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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

Geiger needs to get control of program

SAN ANTONIO - Maybe the time wasn't right for Ohio State to suspend quarterback Troy Smith a week before Wednesday's Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.

But maybe it was the right time for athletic director Andy Geiger to publicly announce that he's running a tight ship and no one is immune from punishment. Not even a key starter.

Geiger did all that he could, short of pronouncing Smith guilty of committing an NCAA infraction that the Columbus Dispatch reported as Smith accepting an improper gift from an Ohio State booster. Now it's time for a little bit more.

There has to be some acknowledgement from on top that Ohio State's athletic department needs an improved system of checks and balances.

There needs to be a sign that the lessons learned are more significant than the stark reality that Ohio State's athletic department is starting to embarrass the entire university.

It was easy enough to label former football player Maurice Clarett an isolated bad seed, a loose cannon who couldn't do wrong right. Maybe it was too easy to pin everything on Clarett, instead of searching for an institutional flaw that enabled someone like Smith to slip under the radar and slip up.

After everything that transpired with Clarett, how could Ohio State boosters still be in position for this sort of thing to continue to occur? And how could Smith, who watched the Clarett saga unfold, place himself and the football program in such a precarious position?

Maybe it's time for Geiger to realize that the off-field image of the football team hasn't improved since John Cooper's dismissal.

If anything, it's worse.

Smith's suspension is only the latest blemish.

There have been 14 players arrested since coach Jim Tressel took over in 2001. And, yes, Smith was one of those 14 after he was found guilty of disorderly conduct in connection with a campus fight a year ago.

Instead of heated verbal exchanges with inquisitive reporters, Geiger needs to direct his anger at his football program, where the conduct of the players is damaging Ohio State's integrity and reputation.

The truth hurts.

Under Tressel, the Buckeyes have notably upgraded their football prowess, culminating with a national championship in 2002. He has a team consistently among the nation's best playing before sold-out crowds at Ohio Stadium.

Off the field, however, Tressel's Buckeyes are sending mixed signals and it's time for Geiger to start over.

Starting over means seeking out and cutting ties with boosters like the one who allegedly gave Smith the improper gift.

Starting over also means Smith should be made to understand he's working on his second strike and running out of chances.

Smith is fortunate he wasn't kicked off the team, given his already shaky off-the-field track record. Starters can't be made to feel they're bigger than the program. That's what led to Clarett's downfall.

Geiger needs to quickly remove the clouds over the football program. Smith's suspension is a much-needed start.

If that doesn't get Smith's and the other players' attention, maybe it's time to turn up the heat and apply more drastic measures.

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