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.)

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.