OSU says no violations occurred at benefit dinner

Updated: December 28, 2006, 4:56 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio State investigation has concluded no NCAA rules violations occurred at a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser in Akron to help families of four Ohio State players attend the national championship game.

The players could have been suspended if they were found in violation of rules that prohibit athletes from receiving special benefits.

"The bottom line on this issue is: Did these student-athletes receive an extra benefit or not?" said NCAA spokesman Bob Williams. "Everything that I have heard is that they did not."

Starting tailback Antonio Pittman and his backup, Chris Wells were at the Dec. 23 spaghetti dinner but left midway through after Paulette Wells, Chris Wells' mother, called Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman to ask whether it might violate NCAA bylaws. Bollman advised her to have the Buckeyes players leave the event, which they did.

"We have thoroughly investigated this situation and feel confident that no rule violations occurred," said Doug Archie, Ohio State's associate director of athletics for compliance. "We have talked to all the principals involved and are confident that the players and their families had no prior knowledge of the event. Additionally, no money was given to anyone associated with the Ohio State football program. Those are the litmus tests."

Williams said the matter could still be revisited by the NCAA, if it learns of something beyond what Ohio State discovered in its investigation.

"It could be independently looked at and that happens all the time," Williams said. "If it looks like there are other issues that need to be looked at, then of course they'd be looked at."

The families of sophomore defensive end Lawrence Wilson and senior defensive back DeAngelo Haslam also would have benefited from the event but did not attend. All four players are from the Akron area.

In Gainesville, Fla., Gators coach Urban Meyer said Ohio State's players should not be penalized because they didn't knowingly do anything wrong. He said the situation reveals how hard it is for parents to travel to see their sons play.

"That's awful that the parents sometimes can't go see their players play," he said. "When I see things like that, I'd love to help the parents too get out there because they need to go see their kids play. Some of the parents told me what it cost to go watch this game. It's nuts."

The dinner was intended to defray travel costs for the families to the Jan. 8 championship game in Glendale, Ariz. Almost 100 people at $8 per person attended the fundraiser.

"I don't think anybody had intentions of doing anything illegal," Bollman said earlier this week. "But people did some things without thinking about it."

Dawn Stigger-Ferguson, a friend of one player's family and the fundraiser organizer, said previously the money would go instead to local youth football organizations. But in a statement Thursday, she said the event lost money because of the cost of food and supplies.

Her intent was to help a family friend and she did not ask the players to attend, Stiggers-Ferguson said.

"I would like to apologize to Ohio State, the fans, the players and their families for this unfortunate incident," she said.

Pittman is the team's leading rusher and scorer with 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns. Wells, a freshman, is second in rushing with 567 yards and has scored seven times. Wilson is in the rotation on the defensive line and has played in 10 games, totaling 14 tackles including five for negative yardage -- sixth best on the team. Haslam has not played this season.

Ohio State's athletic department was handed three years of probation in March of 2006 stemming from seven violations which took place in the men's basketball program and one each in football and women's basketball -- many of which involved extra benefits for athletes, particularly money given to two men's basketball players from Eastern Europe.

Half of page 22 of Ohio State's football media guide includes NCAA regulations and compliance notes. One subtitle is: "Got Questions? Ask Compliance."

Quarterback Troy Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy earlier this month, was suspended for the 2004 bowl game and the 2005 season-opener for accepting $500 from a team booster. Soon after that, Ohio State began putting messages to boosters and fans in the media guide and on video screens around venues.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said major problems were avoided because the players recognized that the fundraiser might be an extra benefit as defined by the NCAA.

"Obviously, the coaches and compliance staff are doing a good job of educating our players, and our players are listening to what they are saying," Smith said.

The Buckeyes are set to leave for the national championship game Saturday.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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