COLUMBUS — The mentor for former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was investigated and cleared by the NCAA in 2008 of allegations that he improperly acted as a booster while helping the player pick a college, according to records released Friday.
Less than three years later, Ted Sarniak was a central figure in coach Jim Tressel’s downfall and Pryor’s departure from Ohio State.
The records show the NCAA in 2008 ruled in favor of Sarniak, a businessman and hometown friend in Jeannette, Pa., who went with Pryor on several recruiting visits.
“Our staff could not conclude that the benefits provided by [Sarniak] to the prospective student-athlete constituted a violation,” the NCAA’s Amy Huchthausen wrote in a letter dated Sept. 17, 2008, to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith.
However, Sarniak was told he could no longer provide money, meals, tickets, presents, or a cell phone to Pryor.
“Mr. Sarniak may continue his relationship with Pryor and his family,” Ohio State NCAA compliance director Doug Archie wrote to Sarniak on Sept. 5, 2008. “However, since the relationship does not meet the NCAA’s definition of a ‘preexisting relationship,’ NCAA rules require that the relationship must change.”
Sarniak yesterday declined to comment. It has not been alleged that Sarniak was involved in any wrongdoing related to the scandal that forced Tressel out.
The 2008 investigation found that Sarniak was mistakenly provided free lodging at a university hotel during Pryor’s official visit in November, 2007, but the mistake was discovered, and Sarniak was later billed.
The investigation also alleged Sarniak improperly paid for the meals of two assistant coaches visiting Pryor in Pennsylvania in December, 2007.
All “expenses incurred on this recruiting trip by the coaches, including the cost of meals, should have been paid for by the institution,” Huchthausen’s letter said.
It was unclear yesterday what the outcome of this allegation was, although it appears to have been reported in a summary of secondary violations Ohio State provided to the NCAA earlier this month.
Secondary violations are common breaches of NCAA rules, usually unintended and requiring education of a coach or a player or minor sanctions against a university.
In April, 2010, Tressel received an email from a tipster informing him that Pryor and other players had accepted improper benefits from a local tattoo-parlor owner. Tressel did not notify his superiors or the compliance department at Ohio State, as required by NCAA rules and his contract. But he instead forwarded the email only to Sarniak.
Asked why he thought first of Sarniak, he told NCAA investigators, “I felt from a safety standpoint that I needed to alert Ted to the gravity of that” (since Pryor was one of the players involved).
That decision led to Tressel being forced to resign on May 30. Pryor subsequently left Ohio State a year early and is hopeful of being included in a possible NFL supplemental draft.
Sarniak has not been accused of any bylaw violations throughout a lengthy NCAA investigation into the Ohio State program covering the last few months.
Sarniak, who runs a glass factory, has declined to speak publicly since the NCAA problems of Ohio State and Pryor first came to light last December.
Ohio State goes before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Aug. 12.
The university has offered to vacate the 2010 season, including the Sugar Bowl victory, and to go on two years of probation. The committee, whose final decision is not expected until later this fall, could tack on bowl bans, fines, and recruiting limitations on top of what Ohio State has proposed.