Ohio State, Youngstown State rocked by claims

By Gus Bode

Controversies about college athletes receiving money or other gratuities are nothing new in Division I-A schools, but it is rare to see the malady happen in conferences such as the Gateway.

But a scandal has rocked Ohio State recently, and its roots can be traced back to Youngstown State University, currently a member of the Gateway Football Conference – the same conference SIU competes in.

Maurice Clarett, a former running back for the Buckeyes, slung accusations he received passing grades, money and bogus jobs while competing at Ohio State under head coach Jim Tressel in an ESPN the magazine story.


Tressel has waded through these hot waters before. He first encountered such a controversy while coaching at Youngstown State.

Tressel took the helm at Youngstown in 1986 and led the team to four Division I-AA national titles between 1991 and 1997.

In 1988, Ray Isaac joined the Penguins as a quarterback. The NCAA would later learn Isaac began receiving money and the use of cars almost immediately upon arriving.

Patty Viverito, commissioner of the Gateway conference, couldn’t comment on specifics of the situation as YSU was not a member of the conference when Isaac’s tribulations took place – Youngstown joined the Gateway in 1997.

But Viverito said if something similar did occur within the Salukis’ football conference or the Missouri Valley Conference, the NCAA and the university in question would settle the matter.

“We would be of assistance in whatever capacity would be appropriate to bring the matter to a close,” Viverito said.

Essentially, representatives from the conference would act as mediators, although Viverito said the conference would choose to side with the school.


Student-athletes receiving compensation from a school or outside source is a problem SIU has not had to deal with, much to Paul Kowalczyk’s relief.

Kowalczyk, the athletic director for the University, said an excellent staff of administrators and coaches has diminished the possibility of such occurrences at SIU.

But Kowalczyk said if something along those lines did arise, the University would deal it with swiftly.

“We would work with the chancellor to get an objective person on campus to conduct an internal investigation,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s certainly not something you want happening in your program.”

Kowalczyk said he couldn’t judge Ohio State because all the facts simply aren’t known. Kowalczyk also did not know how the NCAA would be involved – he has never dealt with such an incident.

He did say college sports programs need to stress winning, but not at any cost, which is something SIU has been successful with.

Kowalczyk said keeping the donors, fans and student-athletes educated helps SIU from encountering the problems Ohio State is experiencing. He also said hiring coaches with strong ethics goes a long way.

But Kowalczyk said it is impossible for a head coach, athletic director or compliance officer to know everything that is going on. Discipline is needed, Kowalczyk said, to realize the long-term benefits of a college education rather than looking for instant gratification.

“There are a lot of dangers lurking out there, and we try to be diligent,” Kowalczyk said. “Who wants the headaches that Ohio State has right now?”

Clarett’s story fully realizes the dangers Kowalczyk refers to, specifically that of instant gratification.

Clarett, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, arrived at Ohio State in early 2002, thanks largely to the recruitment of OSU head coach, Jim Tressel. Shortly after, Clarett began driving a loaner car from a local used-car lot, and a local businessman paid his phone bills for him.

Clarett also said he received passing grades and bogus summer jobs to provide him with money.

Tressel, meanwhile, denied knowledge of the above claims despite Clarett saying Tressel directed him to the used car dealer.

Clarett is now suspended, and ESPN.com reports a representative from the NCAA will visit Ohio State to investigate Clarett’s claims, which have been denied by the university.

Isaac’s story closely resembles Clarett’s.

Isaac was taking money from businessman Michael Monus, who said Tressel called him asking that a job be set up for Isaac.

Isaac said Tressel knew nothing of the payments and the NCAA found no evidence he did. The NCAA dropped the matter, but Youngstown conducted an internal investigation.

Youngstown would later admit to a lack of institutional control and accept minor scholarship cuts, as reported by ESPN.com. Tressel was not reprimanded in any way, and soon found his way to Ohio State.

Jon Heacock, Youngstown’s current head coach, was the defensive coordinator under Tressel at YSU from 1992 to 1996. He declined to comment to the Daily Egyptian, saying he had enough to worry about with his own team.

Whether or not Clarett’s accusations about Ohio State turn out to be true, the Buckeyes have received a black eye from the scandal itself. Kowalczyk doesn’t want the same happening at SIU.

“It’s not a reputation you want,” he said.