INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Tressel had hoped to travel to Indianapolis to be a central figure at the inaugural Big Ten championship game in December.
Instead, he's in the city to testify about his role in NCAA violations, which have shaken the foundation of Ohio State's powerhouse football program and cost him his job.
Ohio State President Gordon Gee, athletic director Gene Smith, Tressel and interim coach Luke Fickell, among others, were on hand early Friday to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions.
The Ohio State contingent entered the large ballroom at a downtown hotel shortly before 8 a.m. Tressel, flanked by lawyers, arrived shortly thereafter. The hearing began promptly at 8:30 a.m. EDT
They'll state their case that Tressel alone among school officials broke NCAA bylaws when he learned some of his players had accepted improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner and then declined to tell Ohio State or NCAA officials for more than nine months.
Tressel's judgments led to his forced resignation in May after 10 seasons, a 106-22 record, seven Big Ten titles and the 2002 national championship. They also led to a lengthy NCAA investigation which resulted in Ohio State vacating a 12-1 season in 2010 (dropping Tressel's actual Ohio State record to 94-21) and imposing a two-year NCAA probation on itself.
Six Ohio State players also were suspended for the first five games this fall for trading memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. Star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of the six suspended players, gave up his final year of eligibility for a shot at playing in the NFL.
Smith said this week that the investigations into the players' actions and those of Tressel have cost Ohio State's athletic department about $800,000 so far.
The committee will decide if the university has gone far enough. It could tack on a bowl ban or limit the Buckeyes' number of recruits. The NCAA has informed Ohio State that the two most serious charges it can levy on a school -- lack of institutional control and failure to monitor players and coaches -- do not apply based on information it has received so far.
The hearing is expected to take several hours in a large, private meeting room on the first floor of the hotel. The room has 38 microphones placed on tables set up in a square. There are guards preventing the public or media from entering any of the 14 doors along two sides that open to a hallway.
The 10-member committee on infractions, chaired by Mideastern Athletic Conference Commissioner Dennis Thomas, will hear testimony and ask questions.
After the hearing, the committee's recommended penalties are expected to be announced in the typical time frame — 6 to 8 weeks — barring any additional investigations or fresh allegations. Ohio State can appeal the verdict.
Ohio State officials have worked closely with the NCAA in all aspects of the case. But in a climate where several big-time football (Southern California, North Carolina) and men's basketball (Tennessee, Connecticut) programs have been or are in trouble, there is an undercurrent that the NCAA may choose to take a hard line on the Buckeyes' violations.
Naturally, Smith believes the Buckeyes' proposed penalties are sufficient.
"We feel strongly about where we are with our sanctions," he said recently.
Should the NCAA decide to add to Ohio State's penalties, Smith, who has served on the NCAA's committee on infractions, said he would be extremely upset.
"I'll be shocked and disappointed and on the offensive," he said. "It'll be behavior you haven't witnessed."
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was on the NCAA's enforcement staff from 1975-79. Speaking at the conference's annual football media day last month, he called the violations by Tressel and his players, "embarrassing."
He offered insight into how the infractions committee will handle Ohio State's case.
"I would tell you that generally speaking the outcomes that the committee gives are rational on that day," he said. "They hear the evidence. They look at prior cases. They typically don't go back 10 or 20 years. ... Sometimes I think they're too tough. Sometimes I think they're too easy."
He added, "I don't fear that the infractions committee is going to be any more (hard on rules violations) this summer than they were last summer or the summer before."
The most recent spate of violations at Ohio State overlapped with probation remaining from when the men's basketball program committed major violations under then-coach Jim O'Brien in 2004. That makes Ohio State a so-called repeat violator and could affect the school's treatment by the NCAA.
"That does open it up to any penalties — (loss of) scholarships or things of that nature," Smith said. "They still have to be justifiable. But, yes, it opens it up to any penalty that they want to levy."Comment on this story
NCAA President Mark Emmert provided some tough talk about the future of college athletics earlier this week, leading many to believe that the association's judicial arm might come down hard on the Buckeyes.
Emmert was the vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Colorado from 1985-92 while Gee was UC's president from 1985-90. The two were good friends, leading some to conclude that Emmert will make certain Ohio State and his mentor do not have to pay too steep a penalty.
Other former NCAA officials have said the infractions committee is a separate entity that is not swayed by outside interests.