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COLUMBUS-- With the hours dwindling until the deadline for Ohio State's response to NCAA allegations of improper benefits and a cover up in the football program, athletic director Gene Smith said yesterday that he's disappointed by "where we are" even as he's encouraged by the work of the school's compliance department.
Ohio State is on track to submit its reply today to NCAA charges of major violations that led to coach Jim Tressel's forced resignation and the departure of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"I feel good about how we collaborated with the NCAA and about what you'll see in our response," Smith told The Associated Press. "But I am disappointed where we are" in terms of violations and possible sanctions.
Smith declined to address particulars about Ohio State's answer to the NCAA's 14-page cover letter and list of allegations, which were sent to the university in April. He said Ohio State had worked hard to answer all the questions stemming from charges that football players received cash and discounted tattoos from a local businessman and that Tressel had covered up his knowledge of the NCAA violations.
Despite Ohio State fans and others blaming the school's compliance officials for the problems, Smith said his respect for the beleaguered department actually increased.
"I've learned so much throughout this process," he said. "I feel somewhat reaffirmed that the compliance department does a good job. Are there things we could be better at? No question."
Smith added that he and many Buckeyes athletes feel betrayed by those who broke NCAA rules.
"It's been hard. This has hurt our fans. We've been damaged," he said. "We've really been hurt by the fact that everybody in the athletic department has been indicted because of the actions of a few."
In a congratulatory letter recently sent to all Ohio State athletic administrators, coaches and staff, Smith attempted to raise the morale of a department which has been battered by the scandal. The letter highlighted that the university had a record 523 scholar-athletes, there were 329 academic All-Big Ten honorees, the football team's 985 on the NCAA's Academic Progress Report was No. 1 of the teams in the final Top 25 and that Ohio State won national championships in men's volleyball and synchronized swimming in addition to 10 Big Ten titles.
"Even as we succeed in so many important ways, we have our challenges with the NCAA investigation," the letter noted.
Five Ohio State football players were suspended last December for the first five games of the 2011 season for accepting improper benefits from Columbus tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife. Soon after, while preparing an appeal on behalf of those players, Ohio State discovered emails which showed that Tressel knew of the violations in April 2010 but did not disclose it to his superiors, the compliance department or the NCAA. Instead, he forwarded the first email to an older friend of Pryor's in his hometown of Jeannette, Pa.
Tressel met with school President Gordon Gee and Smith and was induced to resign on May 30. Luke Fickell, a defensive assistant coach, was elevated to interim head coach.
Pryor, who was also investigated for other improper benefits, announced in June that he would give up his senior season to make himself available for an NFL supplemental draft.