and other memorabilia for money and tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor.
Five players, including starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were suspended in December for accepting the improper benefits. All were permitted to play in Ohio State's Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas, with their suspensions beginning with the first game this fall.
Tressel, in his 11th year coaching the Buckeyes, did not disclose what he knew about the players' violations until he was confronted by Ohio State officials in January while the university was building the appeal of the players' suspensions.
Ohio State released a copy of Tressel's NCAA compliance form to the AP on Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request. In the form, dated last Sept. 13, Tressel certifies that he has reported any NCAA violations to his superiors. Yet he had known for five months that the players had likely broken NCAA rules — and had told no one except for forwarding the emails to Pryor's 67-year-old mentor and friend in Jeannette, Pa.
The compliance form, which all Ohio State staff members must sign, states: "By signing and dating this form, you certify that you have reported through the appropriate individuals on your campus (OSU President, Gordon Gee; OSU Athletic Director, Gene Smith; Faculty Athletics Representative, John Bruno; or the Athletic Compliance Office) any knowledge of violations of NCAA legislation involving The Ohio State University that occurred during the 2009-2010 academic year through the time you sign this form."
Tressel printed his name, signed his name and then dated it.
Smith would not say how much the investigation into Tressel's NCAA troubles would cost, although the university has hired two what he called "expensive" companies to help. He said Ohio State may have to make up the difference by dipping into the money the Buckeyes made from their appearance in the Sugar Bowl.
"It's a nightmare," he said.
Smith declared the players' case closed. Their violations had come to light when the U.S. Attorney's office notified Ohio State that it had come across a large amount of athletic merchandise after searching the home or business of Columbus tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife. Rife was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking case.
Smith said he was relying on the U.S. Attorney's investigation, which said the players — also including wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, tailback Dan Herron and defensive end Solomon Thomas — did not acquire drugs for the memorabilia.
Tressel called the players' actions "very disappointing" at a December news conference announcing their suspensions. Three weeks later, after winning the bowl game, Ohio State officials uncovered the emails he had exchanged in April and June with Christopher Cicero, a Columbus lawyer who was a former football walk-on in the 1980s.
Ohio State notified the NCAA of Tressel's potential violation and self-imposed a two-game suspension, a $250,000 fine, issued a public reprimand, required him to make a public apology and said he had to attend an NCAA rules compliance seminar. Tressel subsequently asked that his suspension be increased to five games.
Ohio State's compliance office said Tuesday that upcoming seminars are set for May 16-20 in Tucson, Ariz., or June 6-10, in Tampa, Fla. Tressel has not indicated which he will attend.
After Yahoo! Sports broke the Tressel story in March, Smith, who was about to chair the prestigious NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee, hastily called a news conference. Tressel was supposed to apologize that night, but did not.
"Then we got with him and he got better at it," Smith said. "It's an emotional thing."
At that same news conference, Ohio State president Gordon Gee joked that he had not considered firing Tressel, adding, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."
On Tuesday, Smith said he regretted that the hurried news conference did not go better and said there were a number of things he wished he had done differently.
NCAA officials were sent to Ohio State's campus almost immediately in January and continue to delve into the Tressel case. Tressel has continued to coach the team this spring. The program's annual intrasquad scrimmage is on Saturday.
Smith, who has served on the NCAA's committee on infractions, declined to say when the whole thing might end although he hoped a resolution might be expedited because the university had worked closely with the NCAA from the beginning.
"We're in the investigation," he said. "Who knows when it will be resolved? And it's just hanging."