It has taken nothing short of on-the-record, documented evidence of NCAA violations perpetrated by the Ohio State football program to produce what is rapidly becoming one of the biggest scandals in college sports history.
If not for a certified United States Department of Justice communique to Ohio State officials documenting the sale and transfer of memorabilia to Edward Rife for cash and tattoos by Ohio State football players and archived email correspondence involving a coverup of the same matter by former OSU football coach Jim Tressel, the school’s football program would not be facing what may soon be crippling NCAA penalties.
And now, thanks to on-the-record, documented evidence involving public statements made by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on two different occasions the past week that directly contradicted a formal and crucial claim in the March 8 self-report by Ohio State to the NCAA - and public statements on March 8 to the same effect by OSU Director of Athletics Gene Smith - along with an email message from an Ohio State administration official to CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer on June 8, it appears we have significant reason to believe that an already ugly situation is about to get worse.
In the past 48 hours, through the discovery of the aforementioned evidence, I’ve detected what appears to be a concerted effort by Ohio State officials to conceal how the school first discovered the emails between Tressel and Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero. That would include the deliberate misrepresentation by Ohio State officials of the facts of the case contained in the official March 8 Ohio State self-report to the NCAA.
On March 8, this was Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith’s exact description of the school’s discovery of the incriminating Tressel emails.
“We discovered, through another process, through gathering information on another matter, that there were some emails that Coach Tressel had that revealed that he had some prior knowledge regarding the matter with our student athletes.”
Ohio State’s March 8 self-report to the NCAA contained this official account of how the Tressel emails were found by the school:
“However, on Jan. 13, 2011, while reviewing information on an unrelated legal issue, the institution’s Office of Legal Affairs discovered an e-mail from Coach Tressel that was the subject matter of some of the activities pertaining to the University’s December 2010 self-report.”
How Ohio State first found out about the Tressel emails is crucial to the school’s avoidance of the dreaded ‘Failure to Monitor‘ major NCAA violation. A major violation that Ohio State was not charged with in the NCAA’s April 25 Notice of Allegations to the school regarding the Tressel matter.
Of that distinction, veteran attorney Michael L. Buckner, who has represented several schools during the NCAA enforcement process, noted to CBSSports.com reporter Fischer on June 9:
“The NCAA will definitely want to find out how the institution found out about the allegation. There could be a possible failure to monitor allegation. If they found out about it because someone else sent in an open records request, then that means [Ohio State] found out about violations from somebody else external to the institution triggering that process.”
In a piece written by ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg on June 9, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany directly contradicted Ohio State’s official version to the NCAA of how the school first discovered the Tressel emails in question:
“I know the sequence was they found out about it after the [Sugar Bowl], I think it was mid-January. They found out about it through a [Freedom of Information Act] request.”
After talking to Jim Delany about the same subject, Bill Rabinowitz of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported on June 6:
Delany said he was surprised and disappointed by the revelation, which he learned of at the same time as Ohio State and the NCAA through a Freedom of Information Act query.
In addition to the contention by Ohio State in its self-report to the NCAA on March 8 that it - not the media - first discovered the Tressel emails and OSU AD Gene Smith’s public comments confirming that as fact the same day, in its “Conclusion” to the NCAA in its March 8 self-report to the same governing body regarding the Tressel emails, Ohio State reiterated that it had “self-detected” the former coach’s email-based coverup:
“This issue was self-detected by the institution and the University’s ‘Investigating Possible Violations’ policy was adhered to in the conduct of a thorough and expeditious investigation.”
CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer was first to spot the repeated, stark discrepancy between the multiple statements made by Big Ten Commissioner Delany and Ohio State officials. Fischer contacted Ohio State Director of Media Relations Jim Lynch on June 8 to ask him to confirm the school’s official version of how it discovered Tressel’s emails. In a post published to CBSSports.com on June 9, Lynch did just that:
Ohio State spokesperson Jim Lynch, when asked how the school discovered the emails, said that the university discovered the emails during an unrelated legal matter.
Lynch’s confirmation further contradicts Delany’s multiple statements about how Ohio State found out about Tressel’s emails.
In that same June 9 post, Fischer reported:
CBSSports.com obtained all Freedom of Information Act inquiries directed to the university. In documents released by a school spokesman, the earliest request in 2011 came from Bloomberg News requesting a copy of the school’s NCAA Revenue and Expenses Report on Jan. 24, a full 11 days after the school reported they became aware of the emails. Yahoo! Sports, which broke the news that Tressel had prior knowledge of NCAA violations involving Buckeyes players, submitted its first open records request to the school on Feb. 28.
If Ohio State’s version of events is correct, why did Delany tell the Columbus Dispatch on June 6 that, “he learned of [Tressel emails] at the same time as Ohio State [Jan. 13] and the NCAA through a Freedom of Information Act query“?
More specifically, if there were no open records requests to Ohio State before January 24, why did Delany twice claim that the school only found out after an external open records request that would have had to have come at least 11 days earlier - since Ohio State reported on March 8 to the NCAA that it first discovered the Tressel emails on January 13.
With a radical difference between versions of the same event by Big Ten commissioner Delany and Ohio State officials, what’s the odds that this is all one big misunderstanding?
Thanks to a followup email from Ohio State Spokesman Jim Lynch to Fischer on June 8, it turns out that there is indeed a distinct possibility that Delany, a former NCAA enforcement investigator himself, is actually accurate in his assessment of how OSU first found out about the Tressel emails.
On June 11 I contacted Fischer to ask him if he would forward me the email exchange he had with Lynch in which the OSU spokesman confirmed he had released all of the January open records requests sent to Ohio State.
When Fischer forwarded me that exchange I learned, much to my amazement, that Lynch never did confirm that the school had actually released all of the January open records requests received by Ohio State.
It was a fateful June 8 email message from Lynch to Fischer that explained why Delany continues to claim that Ohio State was tipped off by the media and did not, as OSU AD Smith and the school’s self-report to the NCAA claimed on March 8, “self-detect” the Tressel emails.
When asked by Fischer via email to confirm that Ohio State had released all of its open record requests for the month of January, 2011, Lynch replied:
I can’t guarantee that this catches all of them, as a few head directly to individuals within the Athletics Department and I am unable to log them.
All of the emails sent to employees of Ohio State are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) open record requests. Including those of OSU AD Smith, OSU Compliance Director Doug Archie and President E. Gordon Gee.
Lynch’s statement to Fischer on why he couldn’t “guarantee that this catches all of them” is nothing short of, well, stunning.
If Lynch, who has been charged with handling the public dissemination of Ohio State’s open records requests since the Tressel scandal broke in early March, doesn’t know if all of the open records requests to OSU for the month of January are accounted for, how can Ohio State possibly announce publicly that it “self-detected” the Tressel emails?
Let alone stake the future of the football program on the same claim in its formal defense to the NCAA?
So now we know why Delany said what he said. Twice.
Just the day before Lynch sent that explosive note to Fischer claiming ignorance, the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reported that Lynch had released logs of thousands of phone calls and text messages made by “athletic director Gene Smith between April 2010 and March 2011.” But of those communications, the Dispatch also noted, “The university redacted nearly 20 percent of Smith’s 11,628 phone calls and texts between April 2010 and March 2011.“
Who informed the media on June 7 why 2,326 calls by Smith were hidden from the media?
The same Jim Lynch who a day later told Fischer in an email that he wasn’t sure if he had been able to provide the reporter all of the open records requests to Ohio State University from January, 2011.
The June 7 Columbus Dispatch report also included Lynch’s argument for not releasing literally thousands of Smith’s phone and text records:
The requested records (e.g., personal landline and cell phone numbers) do not constitute records … as they do not serve to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the university,” spokesman Jim Lynch wrote in a statement.
Lynch admitting the possibility to Fischer that not all of the January open records requests to Ohio State were indeed released to the media follows up his admission on April 25, 2011, to the COLUMBUS DISPATCH that he “inadvertently omitted” the emails between Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor “mentor” Ted Sarniak in Ohio State’s March 8 press release documenting the school’s self-report to the NCAA.
Of that “inadvertent” omission, Lynch told the Dispatch on April 25:
“These emails do not raise any new matters. These emails were inadvertently omitted in the copying process for inclusion in the information that was provided on March 8.”
But Tressel’s earlier-confirmed handling of the emails contradicts Lynch’s statement. And it isn’t even close.
In Ohio State’s March 8 self-report of the Tressel email-borne NCAA violations, it did not report to the NCAA that Tressel had forwarded any of the Cicero emails to Pryor mentor Sarniak.
Instead, in detailing Tressel’s defense, Ohio State noted in its official self-report to the NCAA:
“In particular, he (Tressel) was protecting the confidentiality of the attorney (which the attorney requested) and of the federal criminal investigation.”
The obvious problem with Tressel’s confidentiality defense to the NCAA and the public was, of course, the fact that he forwarded Cicero’s very first email to Sarniak.
Not to mention that in the first email from attorney Cicero to Tressel, on April 2, 2010, the lawyer did not request confidentiality. (He did not do so until an April 16 email to Tressel.)
So the material fact that Tressel forwarded the very first email he received to Terrelle Pryor’s mentor wasn’t known by the media during the March 8 press conference because Lynch “inadvertently omitted” them from the media release because, as Lynch claimed to the Dispatch on April 25, “these emails do not raise any new matters.”
The same press conference was highlighted by the now-infamous moment in which OSU AD Gene Smith cut off a question to Tressel by Yahoo.com’s Dan Wetzel after the reporter asked the coach if he had “forwarded any of the emails” that he had received from the then-unnamed attorney.
But if Lynch’s omission of the forwarded Tressel emails to Sarniak was, as Lynch claimed to the Dispatch on April 25, “inadvertent” and did “not raise any new matters” and should have been included in Lynch’s Ohio State media release at the March 8 press conference, why did Smith prevent the coach from answering Wetzel’s question about a forwarded email from Tressel?
Might Smith’s actions have had something to do with Tressel’s earlier confidentiality defense at the press conference? A confidentiality defense also utilized in Ohio State’s self-report to the NCAA the same day?
Is it unreasonable to think that Tressel would not have attempted such a defense in front of reporters had it been known to the public and media at that time that he had forwarded Cicero’s first, confidentiality-free email to Terrelle Pryor mentor Ted Sarniak?
OSU Spokesman Lynch also, somehow, claimed to the Dispatch on April 25 that the NCAA, unlike the media, did receive Tressel’s complete email correspondence as part of its March 8 self-report. Though that same report from OSU noted to the same NCAA, “he (Tressel) was protecting the confidentiality of the attorney (which the attorney requested) and of the federal criminal investigation.”
Why would Ohio State allow Tressel to make such a defense in its self-report if it knew the NCAA had clear evidence that Tressel had not kept his email exchange with Cicero confidential from the very first email?!
Lynch’s “inadvertent” omission of the complete email correspendence between Tressel, Cicero and Sarniak followed by Ohio State’s confidentiality defense to the NCAA in its self-report and OSU AD Smith not allowing Tressel to answer Wetzel’s question about forwarding emails he received from Cicero - and Lynch’s clearly bogus claim that the emails he left out of the March 8 press release to the media did “not raise any new matters” make it almost impossible to believe that Ohio State officials did not deliberately misrepresent the facts of the case contained in the official March 8 Ohio State self-report to the NCAA and to the media the same day.
Then there’s last week, which saw Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany twice confirm with public statements that Ohio State discovered Tressel’s emails only because of an open records request from the media, which contradicted the school’s version of how it found the emails. A contradiction affirmed by Lynch in an email message to CBSSports.com reporter Bryan Fischer on June 8.
And this subsequent admission by Lynch to Fischer about the January open records requests referenced by Delany in relation to the discovery of Tressel’s emails:
I can’t guarantee that this catches all of them, as a few head directly to individuals within the Athletics Department and I am unable to log them.
That last piece of previously-unknown, on-the-record, documented evidence leads me to now believe that we’re officially past the point of coincidence and/or any manner of misunderstanding. (See Delany’s possible future retraction.)
The only question that now remains is if those involved in Ohio State’s shameful coverup of the facts and deceptive presentation of its case to the NCAA and public will be held to the same accountability afforded the recently-ousted Tressel.