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Published: Monday, 7/14/2003

OSU football's next big test is all academic

Ohio State University athletic director Andy Geiger said yesterday he was not aware of any NCAA violations and that star running back Maurice Clarett was not given preferential treatment detailed in a New York Times article examining the academic performance of OSU student-athletes.

It's not what you know. It's what you can prove.

With that in mind, university president Karen Holbrook said Geiger and incoming interim provost Barbara Snyder will head an internal investigation attempting to sort fact from fiction.

Nothing that took place during last year's national championship football season, or will likely take place this upcoming season, will be any more important than the result of those findings.

The mere appearance of academic fraud is a serious matter. It cuts to the heart of a university's credibility as an institution of higher learning.

Because, while it's entirely possible that coach Jim Tressel wasn't aware of the classroom struggles of Clarett and Chris Vance as detailed in the Times' article, guess what?

It's Tressel's program, his players, his problem.

Clarett: storm center Clarett: storm center
PAUL CONNORS / AP Enlarge

Brace yourself for Buckeyegate, OSU fans.

Only, don't shoot the messenger.

An employee or athlete with an axe to grind can be an athletic director's worst nightmare — especially if they're telling the truth.

It happened recently at the University of Georgia, where a former basketball player unhappy with his treatment shared information with ESPN that subsequently brought down coach Jim Harrick and assistant Jim Harrick, Jr.

Who knows why the graduate student turned former Ohio State teaching assistant went public?

Maybe it was the result of her dismissal by Kenneth Goings, chairman of the department of African-American and African Studies.

Goings told the Times that the teaching assistant, who did not allow the newspaper to use her name, has a history of “psychiatric problems” and “erratic behavior.”

Maybe it was because of her perception — developed from working closely with all members of OSU's student population — that athletes were treated more favorably in the classroom.

But even if only a shred of what she said is true, Holbrook, Geiger and Snyder shouldn't hesitate making their investigation a top priority.

Remember one thing. Associate professor Paulette Pierce, who worked directly with Clarett and administered two oral examinations that enabled him to pass African-American and African Studies 101 after he walked out of the midterm test without completing it, validated the teaching assistant's charges.

The difference of opinion was in their conclusions.

The teaching assistant claimed that Clarett was granted special favors because of his notoriety. Pierce said she administered the oral exams as a means of helping Clarett reach his academic potential.

The upcoming investigation may be hard for OSU fans to accept as university officials probe into an athletic department whose football team provided so much excitement last year. No one had any idea that an even bigger surprise was developing off the field.



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