Dienhart: NCAA sends strong message

Dienhart: NCAA sends strong message

The NCAA hammer has come down hard at Ohio State. This afternoon, the NCAA announced Ohio State will be ineligible for postseason play in 2012, stripped nine scholarships over the next three years and added a third year of the probation to the two the school already had slapped on itself as part of earlier self-sanctions.

The result in Columbus has been shock. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had earlier stated that a bowl ban would be out of line with penalties given to schools who had committed similar violations. But this may be a new era of more punitive enforcement under NCAA president Mark Emmert, who took over in April 2010 and has seen many ugly headlines that have given many the perception that things are out of control.

Emmert’s message seems to be: Behave, or else.

(See the full list of penalties here, read the official statement from Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith at ohiostatebuckeyes.com and check out Urban Meyer’s statement.)

The NCAA also announced today that former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will be given a five-year “show-cause” label for his role in the scandal. So, any school that wants to hire him must go before the NCAA and state a case for it. And any school that hires him without following this NCAA-mandated procedure would face some type of penalties.

These are among some of the most severe sanctions levied against a Big Ten football program. The last time a Big Ten team was banned from a bowl was Minnesota in 1991. Other Big Ten teams banned from bowls have been Michigan State from 1976-78; Illinois from 1967-68 and in 1984; Indiana from 1960-63. And Ohio State was banned in 1956.

Ohio State's Gene Smith

Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

The scholarship cuts may have the biggest impact on Ohio State and new coach Urban Meyer, who was hired in November. While the bowl ban hurts, it’s missing the bowl practices leading up to a bowl that will hurt even more as Meyer looks to develop young players.

And what will this do to the Big Ten title chase in 2012? With Ohio State out of the picture and Penn State in turmoil, Wisconsin likely will be the favorite to repeat as Leaders Division champs. But the Badgers will have some major issues with quarterback Russell Wilson gone and running back Montee Ball perhaps off early to the NFL. Bottom line: The Legends Division looks to have the stronger and more stable programs entering next season.

The NCAA sanctions announced today are the culmination of almost a year’s worth of investigation and fact-finding into players receiving improper benefits. Last December, news of the scandal broke and Ohio State suspended five players for the first five games of 2011 for accepting cash and tattoos from the owner of a Columbus-area tattoo parlor.

Part of the fallout from the scandal included Tressel being forced to resign last spring for knowing about the situation and not informing his bosses about it. Also, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor was implicated and opted to leave for the NFL draft. Along with Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas all were suspended.

In November, the NCAA subsequently uncovered more violations about players receiving improper benefits in the form of a booster paying players for charity work and also paying players too much for part-time work. That led to more suspensions and the NCAA slapping Ohio State with a “failure to monitor” label, the second-most serious charge the NCAA can levy. And the school also has been labeled a repeat offender, as it already was on probation for violations committed by the men’s basketball program under Jim O’Brien.

Ohio State already had self-imposed some sanctions prior to today’s announcement. The school vacated all victories from 2010 and its share of the Big Ten title. Ohio State also has returned its share of bowl money from last season, imposed recruiting restrictions and trimmed five scholarships over the next three years.

But the NCAA stripped four more scholarships over the next three seasons on top of the five the school already had taken away from itself as part of its self-sanctions. And the NCAA also added a year of probation to the two the school already had slapped on itself.

Ohio State struggled through a 6-6 season with co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell serving as interim head coach. It was the school’s worst record since a 6-6 mark in 1999 under John Cooper. The Buckeyes will play Florida in the TaxSlayer.com Bowl on Jan. 2.

Ohio State’s woes are the latest black eye for the Big Ten, as its three most high-profile football programs have made ugly headlines in recent years.

Penn State is in the midst of the most sordid scandal ever to hit a campus, as charges of child sex abuse against a former assistant football rocked the nation and caused legendary coach Joe Paterno to be unceremoniously fired. Criminal and civil charges are in motion. And the NCAA may even get involved with some type of investigation.

Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan’s football program was placed on probation for the first time ever. The program was slapped with a three-year probation in November 2010 for violating practice and training limits. The NCAA didn’t say that Michigan failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance, but the program reduced training time by 130 hours over a two-year period as part of self-imposed penalties, among other things. Rodriguez was fired after the 2010 season and hired as head coach of Arizona this offseason.

But Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan haven’t been the worst NCAA violators among Big Ten football programs. According to a report in AnnArbor.com last summer, the football programs at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois have spent the most time on probation among Big Ten schools. In fact, those three schools are in the top 10 for football programs that have spent the most time on probation. The Spartans have had 10 years’ worth of probation accrued over three instances, with the last coming in 1996. Wisconsin and Illinois each have been on nine years of probation over four instances.

Indiana (five years over two instances); Minnesota (four years over two instances); Ohio State (four years over two instances); Nebraska (one year over one instance) also are on the list, along with Michigan (three years over one instance). Iowa, Purdue, Penn State and Northwestern are the only Big Ten football programs never to be on probation.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.

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