- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 21, 2011

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - It started with a few kids who wanted tattoos. The owner of the tattoo parlor wasn’t necessarily a big Buckeyes fan, but he liked having them around.

It ended with NCAA infractions and a year of investigations. On Tuesday, Ohio State finally got the verdict on its memorabilia-for-cash scandal from the NCAA's committee on infractions.

The NCAA declared that the Buckeyes and new coach Urban Meyer will be banned from a bowl game after next season. In addition, Meyer will have fewer scholarships to hand out, the university will be on three years of probation and former coach Jim Tressel will forever be linked to the scandal that brought down his successful tenure.

The root of Ohio State’s year of NCAA woes was Fine Line Ink, a rundown tattoo parlor on a Columbus street corner. A player or two went there for tattoos and the word spread through the team that the owner, Eddie Rife, kept his door open and Fine Line was a cool place to hang out.

More and more players got involved with Rife in 2009 and early 2010, and some accepted cash and free or discounted tattoos. Before long, Rife began trading money for sports memorabilia _ championship rings and autographed jerseys and gloves.

At this same time, the U.S. attorney’s office was keeping an eye on Rife in a federal drug-trafficking case surrounding the sale of marijuana. As part of its probe, the U.S. Attorney got a subpoena and raided Rife’s home, where agents came across numerous Ohio State articles signed or owned by current and former players.

On April 2, 2010, a former Buckeyes walk-on player now a Columbus lawyer, Chris Cicero, emailed Tressel to warn him that several Buckeyes players “have taken Eddie Rife signed Ohio State memorabilia (shirts/jerseys/footballs) who has been selling it for profit. I dont know if he gives any money in return to the players. I have been told OSU players including (redacted) have been given free tattoo’s in exchange for signed memorabilia.”

Cicero’s first email also hinted that Rife was a felon who had witnessed a homicide.

Tressel’s contract required him to “report promptly to the (athletic director) in writing any violations” of Ohio State or NCAA rules and regulations. Yet the only person to whom he forwarded Cicero’s email was Ted Sarniak, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s hometown mentor, who had already been investigated _ and cleared _ by the NCAA for his relationship with the player.

Even though Tressel responded to Cicero, “I will get on it ASAP” _ all he did was caution the players to stay away from the tattoo parlor while not letting anyone at Ohio State know what he knew.

Tressel and Cicero communicated sporadically through the summer about the players, Rife and Fine Line.

On Sept. 13, 2010, Tressel signed a standard NCAA compliance form with which he certified he had reported any knowledge of alleged violations to his superiors at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes had a good season, going 11-1 and winning their sixth straight Big Ten title. But while they were preparing to play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, another bombshell hit and the case went public.

The U.S. attorney’s office sent a letter to Ohio State on Dec. 7, 2010, asking about the many signed and personalized jerseys, cleats, shoes, trophies and rings it had confiscated during its raid of Rife’s home. Ohio State eventually asked Tressel, who feigned ignorance of the situation.

Tressel, in later NCAA testimony, said he felt relief instead of regret that his players’ violations had come to light.

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