- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Just in time for its first road game of the season, No. 17 Ohio State got some good news for a change.

The NCAA reinstated three Buckeyes players on Tuesday who were suspended for taking envelopes with $200 cash from a university booster at a charity event earlier this year.

Tailback Jordan Hall and cornerback Travis Howard, tabbed as starters for the Buckeyes in the preseason, along with backup safety Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown, were suspended two games for violating NCAA rules by taking the improper benefits at an event in suburban Cleveland in February.

Ohio State (2-0) is girding up to play at Miami on Saturday.

“It’s always good, because these are all your brothers,” linebacker Etienne Sabino said soon after the news spread of the reinstatements. “These guys you go to camp with, we work out all year long, we hang out off the field. You’re happy for them and you’re happy they’re going to be out there with you. It’s exciting.”

The NCAA’s only additional stipulation was that the players pay $200 to another charity.

“The university appreciates the NCAA’s expeditious response in reinstating these three student-athletes,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement.

The three were suspended just two days before the opener against Akron. Last week, interim coach Luke Fickell said they would be permitted to play in Ohio State’s second game against Toledo, but the NCAA on Friday afternoon said it still was looking into the case.

The NCAA confirmed on Monday that it sent questions to Ohio State concerning the three players.

Earlier on Tuesday, Fickell said his team was in limbo when it came to the status of the three players.

“Right now we’re just … waiting. We’re not going to make any jumps to conclusions,” Fickell said. “We’ll wait and see and hopefully we’ll hear something soon.”

The reinstatement of the three players adds much-needed depth to the Buckeyes.

Ohio State is already down three 2010 starters and a backup, all suspended for the first five games of the season for accepting cash and improper benefits from a local tattoo-parlor owner. That scandal led to Jim Tressel being forced out as head coach on May 30, and to three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor giving up his senior season to jump to the NFL.

In its statement, the NCAA said, “Reinstatement decisions are independent of the NCAA enforcement process and typically are made once the facts of the student-athlete’s involvement are determined. This is typically well in advance of infractions decisions. The enforcement investigation into the Ohio State University is ongoing.”

In other words, the suspension and reinstatement are considered independently of the other, more serious, Ohio State violations.

Ohio State went before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Aug. 12 in that case.

On top of the suspensions,several other key Ohio State players are hurting. Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown hurt a leg and was on crutches in the second half of the Toledo game. Defensive end Nathan Williams missed the Toledo game due to knee pain but is expected to make the trip to Miami.

Fickell said the injuries, the suspensions and all the distractions all make it difficult to prepare for Miami (0-1).

“I guess it’s a part of the game,” Fickell said. “I can’t let that affect us, and we just have to continue to move on and deal with it however it comes. But hopefully we’ll hear something soon and just so that we can most importantly prepare ourselves mentally.”

Smith told The AP on Saturday that he didn’t think the suspension of the three players would have an affect on sanctions pending against Ohio State from the tattoo case.

“The (three) athletes shared that they were educated (by Ohio State’s NCAA compliance office) and that’s part of the rationale that the NCAA used to (levy) additional sanctions,” Smith said.

Smith said he does not believe Ohio State’s bigger case, involving the tattoo benefits, merits more severe sanctions than those which the university has already proposed. It has vacated its 12-1 season in 2010, will return bowl monies it received for that season and would go on two years of NCAA probation. It offered as mitigation that Tressel was forced out and that Pryor, the center of NCAA investigations of improper benefits and loaner cars, has left the program.

“I don’t think a postseason ban is warranted,” Smith said. “I’ve always said, that’s the one thing we would appeal. Anything else, we can accept. But I can’t speculate what (the NCAA is) going to do.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.

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