Despite Tressel’s Efforts, Buckeyes ‘Failed to Monitor’ DiGeronimo
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State is now facing “failure to monitor” charges from the NCAA, but that doesn’t mean the more serious charge “lack of institutional control” is coming down the pipe.
They may have Jim Tressel to thank for that.
According to documents released by the University on Thursday, Tressel made numerous attempts to distance the OSU football program from Robert “Bobby” DiGeronimo, a known booster at the center of the latest allegations from the NCAA.
DiGeronimo is a name that predates Tressel’s tenure in Columbus. The executive with Independence Excavating, Inc., a Cleveland-based construction company, has 30 years of history supporting the Ohio State athletic department.
That includes contributions of more than $72,000 since 1988.
He had been a season-ticket holder at Ohio Stadium for years before receiving his letter of disassociation back in Sept., and was originally a member of a group that the University called “Committeemen.”
Members of the group had contact with the institution’s coaching staff members group and assisted in recruiting efforts during the time period when that was permissible under NCAA legislation (before the mid 1980’s).
DiGeronimo had gotten so close with former OSU Head Coach John Cooper during the 1990’s that he was invited to watch football games from the sidelines, visit the postgame locker room and even travel with the team on the road.
According to the documents released by Ohio State, Tressel put stop to all that almost immediately.
During his first season as the head coach, Tressel began restricting access to the locker room and eventually the sidelines; although it wasn’t until 2006 that Gene Smith implemented a new policy for sideline access. From that point forward, only media and other working personnel were allowed to be on the sideline for the game — with the exception of former OSU players who are participating in the NFL.
Tressel told the NCAA during his recent interview that DiGeronimo and another individual even tried to hide in a locker in order to listen to one Tressel’s pregame speeches during the 2001 season.
Maybe Tressel was being deceitful to the NCAA when it comes to DiGeronimo; he certainly doesn’t have the cleanest track record when it comes to honesty after the 10.1 violation that led to his forced resignation.
Then again, if Tressel was lying, Ohio State officials would have had no problem pinning the blame for DiGeronimo’s violations squarely on their former coach. They proved that with their response to the NCAA’s first Notice of Allegations.
The fact is, DiGeronimo never cared much for Tressel, and not just because of the restricted access to the locker room and sidelines. In 2005, Tressel also told DiGeronimo to discontinue his practice of providing meals to Ohio State football and men’s basketball coaching staff members.
That came after DiGeronimo was seen having lunch with Cooper and two then-current football student-athletes at Easy Living Deli, a restaurant in Upper Arlington owned by former Buckeye kicker Vlade Janakievski.
“We have always enjoyed the wonderful lunches that you have generously shared to our work force at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the Schott! In an effort to insure that our student-athletes do not gain an increased benefit from our ‘leftovers,’ I need to request that you continue said generosity to the ticket office or other areas where student-athletes do not frequent,” Tressel wrote in his letter to DiGeronimo on May 25, 2005.
“I hope you understand we are only trying to get better at all we do in relation to our student-athletes and NCAA rules.”
Ohio State also sent DiGeronimo a letter instructing him to read the NCAA booster education materials the University previously provided to him and adhere to those guidelines. They also told him to distance himself from the student-athletes and stay away from the athletic facilities and the coaches’ offices.
The reality is, Ohio State should have dissociated themselves from Mr. DiGeronimo a long time ago, but they couldn’t say no to the money.
“DiGeronimo was an individual who knowingly violated NCAA rules and circumvented University procedures, contrary to the information provided to him,” Ohio State said in its latest response.
“If such a disassociation would have occurred, it would have reduced the likelihood of (but possibly not have eliminated) these violations.”
In 2006, Ohio State’s compliance subcommittee recommended that DiGeronimo be sent a ‘strong warning’ after seven student athletes attended the Cornerstone of Hope gala in Cleveland. That’s the same event that led to the suspensions of Jordan Hall, Travis Howard and defensive back Corey Brown.
The student-athletes who attended in ’06 said they did not receive any compensation or other benefits for their appearance, but it was considered a secondary violation because they did not fill out proper paperwork or alert anyone that they were participating in the event.
“Had the appropriate compliance paperwork been completed, the institution would have known that student-athletes were attending the Cornerstone of Hope charitable event in 2011,” OSU said in its response.
“But it still would not have known that DiGeronimo was giving/arranging to give cash in envelopes to student-athletes.”
Tressel informed DiGeronimo in 2006 that what he did was a violation of NCAA rules. That didn’t stop him from contacting the players on his own. He even assured them the compliance office had approved attendance for the event in 2011, even though that obviously wasn’t true.
“The institution believed it resolved the situation in 2006 and based upon DiGeronimo’s visible absence from the facilities, the institution believed he was no longer involved with the football program,” Ohio State said in its response.
“The University recognizes that had it undertaken additional follow up actions to identify whether he continued to be involved with its student-athletes, the probability of the current violations occurring would have been reduced.”
Without Tressel's measures, and those of Gene Smith, to keep DiGeronimo away from the program (as much as possible), Ohio State could be looking at ‘lack of institutional control’ allegations from the NCAA instead.
The difference is that charges resulting from a ‘failure-to-monitor’ violation are usually limited in scope and do not involve the widespread inadequacies in rules-compliance systems and functions that are often found in ‘lack-of-institutional-control’ cases.
“The issue is not a failure to recognize the potential problem,” Ohio State said. “But to undertake sufficient steps to potentially detect actions by a then representative of its athletics interests who understood University student-athlete employment policies and NCAA legislation.”
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