COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer is not the only one who has revamped the culture of the Ohio State football team this season.
A new 805-page report OSU sent to the NCAA details for the first time the full depths of the scrutiny players — and area businesses and boosters — now face because of past violations.
An athletics compliance staff bolstered from five workers to a dozen is leaving little to chance. According to the report reviewed by The Blade, the school nearly tripled its number of rules education sessions, charged a former NCAA investigator with monitoring its highest-profile players, and reached out to 2,000 area businesses — then employs exhaustive measures to verify the lessons take hold.
Among the safeguards include random audits to ensure current players have not sold or exchanged gear or awards, and license-plate software that allows school officials to determine car ownership.
This week, as the No. 12 Buckeyes prepare to raise their game against Nebraska in a Saturday night showdown at Ohio Stadium, so is the compliance department. Staffers will vet player guests — only those who have been previously contacted and cleared can gain free admission — and keep watch for overzealous supporters. To limit “interaction between boosters and student-athletes,” the school developed a pre-signed card players can hand to fans waiting outside their locker room after games.
Welcome to the Buckeyes’ locktight new world.
“They’re everywhere around here,” Meyer said recently of the compliance staff. “We have all kinds of compliance sessions we have to put them through. There’s not a day go by that we’re not at least addressing it.”
The hulking report, filed with the NCAA Committee of Infractions on Aug. 15, offers the first complete look at the Ohio State athletic department’s response to the tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that ousted former coach Jim Tressel.
OSU acknowledges the past, providing the NCAA with mounds of evidence it has scrubbed clean all records and statistics from the 2010 season and proof the school donated the $338,811 earned from the vacated 2011 Sugar Bowl to charity — including a $20,000 check to Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart Home in Oregon. It also includes the form letter sent to all football recruits detailing the school‘s punishment — a 2012 bowl ban, scholarship restrictions, and three years of probation.
“While we are disappointed with these sanctions, we are certain that Ohio State is moving in a positive direction,” athletic director Gene Smith writes to the prospects.
Mostly, however, Ohio State outlines its controls for the future, beginning with a beefed-up patrol.
OSU has added seven compliance staff members since 2010, including former Tennessee compliance director Brad Bertani for a new position that will “focus almost exclusively on the football program.” Bertani travels with the team and keeps his office in the football facility.
“Brad Bertani is right there with them pretty much 24-7 to answer their questions,” OSU compliance director Doug Archie said in a phone interview.
Football players now attend 13 to 15 education sessions per year — up from five in 2010. A slide show from one summer meeting featured clips from “Pony Excess” — an ESPN documentary on Southern Methodist University’s death-penalty case in the mid-1980s — and reminders to “assume everyone is an OSU booster!” One slide reads, “Former teammates can provide reasonable benefits consistent with what students do for each other [e.g., buying dinner’]. They can’t buy you a car.”
The school underscores these points further with its football and men’s basketball stars. OSU formed an Elite-Student Athlete Program to be overseen by Jason Singleton, a former money laundering specialist for Comerica Bank in Detroit and NCAA investigator, in which it identifies “athletes who will likely be approached by agents.”
“He’s been able to form relationships with them, get an understanding of what’s going on in their lives and be part of their inner circle because they really view and see him differently than they do the rest of our compliance staff,” Archie said of Singleton, a former OSU basketball player. “He’s a former student-athlete. He understands the pressures and demands.”
OSU also laid out its previously announced commitment to ensuring school-issued memorabilia doesn't reach the open market.
Players used to be able to purchase and take home gear and apparel like bowl-game jerseys or the alternate Nike helmets worn against Michigan in 2009 and 2010. Now, the uniforms will be kept in a secure container at the football facility until the player leaves the school.
As for awards like Big Ten championship rings or the gold pants trinket the Buckeyes receive for beating Michigan, players can still take those home. But they must be able to produce the goods in “random audits.” Athletes sign a form acknowledging the school can make them “prove that I have not sold these items.”
“The [university] asked us to take it to the next level,” Archie said.
Buckeyes set dates
with TCU in ’18, ’19
Ohio State will play TCU in a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019, the schools announced Tuesday.
The Buckeyes will visit Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, for the first time Sept. 15, 201,8 and will host the Horned Frogs on Sept. 21, 2019. OSU also plays Cincinnati in 2018.
The Horned Frogs have 97 wins the past 10 years — fifth most in major college football. The schools last met in 1973, with OSU winning 37-3 in Columbus. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 4-1-1.