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“When the inevitable happened to us and the letter came, you know, the hallelujah letter, in my mind - from the U.S. Department of Justice _ was there was no allegation that any of these players were involved in or had knowledge of Mr. Rife’s drug trafficking,” Tressel told the NCAA. “I’m like, `This is the greatest.’”

Ohio State and the NCAA wrapped up an investigation of the case in less than two weeks and then suspended six players. After consulting with the NCAA, the players were allowed on the field for the Sugar Bowl. Five players, including Pryor, leading 2010 rusher Daniel “Boom” Herron and No. 2 receiver DeVier Posey were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, with another player forced to sit out the 2011 season opener.

The Buckeyes went on to beat Arkansas, 31-26, with all of the suspended players playing major roles. Backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas _ one of the so-called “Tattoo Five” _ intercepted a pass in the final minute to preserve the victory.

While Ohio State was “reviewing information on an unrelated legal issue” on Jan. 13, 2011, it came across Tressel’s email exchange with Cicero. That opened another investigation. On March 8, Ohio State and the NCAA suspended Tressel for two games and fined him $250,000. When there was a public outcry that he had violated more egregious rules than the players _ lying to the NCAA and covering up violations _ yet had a shorter suspension, the university said that Tressel had agreed to extend his suspension to five games.

At the news conference announcing Tressel’s initial suspension, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee was asked if he had considered firing Tressel.

“No, are you kidding?” he joked. “Let me just be very clear: I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

No one was laughing at the university, however. Throughout the next five months, there was a steady stream of allegations. Few coaches who have violated NCAA bylaw 10.1 _ being untruthful to the NCAA _ have survived. By the end of May, the pressure to do something about Tressel’s tenuous situation had ratcheted up.

Gee and AD Gene Smith met with Tressel in late May, pressuring him to step aside as coach and end his 10-year tenure at Ohio State. They selected Luke Fickell, a former Ohio State player and nine-year defensive assistant coach, to take his place as interim coach.

A short time later, Pryor, with the NCAA on his heels, declared he would give up his senior season and jump to the NFL. He was taken in a special draft and is now with the Oakland Raiders.

Throughout the summer, the NCAA and Ohio State continued to look into a variety of troubling matters dealing with Ohio State football players, from top-of-the-line loaner cars to discount furniture, deals on apartments to free golf and allegations that some players received thousands of dollars for signing pictures from a credentialed sideline photographer.

On July 8, Ohio State responded to the NCAA’s list of allegations. It vacated the 2010 season, including the Sugar Bowl win, put itself on two years of NCAA probation and said it would take another look at its compliance process. It listed as mitigating circumstances that it had accepted Tressel’s resignation (even though it later allowed him to say he had resigned and gave him another month of salary at $53,000) and had suspended the players.

Tressel was on hand when Ohio State went before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Aug. 12. Smith surprised many by saying Ohio State would give up $339,000 in bowl revenue from 2010.

That wasn’t the end of Ohio State’s headaches, however.

Just two days before the season-opener against Akron, three players _ starting running back Jordan Hall (a high school teammate of Pryor‘s) and cornerback Travis Howard, along with backup safety Corey Brown _ were suspended for accepting $200 in cash while attending a charity event in suburban Cleveland in March. One of the organizers of that event was Bobby DiGeronimo, a businessman in Independence, Ohio, who had long been a friend of the program who had hired Ohio State players to work summer jobs.

Those three were held out of the first two games of the season.

Story Continues →