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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

OSU imposes penalty

BY JARROD ULREY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger and president Karen Holbrook announce a one-year ban on basketball tournament play that Geiger admits may not be enough after OSU and the NCAA continue their investigations.
Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger and president Karen Holbrook announce a one-year ban on basketball tournament play that Geiger admits may not be enough after OSU and the NCAA continue their investigations.
WILL SHILLING / AP Enlarge

COLUMBUS - Thad Matta knew when he was hired July 9 as Ohio State's men's basketball coach that he and his team might be penalized for recruiting violations committed under former coach Jim O'Brien.

After practice yesterday, Matta informed his players that his worst fears had been realized.

Ohio State president Karen A. Holbrook and athletic director Andy Geiger announced yesterday that the school has implemented self-imposed sanctions that include a one-year ban on NIT or NCAA postseason competition following this season should the Buckeyes have qualified.

Also considered a part of the sanctions was the firing of O'Brien on June 8, shortly after he admitted to Geiger that five years ago he gave $6,000 to the family of recruit Aleksandar Radojevic.

"The shame is for our players who had nothing to do with it," Matta said. "They're being penalized for a crime they didn't commit, but that's life. That is part of how things go sometimes."

Because of the self-imposed ban, Ohio State extended Matta's contract by one year, thus his new contract will run through the 2011-12 season.

Matta said that he and his staff have "fallen in love" with a team that is 5-2 and includes three seniors - Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, Matt Marinchick and Tony Stockman - who won't have a chance to go to postseason play, but the Buckeyes now will focus on two things: the Big Ten tournament and building for the future.

If Ohio State wins the Big Ten tournament, the conference will not have an automatic NCAA qualifier.

As for the current group of players, the feeling in the locker room following the announcement was not anger, but confusion.

"I think they're a little bit confused as 18 to 22-year-olds, but I'll tell you one thing about these guys, and that's that they're very mature," Matta said. "We will not let this affect the future of Ohio State basketball. It was like, 'OK, now we know.' I think confused might be the best way to describe how they reacted, but by the time they were in there for a while, the guys kind of got recentered."

There likely will be further penalties, Geiger said, although he did not elaborate on what the penalties might be.

The sanctions come simultaneously with a lawsuit filed by O'Brien against the university, claiming he is owed at least $3.4 million because his firing violated terms of his contract.

"We believe, based on the information that we have gathered to date, that there were violations of NCAA rules," Geiger said. "We felt it very, very important that we establish this step so that our basketball staff and basketball program can move forward with their recruiting and other activities.

"We're taking ourselves out this year, and hopefully the team will have a fine record at the end of the year. But how this affects play, we'll find out. We've been very pleased with our play so far."

The one-year extension offered to Matta was initiated by the university, Matta said. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the program over the past few months, Matta said it has not hurt recruiting.

"I'm honored that Ohio State [would extend my contract]," Matta said. "It shows me personally the support and shows where the future of the Ohio State basketball program is headed. This program has definitely become about the future, although I don't want to discard what's been done in the past. We are continuing to recruit from seniors to juniors to sophomores to freshmen and I don't know what else could happen [with future recruits].

"For the players we bring in, it will not affect them. Honestly I haven't had anything to do with this at all, but I was shown case studies of other programs and what they've done and what they've received [in terms of penalties], and I feel extremely confident that the one-year ban will be it."

Ohio State did not seek the NCAA's approval before deciding on the self-imposed sanctions, but according to Geiger "you compare notes with the NCAA and you begin to put together a possible list of sanctions."

"The investigations are ongoing," Geiger said. "Ohio State is interviewing and the NCAA is interviewing. Often we are doing it jointly, sometimes separately.

"We do not anticipate closure on this issue for some time. It is a long and slow process. When we feel we have enough facts and we agree with the NCAA on where we are, we will certainly be back to impose further penalties. We are doing this in a cooperative way with the NCAA, and the activities are ongoing."



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