COLUMBUS, Ohio — The lawyer for four Ohio State players set to return from suspensions this week for accepting cash and free tattoos said Monday that the NCAA is questioning the eligibility of one of the players — and may extend his suspension.
Larry James, who represents tailback Daniel Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas, told The Associated Press that "probably we're talking about potentially one player as we speak that there's an issue around. But that's not finalized."
Ohio State Gene Smith has called a news conference for later in the day. Calls to Smith were no immediately returned.
It's the latest troubling news in the Buckeye state for a program which has had its name sullied by NCAA violations, successful coach Jim Tressel forced to resign and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor leave for the NFL.
James would not confirm which player's eligibility the NCAA was questioning. The Columbus attorney said he was on his way to Ohio State to discuss the situation and added, "There are conversations taking place as we speak."
He said he had yet to speak to the players' parents and was not willing to concede that the player in question would be unable to play when the Buckeyes travel to meet No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday.
"I would say there are some issues around one player," he said. "Now, if the discussions ring true, there's that possibility (of an extended suspension). I'm not there yet. I'm not there based on what I know and what I have. I'm living in a different planet."
The five players have been practicing with the team and were expected to be cleared by the NCAA this week to play in the game in Lincoln, Neb. They have sat out the team's first five games for accepting cash and free or discounted tattoos in violation of NCAA rules.
Ohio State has had a total of six players suspended for the first five games, with two leaving school — including Pryor, a three-year starting quarterback. He gave up his senior season this summer to jump to the NFL. Now a member of the Oakland Raiders, he is currently suspended by the league which cited his NCAA problems in handing down its ruling.
All were found to have received cash and free or discounted tattoos from Edward Rife, the subject of a federal drug probe who later entered a guilty plea to money laundering and drug-trafficking charges completely unrelated to the Ohio State case and is awaiting sentencing.
The remaining four players were set to rejoin the Buckeyes (3-2), coming off a dismal 10-7 loss to Michigan State last week in their Big Ten opener.
A separate NCAA investigation — into other violations of improper benefits — led to the four players' status being re-evaluated.
Two players scheduled to start for the depleted Buckeyes in the season-opener against Akron — tailback Jordan Hall (a high school teammate of Pryor's in Jeannette, Pa.), and cornerback Travis Howard, along with backup safety Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown — were suspended 48 hours before the kickoff. The NCAA determined that the players had received $200 in cash for attending a charity event in February near Cleveland.
The three were expected to miss only one game but just a day before the Sept. 10 game against Toledo, Ohio State clarified that the NCAA was still looking into their case and they would not play in the second game, either.
They were permitted to return before the Buckeyes' third game of the season.
Ohio State is awaiting the NCAA's report of sanctions for the Tressel/tattoo violations. The university has offered penalties including vacating the 2010 season's 12-1 record, returning bowl payments totaling almost $339,000 from last season, and accepting a two-year NCAA probation.
The NCAA could add to those sanctions, and could tack on penalties based on the subsequent investigation of players taking money at the charity event.
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap