These are the most challenging days -- when we wake up and there's absolutely nothing Buckeye-related to talk about. What's that? Oh, we're still talking about tattoos? Great.
After having his integrity impugned by at least one prominent colony of the Ohio State internets1, Dave Biddle's scoop of an investigation related to football players allegedly trading tattoos for autographs grew some legs when it was confirmed late Wednesday by the Dispatch (based on entirely independent sources). AD Gene Smith isn't returning calls, but expect Ohio State to release a statement at least acknowledging "an internal investigation" sometime today because other mainstream outlets jumped in once the Dispatch had vetted the situation. Within hours, local evening news were leading with the story, and then the AP, ESPN and later Kirk Herbstreit, weighed in, fanning the flames.
Herbstreit's take, during blowout time in the 4th quarter of the MAACO Bowl, was pretty damning in that it was the first major source to actually name players that may be caught up in this. Beyond Brooks Melchior, who tapped into his tangential "connections" in Columbus from his time on the radio a decade ago to attempt to place the tattoo parlor and take the opportunity to embrace his inner TMZ by guessing which Buckeyes might be rocking new tats, I had not seen a list of any type published anywhere. Further, we had information from a couple of sources that we trust almost immediately after this thing blew up and it was always a small handful of players.
Herbstreit also mentioned IRS involvement with the tattoo parlor, which jibes with what was reported by the Dispatch:
The probe apparently was the offshoot of another investigation by law-enforcement agencies of possible unlawful behavior by the parlor owner, sources said. During a search for evidence, a stash of memorabilia signed by some current and former Ohio State players was found, the sources said, and law-enforcement officials made school administrators aware of it.
In fact, we'd heard mention of the IRS as well, but it's the one part of the story that seemed least believable, so I was a bit surprised to hear the two mention that fact. So was Vegas, as the lines from most major sportsbooks came off within minutes of Herbstreit dropping the IRS bomb along with the names of prominent players that may be involved.
The bottom line is that there's more we don't know than what we know -- and it's not even really close right now. Some encouraging signs are starting to trickle out via Twitter, like Terrelle Pryor breaking three days of radio silence by flat-out stating that he paid for his own tattoos, center Michael Brewster vouching for the hometown parlors that handled his ink, and finally, linebacker Brian Rolle, clearly annoyed, telling people to stop asking him about the rumors because there's nothing to them (politely paraphrased). True, Christian Bryant said as much two days ago before the latest news hit, but he's a freshman and is likely in the dark on some of this. Pryor and Rolle's tweets were enlightening for two different reasons: Pryor, who claims to talk to JT every day, would probably not have the green light to make a statement like that if he were a target in the investigation or if the university was worried about his eligibility and Rolle, speaking as a senior captain, would surely be aware of something if chaos was coming.
So, what do we know and what can we expect? As mentioned above, there should be a statement released by the athletic department today, even if it's brief and sheds absolutely no light on the situation. Friday is the best time to break bad news and tomorrow is a special kind of a Friday, in that it's a Thursday ahead of a three day weekend for the biggest holiday in the United States. We also know that this is an OSU investigation and not an NCAA investigation, which is an important distinction. If this were an NCAA investigation, there's a good chance more bad news would follow, but a university investigation is something that's initiated instantly as a precaution in case something happened and does not, in itself, mean something is afoul.
Though there are still plenty of people who would love nothing more than to see Ohio State fall on its face (SportsByBROOKS, any SEC, Michigan or Penn State fan -- any fan of another team not named "Ohio State", really), I think we should take a moment to thank Mr. Cecil Newton. After all, we're just a month removed from a player being ruled eligible after his father was found to have solicited upwards of $180,000 for his services. The general reaction to #tatgate, even from fans of other schools that hate them some Buckeyes seems to be one of indifference, in light of the Auburn/Newton saga. Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette said it best when he said "I'll take the Ohio State/free tattoos story seriously when I find out the tattoos are valued at $180,000, like the Heisman winner." None of this is binding in any sense, but for once, it's nice to have the court of public opinion somewhat on OSU's side.
A couple of other quick things to point out as we wait for additional news to trickle out. First, if a player insists he paid for his own tattoos, it's going to be extremely hard to prove otherwise. If Pryor is saying what he is, he will be your starter for the Sugar Bowl. Ken Gordon has also mentioned angry parents of players phoning and emailing to emphatically state that their children should not be included on any lists being bandied about, which meshes with what I've heard about it being just a few players.
So, deep breaths and hang tight and we'll update you as things trickle in. The players aren't scheduled to report back to Columbus until the 26th, so beyond an acknowledgment tomorrow, it could be a few days before we hear anything of substance. Oh, and keep OSU's compliance office in your thoughts. This can't be how they envisioned spending Christmas weekend.
- 1 We're not huge on any particular message board here and never really have been, so I have to admit it came as a shock to me how much animosity exists between Scout/BSB and Bucknuts. The argument about whether these sites should be breaking bad news or serving as propaganda wings of the football team can be held another day, but it's clear there are a lot of people that owe Biddle an apology today.