Ohio State suspended running back Maurice Clarett for the 2003 season on Wednesday, with Athletic Director Andy Geiger citing 14 violations of the NCAA’s ethical conduct bylaws and two violations of Clarett’s receiving preferential treatment or benefits because he is an athlete.
Clarett will be allowed to keep his athletic scholarship but will be required to continue to make progress toward a degree in order to gain reinstatement before next season, Geiger said.
The NCAA has yet to determine whether it will impose further sanctions on Clarett, who set Ohio State freshman records for yardage and touchdowns in helping the Buckeyes to the national championship last season.
The NCAA is not expected to punish Ohio State or strip it of its national title because the school has been cleared of any institutional involvement, a Buckeye spokesman told an Ohio newspaper.
In addition, Clarett was charged Tuesday with lying to campus police about the theft of money, clothes and stereo equipment from a car he had borrowed from an auto dealer. He originally told police the stolen items were worth $10,000 but later said he exaggerated the value of the items.
An Oct. 10 court date has been set for Clarett, who faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of misdemeanor falsification. It’s expected that he would receive probation if he’s found guilty.
The next move is up to Clarett, who could transfer to another school, but Ohio State’s penalty would follow him -- even if he moves to a Division I-AA or Division II or III school. Grambling State, a Division I-AA school in Louisiana, has said it would welcome Clarett if he decided to transfer.
Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday he would grant any request by Clarett to be released from his scholarship, the first step in transferring.
Clarett also has indicated he might challenge the NFL’s draft eligibility rules. At present, he would not be eligible for the draft until 2005. The league repeatedly has said it would fight to maintain its rule that requires players to have been graduated from high school for at least three years.
“Nothing has been decided if we go, if we stay, if we dance or not,” Clarett’s mother, Michelle, told reporters outside the Ohio State athletic offices after a meeting with Geiger. “So to ask that question and expect a black-and-white answer, you cannot have one.”
Standing next to his mother, surrounded by reporters, Clarett made only a short statement. “I would just like to say there’s two sides to every story,” he said before refusing to answer questions.
Several hours later, Geiger held a news conference to announce Clarett’s suspension. Ohio State had been working on a response to several pages of NCAA allegations sent to the school for the last few weeks. Geiger said the school also had been investigating Clarett for 2 1/2 months, since two NCAA investigators visited the school June 26.
“This is a sad day,” Geiger said. “We regret deeply what Maurice Clarett has lost and what the Ohio State University, our football family, our fans have lost for this year.”
Geiger also said, “We play by the rules, we live by the rules. It is imperative that we are thorough, careful and fair. This is far more important than rushing to judgment.”
He went on to stress that Clarett’s punishment was “separate and apart from the criminal proceeding by the [Columbus] prosecutor and separate from the academic fraud investigation.” The school began to look into allegations of academic fraud after a New York Times article in July suggested that Clarett received improper help in a class.
Geiger said he told Clarett he must make a donation to the charity of his choice in the amount of the benefits he received. A Cleveland television station has reported that Clarett received benefits in “the thousands of dollars.”
When asked, Geiger refused to divulge the amount of money Clarett received. “I know the exact value, but I’m not going to disclose it,” he said, adding that the improper aid was given to Clarett over a period of “several months,” dating to the end of last season.
It’s believed that a man who has been described as a “surrogate father” from Clarett’s hometown in Ohio is the person who provided Clarett with money. Geiger would neither confirm nor deny that allegation.
Asked why it took so long to complete the investigation and announce Clarett’s suspension, Geiger said, “Time to get the right answers.” When asked why it took so long to get the right answers, Geiger pinned the blame on Clarett without naming him.
“Because the person who had the right answers wasn’t giving them to us,” he said.