'OTL' report puts more heat on Ohio State

June, 8, 2011
6/08/11
10:00
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Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor both are gone from Ohio State, but the problems facing the program only seem to be getting worse.

The latest potential bombshell comes from ESPN colleagues Tom Farrey and Justine Gubar, who report on "Outside the Lines" that Pryor made thousands of dollars autographing memorabilia items, according to a former friend who said he witnessed the transactions.

The new name to know is Dennis Talbott, a Columbus businessman and a freelance sports photographer. Pryor's former friend says Talbott paid Pryor $500 to $1,000 each time the quarterback signed memorabilia. The two allegedly conducted 35 to 40 transactions in 2009-10.

Talbott denies he ever paid Pryor or other Ohio State players for signed memorabilia. He declined to comment whether he has operated a sports memorabilia business and denied that he's an Ohio State booster.

From the "OTL" report:
[Pryor's former friend] said Pryor would get the merchandise to sign from Talbott, who would "bring it to TP, and he would sign it and he would bring him cash. Dennis would give him cash." He said he witnessed the transactions occur about three to four times a week at Pryor's apartment. ...
Pryor may not have been the first active Buckeye player to collect cash for signatures from Talbott. The parent of one former Ohio State player told "Outside the Lines" that he saw Talbott provide what he called "stacks of money" to active Buckeye players, including a player now in the NFL.
Pryor's former friend said he was wary of Talbott: "He's the type of person that ... I think he really took advantage over TP because he was that person, and he would bring him, he would bring TP like memorabilia to sell for other people. So Dennis is not a good guy for college athletes. That's the guy you really don't want to be around."

SportsByBrooks reported Tuesday night that NCAA enforcement officials have notified Ohio State of "dozens of payments Pryor received in past years from a Columbus sports memorabilia dealer."
The NCAA violations were discovered when the name of the local memorabilia dealer, Dennis Talbott, was seen on checks Pryor was depositing in his personal bank account.

If there's a paper trail, the NCAA will have the type of hard evidence needed to drop the hammer on Ohio State. And if Talbott is connected to other Buckeyes players in this way, Ohio State should brace itself for the worst.

The allegations about memorabilia sales are by far Ohio State's biggest problem. While the questions about loaner cars and used cars should be asked, the gray area surrounding car transactions makes it tough to prove any violations were committed.

With the memorabilia sales, there could be mounting evidence of a potential systematic problem at Ohio State. Here's the big question in my mind: When did this issue truly appear on the radar of Ohio State's compliance staffers and other athletic officials?

SportsByBrooks provides an important clue.
Midway through the 2010 football season, Talbott was ordered by Ohio State officials to completely disassociate himself from the program. That move by the OSU athletic administration may indicate that members of the school’s athletic department knew of Pryor’s activities involving Talbott long before the NCAA recently discovered the payment paper trail from Talbott to the former Buckeye quarterback.

The claim by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith in December that memorabilia sales involving players was confined to the "Tat-5" and Edward Rife is tougher to believe by the day. There are too many legs to the memorabilia allegations for Ohio State to claim it had no knowledge.

The NCAA is looking into all of it, and most folks would be surprised if additional allegations aren't levied against Ohio State.

The school's Aug. 12 hearing before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions might be less about Tressel's cover-up and more about what could be a systematic problem of memorabilia sales among players.

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