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Friday, April 13, 2007
Some violations from O'Brien's tenure expunged

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The NCAA reversed itself Friday and threw out three violations and part of a fourth that occurred under former Ohio State men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien because the association's enforcement staff missed a deadline for filing the charges.

Despite the ruling, Ohio State said penalties imposed because of the violations -- including NCAA probation and erasing all references to its 1999 Final Four appearance -- will stand.

O'Brien was fired June 8, 2004, six weeks after he revealed to then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he had loaned $6,000 to recruit Aleksandar Radojevic in 1999.

A subsequent investigation by Ohio State determined seven NCAA violations had occurred in the program while O'Brien was coach.

But the NCAA appeals committee said Friday its enforcement staff missed the deadline for notifying Ohio State of the charges regarding Radojevic by two days in 2005.

The committee upheld the other violations involving O'Brien, including improper benefits awarded to Boban Savovic, a member of the Buckeyes' Final Four team in 1999. It also reaffirmed four violations tied to O'Brien's top assistant at the time, Paul Biancardi.

But O'Brien's attorney, Brian Murphy, said all the remaining violations against the two coaches are minor.

"This is a bittersweet victory," O'Brien said in a statement. "I wish it could have been accomplished with the support the university promised me in my contract. Now it is too late to undo the university's self-imposed penalties, including its decision to take away an NCAA berth from a group of players who had absolutely nothing to do with these issues."

As a way to mitigate potential NCAA penalties, Ohio State officials decided to hold the men's basketball team out of the postseason after the 2004-2005 season despite a 20-12 record.

O'Brien always has contended that his payment to Radojevic was a minor violation, if a violation at all, because Radojevic was subsequently found to be a professional and never enrolled at or played for Ohio State.

O'Brien sued Ohio State for his firing. He won $2.2 million plus interest from the university in last August. The case has been appealed and the university has not paid him any money.

O'Brien also had been punished in the original ruling, with the NCAA making it difficult for him to coach again at the college level. But the association said Friday its infractions committee will revisit that decision.

The latest ruling would seem to undercut Ohio State's charge that it fired O'Brien because he had committed major NCAA violations.

"The fact that some of O'Brien's and Paul Biancardi's violations have been reversed on a technicality in no way changes the fact that the university's termination of Jim O'Brien was right," Ohio State said in a statement. "He violated a fundamental recruiting rule in breach of his contract, and that violation has been affirmed by yet another governing body today."

O'Brien said the NCAA's reversal vindicated him and allowed him to finally put the matter behind him.

Ohio State received three years of NCAA probation and was forced to take down its Final Four banner from Value City Arena and repay the NCAA around $800,000 it received for its NCAA tournament appearances while Savovic was on the team.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the association's infractions committee and enforcement staff disagreed on the deadline for notifying Ohio State, resulting in the reversal of the original ruling.

Ohio State spokesman Steve Snapp said that he did not believe that the NCAA reversal would change the penalties the university had accepted.

"The banners are a totally separate issue, the result of us playing an ineligible player," he said of Savovic. "That does not relate to this at all."

Ohio State set a school record for victories while going 35-4 and making it to the national championship game this season before losing to defending champion Florida. Only one player from that team, Ivan Harris, played for O'Brien; however, neither he nor any of the current players or coaches were involved in the violations.

Murphy declared the latest NCAA ruling as a total victory for O'Brien.

"The story here is that the university clearly overreacted," he said. "The university overreacted by taking away that potential NCAA berth from those young men who had nothing to do with this. That was plainly an overreaction and clearly not a necessary penalty for the kind of violations that are now left on the table."