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Sunday, March 6, 2005
Administration undercut Buckeyes

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

If Ohio State's players and coaches really wanted to make a statement Sunday, they should refuse any congratulatory calls or handshakes from retiring athletic director Andy Geiger or school president Karen Holbrook.

Both took away the Buckeyes' chances at making Sunday's win over previously undefeated Illinois matter into March with a possible NCAA Tournament appearance.

The Ohio State administration selfishly put this school on a postseason ban in the fall. The Buckeyes will play in the Big Ten tournament, but they have been barred from competing in the NCAA and NIT tournaments.

The reason?

Alleged violations under former coach Jim O'Brien, notably, a $6,000 payment to one-time recruit Aleksander Radejovic in 1998. If the NCAA deems this particular allegation to be true -- and O'Brien has said he provided Radejoiv money but claimed it wasn't a violation; rather, he said he made a humanitarian gesture to help Radejoiv's mother during the Serbian war -- the Buckeyes might be placed on probation and facing a postseason ban.

But we underscore the word might here. The infractions committee hasn't even sunk its teeth into this case. We don't know if it will support a postseason ban.

The Ohio State administration continues to say that it was proactive in handling this crisis. That's fine. Take away scholarships, or recruiting visits, or give back money earned from NCAA Tournament appearances. But let these players participate in this postseason.

The NCAA should put a rule in place that forbids universities from banning themselves from the postseason once the academic year starts. What's wrong with a self-imposed penalty at Ohio State for the 2005-06 season? If Geiger and Holbrook are so convinced that the Buckeyes would receive a postseason ban, then why not shield the program until the 2005-06 season? By doing that they would have allowed this team, which had already started its school year and practice, to achieve its own goals.

If such decisions are made before the fall semester, then seniors would be allowed to leave and finish their careers by playing in the postseason. These Buckeyes had nothing to do with the alleged violations under O'Brien. They should have been given the opportunity to play in late March.

Ohio State would have entered the Big Ten tournament as a bubble team. The Buckeyes are 19-11 overall and 8-8 in the Big Ten, with the nation's only win over Illinois. The Buckeyes did not have outstanding non-conference results under first-year coach Thad Matta; they beat Saint Joseph's when the Hawks weren't playing well, beat Houston in Kansas City in the Guardians Classic, and defeated Texas Tech in Dallas, but they lost at LSU and Clemson.

It's not a great résumé, but with a .500 Big Ten record and an upset of Illinois, Ohio State certainly would be a part of any bubble conversation.

But that's not what matters most. The Buckeyes should have been given the chance to play. This selfish act by their administration might come back to bite it if the NCAA infractions committee decides that a postseason ban is not justified. If that happens, this would end up being one of the more egregious acts by an administration on its players in recent memory.

We won't know the outcome for perhaps a year. Ohio State's players and staff deserve plenty of credit for staying upbeat, working hard and producing a monster win in their final regular-season game.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.