COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State suspended football coach Jim Tressel for two games and fined him $250,000 on Tuesday for violating NCAA rules by not notifying the school about information he received involving two players and questionable activities involving the sale of memorabilia.
Tressel will receive a public reprimand and must make a public apology. The NCAA is investigating and could reject the self-imposed penalties and impose additional sanctions.
Athletic director Gene Smith said he never seriously considered firing Tressel for violating his contract, which specifies that he must immediately report any — the word is underlined in the contract — information that pertains to violations of NCAA, Big Ten or Ohio State bylaws and rules.
"Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith said. "He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly."
In December, the NCAA suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four teammates for the first five games of 2011 for selling jerseys, championship rings and trophies to the owner of a tattoo parlor. The suspensions came 16 days after the U.S. attorney told the school of a federal investigation that included players. The school did not learn until January that Tressel had been tipped off to the investigation in April.
"Obviously I'm disappointed that this happened at all," Tressel said. "I take my responsibility for what we do at Ohio State tremendously seriously and for the game of football. I plan to grow from this. I'm sincerely saddened by the fact that I let some people down and didn't do things as well as I possibly could have."
Yahoo Sports reported Tressel's prior knowledge of the possible improper benefits Monday.
Tressel said he allowed the two players cited in the e-mail to play the entire 2010 season because he did not want to "interfere with a federal investigation" and worried that sitting eligible players would raise a "whole new set of questions."
Tressel received an e-mail April 2. A person Tressel identified only as "a lawyer" mentioned that Ohio State players had been implicated in activities with Eddie Rife, owner of a tattoo parlor. The e-mail said players were selling signed Buckeyes memorabilia and giving it to Rife in exchange for money and tattoos. The e-mail said Rife had a criminal record and had witnessed one of his friends being murdered in a parking lot.
Tressel said he kept quiet out of fear for the safety of the two players connected to the federal, criminal drug-trafficking case. That investigation prompted an Ohio State and NCAA investigation involving players selling memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos.
"I have had a player murdered. I've had a player incarcerated. I've had a player get taken into the drug culture and lose his opportunity for a productive life," an emotional Tressel said Tuesday night. "It was obviously tremendously concerning. Quite honestly, I was scared."
Tressel met with Ohio State and NCAA officials in December when the U.S. Attorney's Office disclosed that Pryor, receiver DeVier Posey, leading rusher Dan "Boom" Herron, offensive lineman Mike Adams and backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas had provided the memorabilia.
Those five were permitted to play in the Sugar Bowl, and the Buckeyes beat Arkansas 31-26.
Shortly after the team returned from the game, the university began reviewing its information on an unrelated legal issue, Smith said Tuesday, and Tressel admitted he had not told everything he knew about his players and their relationship with the tattoo parlor and its owner.