- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

TEMPE, Ariz. No Mo, please.

Ohio State gave Maurice Clarett a scholarship to run the football, not his mouth. The 19-year-old freshman obviously missed that memo, turning the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl prep week into a spleen-venting fiasco that has distracted teammates, defamed the university and likely disrupted the scarlet and gray karma.

"Dude busted on his own school that's cold," said Miami center Brett Romberg of the one-man desert storm.

Clarett began taking verbal jabs at the Ohio State athletic department Monday, claiming that the school wasn't allowing him to return to his native Youngstown, Ohio, for the funeral of a recently murdered friend.

Never mind that the friend wasn't family, the only kind of relation most coaches recognize for such absences. Never mind that the friend was gunned down in what Youngstown police are speculating was a drug deal gone bad. Never mind that Clarett wanted to skip out on his teammates just three days before the most important college game of the season: tomorrow night's national title showdown between the Buckeyes (13-0) and top-ranked Miami (12-0).

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was willing to let Clarett return to Youngstown. He could pay his own way or use the NCAA's emergency relief fund (provided he had filled out the standard paperwork).

According to Ohio State's compliance officer, Clarett failed to fill out the forms properly. According to Clarett, his mother completed the forms last week, he delivered them to the proper office, and the school administration is lying.

"I won't sit here and let them lie about that," Clarett said.

Maybe Clarett could be believed if he had a better track record in the truth arena. Back in October, the precocious freshman told ESPN the Magazine that he was looking into the possibility of challenging the NFL's rule forbidding players less than three years removed from high school from entering the draft. Clarett later claimed his comment was in response to a hypothetical question and was taken out of context. Yet he conceded that his mother has discussed the issue with an attorney.

"Come on, everybody on the team knows he was serious when he said those things in that magazine," said the girlfriend of one Ohio State player yesterday. "And as for this latest thing, all the guys know how the emergency fund works. [Wideout] Chris Vance had to wait a week [for a ticket] last year when his brother died. And that was family.

"I'm sure Maurice doesn't even care that his latest antics have caused a distraction. He loves being the center of attention. It always has to be all about him."

Therein lies the real problem with Clarett's comments this week. Regardless of which party is at fault for botching the relief fund paperwork, Clarett took a risk in airing his grievances to the media.

"I guess football's more important than a person's life to them," said Clarett when he found out Ohio State wouldn't pay for the trip without the forms.

Despite his claims, Clarett doesn't think his comments will affect the team.

"I really ain't worried about it being a distraction," Clarett said Tuesday.

"I never had that much affection for Ohio State," said Clarett in his Tuesday kicker. "I came to Ohio State to play football and to get an education, and that's it."

The bottom line is that Ohio State needed Clarett at his best to tangle with the mighty Hurricanes. Frankly, the most productive freshman tailback (1,190 yards) in the history of Archie Griffin U. is the Ohio State offense. Take away patsies Kent State and San Jose State, and the Buckeyes won the five games in which Clarett carried the ball more than 20 times by an average score of 17.2 points. In the six other games that Clarett missed all or parts of with nagging knee and shoulder injuries, Ohio State's margin of victory dropped to 9.5 points.

His presence on the field is worth more than a touchdown to the Buckeyes. He's that good, and it's that simple.

But he's also a freshman, and that has never been more painfully obvious than this week in Tempe. Perhaps Tressel now knows why no true freshman had ever started at tailback for Ohio State.

Fate has a way of humbling those who start behaving as if they are bigger than the game. The Fiesta Bowl has witnessed such hubris before (see Miami, 1986, fatigues), and the results weren't pretty.

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