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COLUMBUS - Ohio State University officials yesterday insisted star running back Maurice Clarett was eligible to play in the Fiesta Bowl national football championship despite a New York Times story that he received favorable academic treatment.
The Times, quoting an unidentified former graduate teaching assistant, said Clarett, a freshman, walked out of a midterm exam last fall in an introductory African-American and African Studies course and then failed to take the final written test.
Instead, the associate professor teaching the class administered two oral exams, which Clarett reportedly passed. The university said the associate professor did not accord Clarett treatment that hasn't been provided to students experiencing similar problems.
“I don't think in this case that Maurice has done anything wrong,” said Andy Geiger, university director of athletics. “He didn't promulgate any of this.”
He insisted that everyone who played in the double-overtime Fiesta Bowl victory was eligible. The undefeated Buckeyes upset top-ranked and undefeated Miami Hurricanes 31-24 for the national title.
The university felt the story was important enough to hold a rare Sunday press conference featuring President Karen A. Holbrook. She pledged that the school would look into the Clarett incident as well as broader allegations of special treatment and cheating among Ohio State athletes and tutors.
“Let me be clear that no complaint by any student, faculty member, or teaching assistant has been filed through any university process,” said Holbrook. “Nonetheless, we take the allegations made by the New York Times very seriously and will investigate them thoroughly.”
No time limit was set for completion of the investigation.
The teaching assistant interviewed by the Times also alleged that wide receiver Chris Vance, a senior, had submitted a sophisticated outline for a paper in the class that she suspected had been written by someone else. Vance failed the course and struggled in others, but he played in the championship game.
Citing student-confidentiality law, Geiger declined to discuss the specific academic performance of Clarett or Vance. He also would not discuss the Times' assertion that Clarett may have had a reading disability.
But Geiger said the associate professor teaching the course had assured the school Clarett passed the oral exams and the course and was, therefore, eligible to play in the Jan.3 game.
He noted that, under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, a student who had a poor fall quarter would not have his eligibility suspended until the start of the winter quarter on Jan. 6, three days after the Fiesta Bowl was played in Phoenix.
“Those students were eligible for the Fiesta Bowl,” he said. “One of the problems with the New York Times story was that, according to the faculty member, no student received preferential treatment in that class and that those students who received a grade in the class fulfilled the commitment to that class.
“We have no problem with Maurice Clarett's eligibility or with the eligibility of Chris Vance to play in the bowl game,” he said.
David Frantz, a professor of English and former liaison between academics and athletics, said professors are given wide latitude in dealing with students and that Paulette Pierce, the associate professor teaching this course, had provided a syllabus encouraging struggling students to approach her on an individual basis.
“It's clear from the history of this professor that she did not deal [with Clarett] in any way different than the way she had dealt with many other students in the past,” he said. “I believe that she herself has stated that she has given oral examinations to a number of students over the years.”
Barbara Snyder, incoming interim provost, would not comment on allegations by the unidentified teaching assistant that she was dismissed from her position because she raised questions about preferential treatment for athletes with the department chairman.
She also would not comment on whether the teaching assistant and associate professor might have violated confidentiality law by disclosing information about a student's academic performance.
The school is in the process of a two-year NCAA recertification of its athletic program. A final decision has not yet been made, but Geiger said he has heard positive comments from the review team.
NCAA officials have reportedly been talking with Clarett about financial matters unrelated to the academic question. Geiger said such talks with an athlete would not be unusual.
Geiger told the newspaper that he did not think the NCAA's investigation would lead to Clarett's losing part of his eligibility for the upcoming season, but added: “That doesn't mean it won't change. As of now, he's fine.”
Coach Jim Tressel did not attend yesterday's press conference.
“He is obviously not pleased that the story has been presented in the way that it has been presented,” Geiger said.
Geiger said he doesn't know whether all of the team's key returning players will be eligible to play this fall based on their academic performance last year and this summer.
Clarett, who did not attend the press conference, is considered key to Ohio State's hopes of repeating as national champions this fall. He rushed for 1,237 yards last season.
He was the subject of controversy shortly before the championship game when he publicly complained that Ohio State would not pay to fly him home from Phoenix to attend the funeral of a friend.
The Associated Press said calls to the home of Clarett's mother in Warren went unanswered yesterday. He did not respond to the newspaper's requests for an interview.
The Blade's wire services contributed to this report.39.96196 -83.00298