OSU receives three years' probation for violations

Updated: March 11, 2006, 6:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State was placed on three years' probation Friday, a ruling that wipes out records from four NCAA Tournament appearances by the men's basketball team -- including a trip to the 1999 Final Four.

The decision by the NCAA does not affect this season's team, which is 22-4 and ranked seventh in the country. The announcement came about two hours before the top-seeded Buckeyes' quarterfinal game against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

The Buckeyes won't be barred from postseason play as a result of using an ineligible player from 1999-2002 under former coach Jim O'Brien. However, the school will have to repay tournament revenues, likely around $800,000, for the four years in which Boban Savovic played. He received improper gifts, including housing and cash, from a booster.

Of the roughly $800,000 penalty, Ohio State must pay $530,000 immediately, the Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday. Over the next three years, the Big Ten Conference will reduce OSU's portion of the conference's NCAA Tournament revenues by the amount still outstanding. The school must also pay O'Brien damages he was awarded when a judge ruled that he was wrongfully fired. That amount could be in excess of $6 million, the Dispatch reports. According to the newspaper, the school's athletic department has already paid $500,000 in legal fees related to the NCAA and O'Brien case. The school had only budgeted $150,000 for all legal costs this academic year. Athletics Director Gene Smith said recently that the department has $7 million in reserves. But according to the Dispatch, that may be over $1 million short of what the school must pay out.

Along with the financial penalties, Ohio State must take down the 1999 Final Four banner which hangs from the rafters in Value City Arena.

"The positives are closure," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in Indianapolis. "We're going into the Big Ten tournament and we want our student-athletes to have the opportunity to participate in this tournament understanding there won't be any sanctions they have to deal with. ... They can play without that stress."

The NCAA came down hard on O'Brien and former assistant coach Paul Biancardi, now the head coach at Wright State. If O'Brien gets a job at another college in the next five years, he and his new school must appear before the NCAA's infractions committee to discuss whether he will face additional limitations.

Biancardi was prohibited from recruiting until Oct. 1, 2007. If he does, Wright State could face NCAA sanctions.

Ohio State had acknowledged eight of nine violations alleged by the NCAA. The school fired O'Brien in June 2004 and held last season's team out of the postseason to try to avoid any additional penalties. The Buckeyes also limited their men's basketball scholarships to 11 this season, instead of the allowed 13.

Other penalties include a public reprimand and a reduction in on-campus visits by basketball recruits next year.

Seven violations involved the men's basketball program under O'Brien. The other two involved women's basketball and football.

Messages seeking comment were left for O'Brien's attorney and Biancardi.

O'Brien was fired after he told then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he gave a recruit $6,000 five years earlier.

Last month O'Brien won his lawsuit accusing the university of wrongfully firing him. Ohio State could have to pay him as much as $9.5 million.

O'Brien, the Buckeyes coach for seven years, said the loan of his own money to Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 prospect from Serbia, was not a violation because he knew Radojevic already had forfeited his amateur status by playing professionally.

"The $6,000 payment was a blatant violation," NCAA infractions committee vice chairwoman Josephine Potuto said in a news release. "The circumstances surrounding this violation are especially troubling because the former coaches concealed the cash payment from administrators at the institution for over five years."

The payment became public amid a court battle over another situation that led to three other violations.

Kathleen Salyers had sued two prominent boosters, saying they failed to pay her the $1,000 a month they promised to feed, house and support Savovic. Salyers also said she did schoolwork for Savovic.

The NCAA said the player committed academic fraud and the university did not adequately monitor his living situation.

In addition, five women's basketball players received free dental work totaling $13,760 in violation of NCAA bylaws. Troy Smith, the star quarterback in the Buckeyes' victories over Michigan the past two years, received $500 from a booster. Smith was suspended for the team's 2004 bowl game and the 2005 opener.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.