Terrelle Pryor's cars focus of probe

Updated: June 1, 2011, 4:26 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A day after coach Jim Tressel's forced resignation for lying about Ohio State players receiving improper benefits, the focus has shifted to the investigation of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his succession of used cars.

The salesman who put Pryor behind the wheel of several vehicles said in a sworn affidavit released by Ohio State on Tuesday that he didn't offer any special deals to Buckeyes.

"The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I've done for all my other customers," Aaron Kniffin said in the statement.

Tressel's 10-year reign as coach of the Buckeyes ended in disgrace Monday as he was forced to step down for breaking NCAA rules. He knew players received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment and did not tell anyone at Ohio State or the NCAA what he knew for more than nine months. NCAA rules -- and Tressel's contract -- specify that he must disclose any and all information about possible violations.

Pryor, the highest profile recruit of Tressel's 25-year coaching career, is one of five Buckeyes who have already been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for taking money and tattoos from local tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife, who pleaded guilty last week to federal drug trafficking and money-laundering charges.

Pryor is still undecided on whether to enter the NFL's supplemental draft, which will be held in July if any players apply.

Willie Burns, Pryor's godfather and legal guardian, told ESPN's Joe Schad that the quarterback "says no one minute and then he may go the next."

In the wake of the NCAA probe into Pryor, several Buckeyes players -- who are not allowed to comment publicly -- expressed frustration and disappointment in the suspended quarterback.

At least one returning starter seemed to blame him for Tressel's resignation, telling Schad: "I haven't spoken with Terrelle and I don't care to. It really sucks Coach Tress had to take the fall for a couple idiots' mistakes."

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Terry GilliamTerrelle Pryor, whose acquisition of cars has drawn NCAA scrutiny, arrived at a team meeting Monday in this Nissan 350Z.

Ohio State confirmed that the NCAA continues to look into potential violations.

"I can tell you that obviously you have an open investigation," Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said Tuesday. "The university and the NCAA are working jointly to review any new allegations that come to light. We're going to continue to do so until their investigation wraps up."

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the NCAA and Ohio State are investigating more than 50 vehicle purchases by Buckeyes players, family members and friends. Sports Illustrated, citing a source close to the investigation, reported that Pryor, who will be a senior this fall, might have driven as many as eight cars in his three years in Columbus.

Even though Pryor's vehicles have been a focal point of the investigation for weeks, that doesn't mean he has been riding a bicycle around the city.

Pryor drove up to a players-only team meeting Monday night in a coal-black Nissan 350Z sports car with 30-day plates. The automotive information site Edmunds.com lists a recent, used 350Z, which it calls "a proper sports car for the everyman," as costing between $16,000 and $27,000.

Pryor was stopped three times for traffic violations the past three years, each time driving cars that were owned by Kniffin or a Columbus used-car dealership where Kniffin worked, the Dispatch has reported. Kniffin, owner Jeff Mauk of Jack Maxton Chevrolet, Inc., and Jason Gross of Auto Direct Columbus, Inc., each provided affidavits to Ohio State officials earlier this month.

They said that all transactions associated with an Ohio State athlete were cleared through Ohio State's NCAA compliance department.

"If the OSU Compliance Department approved the transaction terms, the transaction would be finalized and the vehicle would be delivered to the customer," Mauk said in his statement.

A source at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles told ESPN that Pryor's driver's license was suspended in February 2011 and he was not granted any driving privileges. In addition, a representative of the Franklin County Court told ESPN that Pryor could regain his driving privileges by bringing in the required documentation, but he has not done so.

To lift the suspension, Pryor must show proof of insurance but, as of now, he has not done so with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Even though the dealerships have dozens of signed jerseys on display in their showrooms, Kniffin and the dealerships said that was not part of any deal.

"OSU student-athletes weren't given any enticements to buy the car at my dealership," Kniffin said. "At no time did memorabilia come into play when it came time to negotiate a deal or buy a car. I was never given any memorabilia from a student-athlete in exchange for a car deal."

Late on Monday night, Sports Illustrated reported that the memorabilia-for-tattoos violations actually stretched back to 2002, Tressel's second season at Ohio State, and involved at least 28 players -- 22 more than the university has acknowledged. Those numbers include, beyond the five suspended players, an additional nine current players as well as other former players whose alleged wrongdoing might fall within the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations on violations.

After the article's release, athletic director Gene Smith issued a statement.

"During the course of an investigation, the university and the NCAA work jointly to review any new allegations that come to light, and will continue to do so until the conclusion of the investigation," he said. "You should rest assured that these new allegations will be evaluated in exactly this manner. Beyond that, we will have no further comment."

Former Buckeyes coach John Cooper weighed in on the scandal in an interview with WBNS-TV in Columbus.

"Compliance is not doing their job when this kind of stuff happens and they act like they don't know about it," he said. "When I was coaching over there, compliance was around everywhere. It's almost like they were trying to find us violating a rule."

Since Tressel resigned, Ohio State is not required under terms of his contract to offer a buyout or any severance package. Tressel made about $3.5 million a year.

"I'm not aware of any buyout," Lynch said. "But we are attending to the details of the transition."

Luke Fickell, an assistant coach, will be interim coach until Ohio State hires a replacement for Tressel after the 2011 season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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