- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Jim Tressel is out as head coach of the Ohio State football team after failing to report NCAA violations by players last year. But concerns about his players receiving extra benefits -- and the coach's awareness of them -- date back to before he was hired by the Buckeyes in 2001.
Here's a timeline:
1998: An FBI investigation into a trustee at Youngstown State University, where Tressel is coach, reveals information that former quarterback Ray Isaac received approximately $10,000 in cash and improper use of cars. Isaac had led the Division I-AA Penguins to the 1991 national championship, the first of five national titles won by Tressel (four at YSU, one at OSU). Tressel claimed to have no knowledge of the violations, and a cursory school investigation implicated him in no wrongdoing.
2002: Former running back Maurice Clarett leads Ohio State to the national championship. He later tells ESPN The Magazine that he was given use of loaner cars by a Columbus dealership thanks to his status as a star Buckeyes football player. "When you're hot in Columbus, you just go," he said. "Somebody's going to recognize your face. You say, 'I need to use a car.' 'OK, here you go.'" He claims Tressel helped arrange his access to cars.
2004: Quarterback Troy Smith is suspended for the December bowl game and the 2005 regular-season opener for accepting $500 from a booster. This violation would be cited by the NCAA in April 2011 as cause for potentially stiffer penalties in the most recent case involving the sale of memorabilia for benefits and cash by players.
October 2008: Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor gets ticketed for speeding while driving a 2004 GMC Denali that belongs to Columbus car salesman Aaron Kniffin, who would sell more than 50 cars to players and their relatives. It's the first of three times in three years Pryor gets a ticket while driving a loaner car from a Columbus dealership.
2008: During or around this year, receiver Ray Small sells two of his Big Ten championship rings for about $2,000, he later tells ESPN's "Outside the Lines." He says he knew he was breaking NCAA rules but "didn't care," as he needed to pay his rent and make $600-a-month payments on a car that he had purchased with a relative's help through Kniffin. He says he never told Tressel or anyone else in the program about the ring sales.
April 2, 2010: Tressel receives an email from former Buckeyes player Chris Cicero, now a Columbus lawyer. Cicero passes along information supplied by a potential client, Edward Rife, whose tattoo parlor, Fine Line Ink, has become a popular hangout spot with players. Cicero tells Tressel that Rife is under federal investigation for drug trafficking and has bought signed memorabilia from OSU players. He closes the email with, "Have a Blessed Easter." Tressel replies, "Thanks. I will get on it ASAP. Happy Easter to you as well!! Go Bucks!! jt"
April 3, 2010: Tressel forwards the email from Cicero to Ted Sarniak, an adviser to Pryor.
April 16, 2010: Cicero emails Tressel again, this time with more detail about the OSU players' activities and their connection to Rife. He mentions 15 pairs of cleats, several jerseys, Big Ten championship rings and one national championship ring. Cicero expresses disappointment that the items are being sold for "not that much." Tressel replies, "I hear you!! It is unbelievable!! Thanks for your help keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up. jt." He does not inform any official at Ohio State.
June 1, 2010: Tressel writes Cicero, saying "our rings arrive this week for 2009 Big Ten any names from our last discussion?? I would like to hold some collateral if you know what I mean. jt". Cicero replies and says "no more names," and that, "the names I gave you for the two current players are still good."
June 6, 2010: Tressel responds to Cicero's note, thanking him in an email.
July 2010: Ohio State examines the relationship between its athletes and Kniffin's new employer, Auto Direct, after receiving an anonymous letter saying that employees at the dealership were trading use of cars for autographed memorabilia. Doug Archie, Ohio State compliance director, concludes that there are no NCAA violations.
Sept. 13, 2010: Tressel signs the standard annual NCAA certificate of compliance form indicating he has reported to the school any knowledge of potential violations.
Dec. 7, 2010: The U.S. attorney's office informs Ohio State officials that they had discovered Ohio State memorabilia during a raid on Rife's home and business. Among the 52 items listed by federal investigators, 36 were Buckeyes memorabilia. Among the most valuable items on the list was a $7,000 BCS Championship ring from 2002.
Dec. 9, 2010: On or around this day, Tressel learns about the feds' discovery of memorabilia associated with Rife. He makes no mention to any OSU official about his email exchanges earlier in the year.
Dec. 22, 2010: After an Ohio State and NCAA investigation, five players -- Terrelle Pryor, Daniel Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas -- get suspended for five games. Another player, Jordan Whiting, gets one game. But the NCAA allows the players to remain eligible for the upcoming Sugar Bowl, which the Buckeyes go on to win.
Dec. 23, 2010: Smith and Tressel announce the sanctions at a news conference. Former Buckeye Antonio Pittman, who left for the NFL in 2007, tweets: "This osu stuff is silly. Cats been getting hookups on tatts since back in 01."
Jan. 13, 2011: Ohio State's office of legal affairs discovers Tressel's email exchanges with Cicero.
Jan. 16: Tressel is questioned by school officials and first acknowledges receiving the emails.
Feb .8: Tressel admits to NCAA and school officials that he understood he committed an NCAA violation.
March 8: Ohio State announces that Tressel will be suspended for two games and fined $250,000, money that will be used to cover some of the legal fees incurred by the school in defending itself.
March 17: Tressel requests and receives the same five-game suspension as his players.
March 25: Reports emerge stating that Tressel forwarded Cicero's emails to Sarniak last spring.
April 21: NCAA issues its Notice of Allegations against OSU, alleging that Tressel "knew or should have known that at least two football student-athletes received preferential treatment from and sold institutionally issued athletic awards, apparel, and/or equipment to Rife, but he failed to report" the violations to school authorities.
April 25: Reports state that Tressel exchanged at least 12 emails with Cicero, and also called FBI agent Harry Trombitas, whose son, Matt, is a former player. Trombitas said the call was unrelated to player violations.
May 7: The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio State's rules compliance chief, Doug Archie, said he will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of OSU athletes at two Columbus car dealers to see if any sale violated NCAA rules. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles also initiates an investigation. Kniffin, the salesman whose transactions are being scrutinized, says no special deals were given to athletes.
May 26: The student newspaper at Ohio State, The Lantern, publishes a story about former receiver Ray Small, suggesting that a culture of special deals and extra benefits was pervasive among Buckeyes players. Small is quoted, "everybody was doing it," though no details or names are published. A day later, Small tells ESPN and other outlets that he broke NCAA rules but knows of no other players who did.
May 27: Rife files notice that he will plead guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking. No players are implicated. Rife is ordered to forfeit $50,000 to the U.S. government, and he agrees to allow the government to sell his memorabilia at an auction if he cannot raise the money.
May 30: Tressel resigns.
Sources: ESPN.com, ESPN Stats & Info, ESPN the Magazine, Columbus Dispatch, Yahoo! Sports, NCAA, wire stories.
Tom Farrey is an ESPN correspondent for Outside the Lines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8hKevin Stone, ESPN.com