O-H! UH-OH! Buckeyes to probe car sales to players and relatives

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Well, here we go again.

Even as The Ohio State University is in the midst of a major quagmire created by the lies and cover-up of its head coach, now they may have yet another issue to deal with.  And one that the NCAA may very well have a significant interest in.

Prompted by a Columbus Dispatch investigation that began in 2007, the OSU’s associate athletic director and head of compliance told the paper that the school will take a look into the sale of at least 50 used vehicles to student-athletes — mainly football players — and their relatives.  According to the Dispatch‘s report, the probe will center on two Columbus dealerships — Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct — and whether or not the players and/or their relatives were given deals not offered to the general public.  While the two dealerships are not connected and have different owners, Aaron Kniffin was a salesman at both businesses; the Dispatch describes Kniffin as the common thread in two dozen transactions.

Kniffin, if you recall, was the salesman whose name was connected to a previous investigation of vehicles being driven by quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  OSU cleared Pryor of any wrongdoing in that case.

And, at least for now, the OSU compliance official sees the same ending in this latest case.

“We’ll take a step back, we’ll take a look at the transactions and the values, and we’ll make some determinations in consultation with the (Big Ten) conference office and go from there,” Doug Archie told the paper.

“I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred.”

The report, which again can be viewed by clicking HERE, is very detailed and extensive but well worth the time it takes to pour over, but here are a few of the highlights — or lowlights, depending on the amount of scarlet & gray clothing littering your closet.

— Jack Maxton owner Jeff Mauk and Auto Direct owner Jason Goss were interviewed by Archie Friday and both individuals denied giving special treatment to players or their relatives.  The Dispatch reports that Goss and Kniffin attended seven football games — including the 2007 national championship and 2009 Fiesta Bowl — as guests of players who were members of the football team at the time.  Goss denied that he was a guest of any player to whom he sold a vehicle.

— For the biggest red flag from the entire potential situation unearthed by the Dispatch, we’ll allow the paper to spell it out here:

Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0.

Mauk could not explain it. “I don’t give cars for free,” he said. Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. “I paid for the car, and I’m still paying for it,” he said, declining to answer further questions.

— Former running back Maurice Wells‘ mother, who lived in Maryland at the time, bought a vehicle from Kniffin while he was an employee of the Chevrolet dealership.  That transaction is one of the four dozen or so under investigation.

— The mother and brother of star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for receiving impermissible benefits in an unrelated case, also purchased vehicles from Kniffin.  The transactions involving the relatives of Pryor and Wells are three of the eight involving individuals related to current or former Buckeyes student-athletes.  Archie told the paper he was aware of all the transactions involving players being looked into by the Dispatch — the owners of the dealerships stated they routinely call Archie whenever an OSU athlete is going to purchase a vehicle from them — but he was not aware of the purchases made by the relatives of players.

— On so many players buying vehicles from one or two dealerships, Archie told the Dispatch that “[i]t’s something from a compliance perspective that I would rather not have.”  Two former NCAA investigators who requested anonymity told the paper that there’s cause for concern as they’ve never heard of so many athletes buying cars from the same salesman.

— Speaking of said salesman, Kniffin, who currently sells vehicles in another state, owes more than $130,000 to the IRS and his $570,000 Delaware County (Oh.) home is in foreclosure.

— If you take the the first “n” out of Kniffin, what are you left with?*

In and of itself, this latest situation casts Ohio State in a very negative light, at least in the short-term and until it’s proven one way or the other.  Add it on to the previous issues, however, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the current state of the flagship football program of the state of Ohio.

At some point, the university is going to be forced to take a step back and take a hard look at not only head coach Jim Tressel, but Tressel’s boss, athletic director Gene Smith, as well.  Then again, if some of them did that, they’d have to worry about the coach dismissing them.  Right, Mr. Gee?

(*that was my point, not the Dispatch’s.  And it was a joke.  Lighten up people.)

Michael Oher: Hugh Freeze is ‘man of God, man full of integrity’

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Hugh Freeze may have been blindsided by his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, but at least one of his former players has his back.

Homeless for stretches of his teenage life, Michael Oher was taken in by the Freeze family — a 2014 Bleacher Report article notes that “Oher spent one to two nights a week at their house” — while Freeze was the head coach at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis.  Oher went on to play football for Freeze in high school, with his compelling life story forming the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side.”

The player and the coach have formed a deep bond that stretches back more than a decade, a bond that hasn’t been broken despite the latter’s resignation as Ole Miss head coach under a cloud of controversy.

“He is a man of God and a man full of integrity,’’ Oher told USA Today Sports of his former coach. “I don’t know the full story but I’m willing to bet that everyone in the world had made a mistake that they have wanted someone to forgive them for.”

The offensive lineman added that without Freeze, “there is no Michael Oher and no “The Blind Side.'”

The news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.  Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze said earlier this week in his first public comments since his departure. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” he added.

On the same day Freeze resigned, coincidentally, Oher was cut by the Carolina Panthers.  Earlier this offseason, Oher was arrested after an altercation with an Uber driver in which the player allegedly bit the driver on the back.

LSU still can’t say Arden Key will be available for opener vs. BYU

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The Magical Mystery Tour that has been Arden Key‘s offseason continues.

In mid-February, LSU announced that Key had “decided to take some time away from football… for personal reasons.” Four months later, the football program announced the defensive end had rejoined the team; at the same time, it was announced that Key had recently undergone shoulder surgery.

Thursday, first-year head coach Ed Orgeron indicated that Key will not be available for the start of summer camp because of the ongoing rehab — and couldn’t commit to the player being available for the opener as well.

“We don’t know when he’s going to be ready, but obviously we expect him to play this year and have a great year. We won’t know (his playing status) until the end of camp,” Orgeron said according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I’m going to listen to the doctors. Some days he’s able to get into uniform and practice, he’s going to do that, but I don’t see that happening in the next couple of weeks.”

When it comes to playing against BYU Sept. 2 in Houston? “There is a chance,” Orgeron allowed.

A four-star 2015 signee, Key was a consensus Freshman All-American his first season with the Tigers after starting nine games.  Last season as a true sophomore, he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.  The latter total set a school record.

Following that breakout campaign, he was named second-team All-SEC.

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano progressing from foot surgery, but might miss Oregon’s opener

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There was good news and potentially not-so-good news on the Scott Pagano front Thursday for Oregon.

A transfer from Clemson this offseason, Pagano suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Tigers’ mid-November win over Pitt that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season.  After moving on to the Ducks as a graduate transfer in mid-April, UO’s medical staff decided he needed to undergo surgery to repair the damage in his foot.

First-year head coach Willie Taggart Thursday declared the defensive lineman ahead of schedule in his recovery from the medical procedure, but didn’t guarantee he’d be on the field for the 2017 opener.

“Something he had that he needed to be corrected,” Taggart said of the surgery according to oregonlive.com. “He’s ahead of schedule right now. I don’t like putting certain weeks on guys because everybody heals differently.

“He’s one of those kids that has been rehabbing his tail off and is itching to get back out there. He’s ahead of schedule right now. Hopefully he’s there for the Southern Utah game.”

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. He started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Before opting for UO, Pagano had taken an official visit to Oklahoma as he had whittled his to-do list down to those two. Arkansas, Notre Dame and Texas were also among the lineman’s five allotted official visits in his second round of collegiate recruiting.

CB Ryan Mayes no longer part of Miami football team

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There’s been a slight tweak to Miami’s defensive secondary ahead of the start of summer camp.

In a press release that consisted all of two sentences, the Hurricanes announced that Ryan Mayes is no longer a member of Mark Richt’s football program.  No reason was given for the separation, nor is it known whether the move was voluntary or involuntary.

A three-star member of The U’s 2014 recruiting class, Mayes was rated as the No. 48 cornerback in the country and the No. 92 player at any position in the state of Florida.  He held offers from, among others, Boston College and Syracuse.

As a true freshman, Mayes played in three games, then saw action in just one game the following season as he took a redshirt.  In 2016, the defensive back played in 11 games, mainly on special teams.

Prior to his departure, the redshirt junior was expected to fill a reserve role in the Hurricanes’ secondary.