DAVID SMITH Enlarge
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A former Ohio State wide receiver told the school’s student newspaper that he sold Big Ten championship rings and other memorabilia for cash and got special car deals.
Ray Small, frequently benched, suspended or disciplined during an erratic career at Ohio State from 2006-2009, confirmed to The Lantern that when it came to getting improper benefits “everyone was doing it.”
He also said it was no big deal selling personal items given to the team: “We had four Big Ten rings. There was enough to go around.” And added that, despite Ohio State’s large and proactive NCAA compliance department, most of the school’s student-athletes “don’t even think about (NCAA) rules.”
Ohio State didn’t dismiss his charges but also didn’t sound as if it would try to find out any more about them.
“At this point, the university does not have enough information regarding the reported matters concerning a former student-athlete who has been gone from the football program for two years,” athletic department spokesman Dan Wallenberg said in an emailed statement.
Small was suspended for the 2010 Rose Bowl in what would have been his final game.
Five Buckeyes players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia to the owner of a local tattoo parlor. Athletes receiving money or other considerations not available to other students is considered an improper benefit under NCAA rules.
Coach Jim Tressel also is suspended for five games and is under investigation by the NCAA for knowing about his players’ involvement and not telling his superiors for more than nine months.
Small said he used the money he got to cover routine expenditures.
“We have apartments, car notes,” he said. “So you got things like that and you look around and you’re like, ‘Well I got (four) of them, I can sell one or two and get some money to pay this rent.’”
He said the biggest advantages came from car dealerships.
“It was definitely the deals on the cars. I don’t see why it’s a big deal,” Small said.
Ohio State and the NCAA are investigating more than 50 transactions between Ohio State athletes and their families and two Columbus auto dealerships.
“They have a lot (of dirt) on everybody,” Small said, “’cause everybody was doing it.”
Small had 61 catches for 659 yards and three touchdowns during his Ohio State career. After using up all his eligibility, he spent time on the practice squads of the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins and has now returned to Ohio State to get his degree in sociology.
Small said players went to see Edward Rife at Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor because Rife was an Ohio State fan and gave big discounts. It was the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of Rife on federal drug-trafficking charges that led to Ohio State officials finding out about the players’ improper benefits — and Tressel’s knowledge of those improper benefits.
Small said the players would have been foolish to turn down the discounted tattoos.
“If you go in and try to get a tattoo, and somebody is like ‘Do you want 50 percent off this tattoo?’ You’re going to say, ‘Heck yeah,’” Small said.
One of the team’s fastest players, he was seen as the heir apparent to Ted Ginn Jr. after the wide receiver and kick returner went to the NFL. But he spent much of his career in Tressel’s doghouse, for reasons that were never disclosed at the time.
He said Ohio State’s compliance department told athletes what they should and shouldn’t do when approached by fans willing to give them money or other things, but that the athletes seldom paid attention.
“They explain the rules to you, but as a kid you’re not really listening to all of them rules,” Small said. “You go out and you just, people show you so much love, you don’t even think about the rules. You’re just like ‘Ah man, it’s cool.’ You take it, and next thing you know the NCAA is down your back.”
Another former Ohio State player interviewed by The Lantern, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, said Ohio State told players about NCAA rules and if they were broken it was the players’ fault. Jenkins is now with the New Orleans Saints.
Wallenberg told the newspaper that Ohio State tried to inform athletes.
“We educate as best we can and expect student-athletes and staff to follow our messaging and policies,” he said.
Former Buckeyes basketball player Mark Titus wrote Tuesday on his blog that the perks within the football program are far from a secret.
“Any OSU student in the past five years could tell you that a lot of the football players drive nice cars,” Titus wrote. “You’d have to be blind to not notice it.”
He has since been overwhelmed by hate mail for his comments.
Other current Buckeyes football players took to social networking sites to complain that Small was a coward and a traitor.
Small said there was no shortage of people trying to help Ohio State athletes.
“Everywhere you go, while you’re in the process of playing at Ohio State, you’re going to get a deal every which way,” he said.