Ohio State and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's versions of how and when major violations were discovered earlier this year differ significantly, CBSSports.com has discovered.
That could possibly lead to more NCAA scrutiny in an already deepening scandal at the school. Experts say the discrepancy could cause the NCAA Committee on Infractions to determine that investigators were misled in the case that involved emails sent to former coach Jim Tressel.
In comments to the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, Delany said he learned that the now-former coach withheld emails from the school and the NCAA in mid-January. The commissioner -- "surprised and disappointed" -- added that he learned of the information at the same time as the school and the NCAA due to an open records request.
|Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is a former NCAA investigator. (Getty Images)|
The university's self-report to the NCAA says the school discovered the emails "while reviewing information on an unrelated legal issue." Subsequent reports by the Dispatch following the school's release of their self-report say that the emails were discovered while officials were preparing the appeal of players' penalties in a related student-athlete reinstatement case.
CBSSports.com obtained all Freedom of Information Act inquiries directed to the university. In documents released by a school spokesman, the earliest request in 2011 came from Bloomberg News requesting a copy of the school's NCAA Revenue and Expenses Report on Jan. 24, a full 11 days after the school reported they became aware of the emails. Yahoo! Sports, which broke the news that Tressel had prior knowledge of NCAA violations involving Buckeyes players, submitted its first open records request to the school on Feb. 28.
In his remarks Sunday, Delany also stipulated that he and the NCAA were notified right away once the emails were found.
"In the case of [Ohio State president] Gordon [Gee] and [athletic director] Gene [Smith], let's put it this way: When they had information about the tattoo situation, it went to the NCAA," Delany told the paper. "When they had information about Jim, it went to the NCAA. And pretty much in real time I knew about it."
But according to the school's self-report and subsequent comments by Smith, Ohio State discovered the emails on Jan. 13, interviewed Tressel three days later and then informed Delany on Feb. 2 and the NCAA a day later.
"When we came back from the bowl game, we discovered, through another process we were gathering information on another matter, that there were some emails that Coach Tressel had received that had revealed that he had some prior knowledge regarding the matter with our student athletes," Smith said at a March 8 press conference. "We informed commissioner Jim Delany and the very next day we notified the NCAA of our matter.
"We asked them on Feb. 3 to come and join us in the investigation that was started."
Michael L. Buckner, a lawyer who specializes in NCAA cases and has represented several schools during the enforcement process, says the discrepancy in discovering the emails could have consequences for the school when it appears in front of the Committee on Infractions in August.
"The NCAA will definitely want to find out how the institution found out about the allegations," he said. "There could be a possible failure to monitor allegation. If they found out about it because someone else sent in an open records request, then that means [Ohio State] found out about violations from somebody else external to the institution triggering that process. If the institution found out about it through their own way, then that could indicate that the institution did what it needed to do in order to find out about allegations."
Buckner added that Delany or members of the school would likely only face serious consequences if there was an intent to deceive NCAA investigators as to how they discovered the violations.
"It could have just been a misunderstanding. Or it could have been a different interpretation of the facts," Bucker said. "Their goal is going to have to be as thorough as they can with their investigation into this allegation."
Ohio State spokesperson Jim Lynch, when asked how the school discovered the emails, said that the university discovered the emails during an unrelated legal matter.
Two compliance experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the NCAA could revise the Notice of Allegations they sent the school on April 21. One source told CBSSports.com that adding a failure to monitor charge is a possibility.
In April 2010, Tressel was informed via email about star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and several other Buckeyes' involvement in dealing memorabilia to a suspected drug dealer. As the facts of the case unraveled over the months to come, it became known that Tressel failed to turn over the information to the compliance office and signed off on a statement saying he had no knowledge of the events.
"Between the period of April 2, 2010, and January 15, 2011, Head Football Coach Jim Tressel violated the provisions of NCAA Bylaw 10.1 when he failed to notify institutional officials of information he received beginning in April 2010 that concerned potential violations of NCAA preferential treatment legislation with student-athletes on the football team," Ohio State's self-report said.
Delany, a former NCAA investigator himself, has been criticized for his role in lobbying for the ineligible Ohio State players to play in the Sugar Bowl despite committing NCAA violations. As the investigation into Ohio State broadened and Tressel's role in withholding information became known, he later expressed regret at his role in the matter.