Players surprised by autograph story

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- One day after athletic director Andy
Geiger announced that 10 Ohio State football players had been
declared eligible by the NCAA, several teammates said Thursday they
were never aware the players were ever ineligible.

"I didn't even know. What are you talking about?" tailback
Maurice Hall said when asked about the reinstatements. "Really? I
didn't hear anything about that."

In a story in Thursday's edition of The Columbus Dispatch,
Geiger said the players were reinstated by the NCAA after they were
declared ineligible Aug. 14, for being paid an hourly wage by a
health care company for signing autographs.

Geiger said the 10 players -- who were not identified except for
third-team All-American wide receiver/cornerback Chris Gamble -- had
violated NCAA rules by signing autographs on the job during the
Ohio Health Care Association's convention May 5-8 in Columbus. The
players were paid an hourly salary to work at a convention booth
reportedly operated by NCS HealthCare.

A spokesman for NCS HealthCare declined to comment Thursday.

Geiger called the violations "an honest mistake."

The players forfeited paychecks raging from less than $100 to
more than $200 to Ohio State. The university, following NCAA rules,
donated the money to charities chosen by the players. The players
also submitted written statements of wrongdoing.

A university spokesman said Geiger was unavailable for further
comment Thursday.

Hall, tailback Lydell Ross, cornerback Dustin Fox and kicker
Mike Nugent were caught off guard by the news of the ineligibility
and subsequent reinstatements. None said they had any knowledge
that any of their teammates were ineligible.

It was yet another surprise for the defending national
champions, who have had a series of off-the-field problems over the
past few months.

Starting tailback Maurice Clarett's finances are being
investigated by the NCAA after he acknowledged exaggerating a theft
report. Clarett claimed in a police report that he lost more than
$10,000 in cash and possessions when a car he borrowed from a local
dealership was broken into in April. Clarett is also at the center
of an Ohio State investigation of academic fraud by athletes.

A former Ohio State teaching assistant who met with the NCAA and
members of an Ohio State investigative committee for more than two
hours on Wednesday said she was asked about three other football
players: Gamble, sophomore cornerback E.J. Underwood and Chris
Vance, a wide receiver who exhausted his eligibility last season.

Nugent, a first-team All-American last year, said the
controversies may lead people to conclude that Ohio State is a
rogue program.

He said that when football players at the University of Georgia
got in trouble for selling championship rings, he jumped to a
similar conclusion.

"I kind of looked at that and I was like, 'What kind of a
program are they running?' I'm one of those people who applies that
what 10 guys do, the whole team's like that," Nugent said. "You
just can't do that. There are some things going wrong, but ...
hopefully everyone doesn't look at the whole team as a bunch of
guys who are doing things wrong."

Hall said it was frustrating that there has been a drumbeat of
allegations against the program. He said the team sat through a
2{-hour presentation by the university's compliance department at
the start of fall camp.

"They made sure we knew all the rules," he said.

The 10 players who were reinstated were permitted to be a part
of the team and participate in practices. Clarett, who is eligible,
has been barred from practice until the NCAA's investigation has
been resolved.

Ross was asked how he would handle Clarett's situation.

"I would just try to do what's right," he said.