More bad news for Buckeye Nation: Athletes, relatives may have received discount vehicles

In more upsetting news from The Columbus Dispatch released Saturday, The Ohio State University Complaince Office is now investigating car sales at two different Columbus area dealerships through one man, Aaron Kniffin. More than 50 athletes and their relatives purchased vehicles from Kniffin at two car dealerships, and OSU is now looking into accusations of discounted vehicles further.

As a Buckeye, my first thought and reaction is, “My word! What next?”. As if we haven’t been through enough since December as a university, this news brings even more negative publicity to the athletics department. My second thought as a disgusted Buckeye is “This has GOT to stop!”

If you are going to try and tell me that OSU is some beacon of what’s wrong with college football and some kind of sludge factory compared to other programs, you’re not going to succeed, and I think that point of view is small-minded. The problem is Tressel made an enormous mistake and now any and everything else that may not have been 100% on the up and up is going to be scoured over with a fine tooth comb. Is that right or wrong? I don’t know. What I do know is that it goes on everywhere. That’s not me trying to play the blame game; that’s me spelling out the facts and saying that if Ohio State is going to get punished even further for these purchases, then we need to go investigate every single other car dealership within 25 miles of a major college university. Otherwise, you’re just water-boarding a university that can’t take much more of it at the moment.

My main problem is the NCAA process of reviewing and punishment is an utter sham. The whole institution is, really. If you cannot police these things when they happen, what does that say about you as a controlling body? Sure, you strip wins and bowl victories, but does that REALLY do much damage? The Ohio State Buckeyes’ basketball team went to the Final Four in 1999. Last time I checked, there wasn’t a banner indicating it hanging up in Value City Arena, but I know what I saw at age 10 with the likes of Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn, Ken Johnson, and the rest, and no Jim O’Brien screw up is going to change that.

The bottom line is I don’t want my school to be known as a place of corruption, excess greed, and backhanded deals. I want it to be known for the academic and athletic excellence as well as the great people that populate the campus. You’ll never ever hear me say I’m ashamed to be a Buckeye, but if you ask me how I feel right now, I’m disappointed in what the school has allowed to happen. That, more than anything, is what upsets me. Pardon me for the arrogance, but “THIS IS OHIO STATE, DANGIT!” We shouldn’t have to go to these low levels of doing business. And the same thing can be said for USC, Oregon, Auburn, Boise State, and the like. These are all fine, big time institutions, and if everyone sold their recruits on the universities and athletic programs, we wouldn’t have these problems, where kids are coming in, expecting car deals or discounted clothing or tattoos or money.

Back to the latest accusation, car sales are such a subjective thing, especially used car sales. I know from experience, because I’ve never bought a new car in my young life. The Dispatch said that nearly half of the cars were sold for under Kelly Blue Book or NADA value. Oh, you mean just like a good portion of the used cars across the nation to Joe Six-Pack are? Without looking at a car for scratches, bumps, interior quality, etc., you cannot say whether those athletes and their families got an unfair deal on a car. Even more difficult is trying to determine if the purchasers got a special deal that they would not get otherwise. Maybe if I went into that same car dealership and looked at the same car, maybe I would get the same deal? No one can know.

The trouble comes into play with the large volume of Buckeye-related people buying from one salesman at two different dealerships and Thaddeus Gibson’s $0 purchase of an automobile. I’m pretty sure that has bad news written all over it. Hopefully, it’s for the dealership, but OSU has not been so lucky of late. Even if there aren’t any violations, it certainly doesn’t LOOK good. Mistakes are made on vehicle titles, and I hope Gibson’s case is one of those. Obviously, who in their right mind puts the purchase price at $o? Gibson said he paid for the car and is still paying for it, and I hope that’s the truth.

Personally, I have some ethical questions about the Dispatch in this. It’s no secret that they’ve been busy lately doing their part in uncovering and revealing to the public the details of Ohio State’s violations, which is certainly fine. It’s good business for them after all, and they do have a job to do in reporting what they know about the Ohio State athletic programs. What I feel crosses the line is these investigative reports where they are trying to unearth things on their own which haven’t been brought to light by Ohio State themselves or the NCAA. Where is the line between reporting the news and creating the news? I don’t know the answer to that one either. I just don’t know if it casts the best light on them either.

For now, it’s the waiting game for Buckeye fans to see if these accusations bring further punishment to the program this summer and beyond.

(Photo: Terry Gilliam/AP)

  • Burt

    Wow…using the blame the messenger AND everybody does it excuse in the same article. Kudos!

  • Denny

    A few things:

    First, it’s even more bad news that people actually use the term ‘Buckeye Nation’.

    Second, there’s no reason to be mad at the Dispatch. It’s people doing their jobs. The fact that they’re finding and reporting on things that OSU hasn’t reported is precisely what good journalism is supposed to do. I don’t think it’s anything particularly malicious – they’d report this stuff when they found it, regardless of the timing. If it particularly good timing for the university? Not at all. But that doesn’t mean the big mean Dispatch is out to get the university – OSU is a huge source of business.

    Without anything more concrete I don’t think anything comes from this report specifically, but that large a number of athletes (and their families) buying from the same guy doesn’t look good – especially when one guy has a title purchase at $0. Add the fact that there are numerous memorabilia items in this dealership’s office (as there were in the tattoo shop – conversely, there are memorabilia items everywhere in Columbus) and you’ve got nothing concrete, but a lot of potential for shady business going on.

    And ‘this is Ohio State, Dangit!’ isn’t arrogance: it’s naïvety.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Denny…testify!

    I’m done with the moral relativism. I’m done with the “why can’t the media lay off the hometown guys” attitude. I’m tired of the “Tressel just made a big mistake” attitude.

    The real you is the person you are when nobody’s watching…and when nobody’s watching.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    …OSU does it the wrong way.

  • Ike

    Are people still willing to defend Tressel? Still think his cover-up was just a “little mistake”? Look at where it’s gotten from that “little mistake.” There’s no way he survives this. No way. It’s time for us OSU fans to come off the high horse and just admit that things aren’t looking good. In fact, they’re looking very very bad..

  • Cooley Ford

    Maybe we’ll finally open up the offense once Tressel is fired. That Braxton Miller looks like he’ll be quite the quarterback.

    Seriously though, Cam Newton’s dad literally pimped him to the highest bidder. There’s definitely a decent case to be made for selective enforcement/moral relativism here.

  • Swig

    All this could happen at any other university and I wouldn’t care a bit. I only care here because of how it affects the reputation of the only school I care about.

    The more this goes on (especially if no other universities are investigated) the more I’ll go back to not caring about college sports because the NCAA and it’s rules are a farce.

  • saggy

    nothing to see here….move along.

  • Titus Pullo

    How dare the Columbus Dispatch write bad things about OSU! They should just reprint the press releases the sports information office sends to them.

    The nerve of a newspaper actually asking hard questions and finding out what is going on at a public university that is funded by our tax dollars.

    For shame!

    If you are going to question someone else’s ethics, it would probably be a good idea to not be wearing an Ohio State jersey while you are up on your soapbox.

    I didn’t realize it until the past few months, but Ohio State fans are exactly like Pittsburgh Steeler fans.

  • Shamrock

    The USC of the midwest.

  • Chris

    Just because the car says $0 on the title doesn’t mean Gibson didn’t pay for it. It simply means he didn’t pay sales tax for it.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Titus raises a good point about Steelers fans. Once it became clear that Roethlisberger was bad news, they kept showing up to games saying that they were “mad at Ben. We’re not rooting for him. We love the Steelers.”

    Then, the stadium gave the guy a standing ovation when he came back from a suspension for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a bar bathroom.

    I’m not saying the Buckeyes or Jim Tressel are at all approaching #7’s level of douchebaggery. Far from it. I’m just saying it seems odd to play the “well, until you clean EVERYONE’S program, you should just give OSU a pass” card, or the “but look at the OVERALL good that comes from OSU and Tressel” angle when we expect better from our most disliked rivals.

  • Kirk

    Maybe I shouldn’t write about Ohio State, because I just can’t win with you people.

    I said the following…

    1) I’m disgusted and this type of stuff has got to stop if it is happening.
    2) Ohio State should be selling itself under legitimate methods (if they are, in fact, using improper benefits to recruit).
    3) Violation or not, this doesn’t look good.
    4) Tressel screwed up tremendously, and in my last OSU article, I said perhaps it is time for him to step aside.
    5) I’m okay with The Dispatch reporting news about the violations.

    Honestly, what do you guys want from me? To disown my university and say that I’m not going to be a fan anymore?

    Excuses is not the right term. I’m not defending what Ohio State is doing or not doing. I am trying to rationalize how the NCAA is going about this as compared to other issues, and the issues of violations with the NCAA are so numerous that it’s sickening.

    The last time I checked we all have a little bias. Most of us here are Cleveland sports fans, and some of us are die-hard sports fans. Does that mean we can’t write objectively or at least get a positive, understandable point across?

    The last time I checked this is a blog.

    You guys don’t have biases… please.

  • Alex

    This is a blog, yeah. That means you’re going to get criticism in the comments when there’s something people don’t agree with. The worst thing in the article to me was
    “What I feel crosses the line is these investigative reports where they are trying to unearth things on their own which haven’t been brought to light by Ohio State themselves or the NCAA.”
    This is a ridiculous statement. This situation is the definition of investigative journalism. You’re way off-base here.

    Here’s another thing:
    “My main problem is the NCAA process of reviewing and punishment is an utter sham. The whole institution is, really. If you cannot police these things when they happen, what does that say about you as a controlling body?”
    It says that the NCAA isn’t the most effective controlling body. However, short of an insanely draconian, gigantic, money-sinking bureaucracy, nothing on earth would be able to police everything like this at every program. I think there are plenty of problems with the NCAA’s policies and uneven enforcement, but expecting them to unearth every single violation at every program is ridiculous. That said, when they do unearth something, it’s still a rule being broken – so it still needs punished. There are arguments about whether the rules should exist, but they do, and the schools agree to them. Period.

    The damage from NCAA punishments that actually matters to me is the kind that damages OSU’s reputation. Stripping victories and that kind of penalty tarnish a sports season a little, but I’m much more embarrassed because this sleaziness reflects on me, as an alumnus of the university. So in terms of this penalty, you better believe NCAA sanctions and punishments matter to me.

  • Denny

    Kirk – I’m not arguing that you should not want OSU to do well or to not cheer or not write articles with a fan-sided slant. I just don’t think it’s possible to be objective and say ‘this is Ohio State, dangit’. Those two things don’t really jive.

    You certainly didn’t sound OK with the Dispatch in the piece, with the mention of ‘ethical questions’. You also said that investigating the university further is akin to waterboarding. That’s a rather hyperbolic statement.

    I just think you’ve muddled an attempt at an objective piece by injecting opinion. Overall I agree with your assessment of the situation, but I think you’ve made a lot of ancillary points that detract from your argument.

  • Mike E

    what do you mean you people?

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I agree with Alex’s statement regarding the ability of the NCAA to investigate and control every program in the country.

    First off, the OSU IS the NCAA. The NCAA is controlled by the member institutions. It’s not an outside body that polices another organization. It’s more like a self-appointed hall monitor.

    Secondly, just because the NCAA can’t catch everyone, doesn’t mean OSU should get a break. If two people commit crimes in separate towns, and one gets away while one gets caught, the police to release the one that got caught on the grounds that they “couldn’t catch everyone.”

  • Garry Owen

    I’ve never paid either the Blue Book or NADA value for a used car. I also got a degree from OSU.

    Total lack of institutional control.

    See, one time, a friend in Columbus told me that he knew this guy that sold cars and was really fair. I went to him and bought a car at, gasp, under the Blue Book and NADA value. I told a friend (I have a really close-knit group of friends). He bought a car from the same guy. You won’t believe this, but it was UNDER THE BLUE BOOK VALUE. The dealer made up some lame excuse that they had “already earned a profit on the vehicle and didn’t need to get the Blue Book Value.” Whatever. Anyway, we both told our families and friends about this dealer, and many of them all bought cars from him. You guessed it! UNDER THE BLUE BOOK VALUE!!!!!!

    Jim Tressel must go down for this.

  • Jason

    kinda makes Maurice Clarrett’s accusations about the program a little more credible now, doesn’t it?

  • Roosevelt

    I don’t see any difference between this and any of a thousand other offenses at other universities. But as I thought in the Reggie Bush case and the Derek Rose case, etc. the NCAA is intrinsically rotten. That is the reason I don’t have a problem with Tressel. The NCAA gets rich off the backs of impoverished “student” athletes because they have a monopoly on minor leagues. Then they pretend that there’s some moral high ground when one of these kids gets a free car or tattoo or haircut – while coaches and ADs are flying in private jets.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Garry…

    But were the deals so good that your relative’s from Maryland drove all the way to Columbus to work with one specific salesman?

    (See: Maurice Hall’s Mom)

    It’s unclear just what kind of special treatment, if any, these kids got from the dealer, but it’s worth looking into. If they just got a good deal, then so what. But if they’re getting free loaners (such as the one allegedly given to Pryor for a “3 Day Test Drive” to Jeanette, PA), then something’s not right.

    Plus, they’re also accused of giving away tickets for special treatment at the car dealership.

  • The Other Tim

    AmmI the only one who’s bothered by the fact that they didn’t win more? If you’re going to get cars for players, at least make sure you’re not run out of the building every time you’re on the biggest stage.

  • Garry Owen

    @ C-Bus:

    Well, it’s not Maryland, but my relatives will drive a long way for a good car deal!

    Who’s accused? The players or their relatives? Who traded the tickets? (Seriously, I don’t know anything about it.) If it’s the players, we’re back where we were in December. If so, it’s a leap (without the smoking email) to say that it’s “OSU” and not the kids. If it’s the relatives, there’s absolutely nothing to this story, as much as it might give bad tasters a bad taste.

    I guess my tongue-in-cheek point is that, while you can convict on circumstantial evidence, folk might want to stifle the outrage a bit if circumstantial evidence is “all you got.”

    Although I wouldn’t have said it the same way, I do think that Kirk makes a few good points. This is in no way to excuse any actual wrong-doing by OSU (I hate that I live in a time and place where I have to repeatedly make that caveat in order to retain personal credibility), but it’s undeniably true that in the context of NCAA institutions, where there’s smoke there’s unfortunately also a lot of targeted ambulance chasing, even though the fire is everywhere.

  • Fool me once…

    @Jason – Great point. Looks like Mo Clarett is the ‘Jose Canseco’ of this. Just cause your a scumbag with an ax to grind doesn’t automatically make you liar.

    Since these accusations have been around for a long time, it’s not surprising to see them surface again in light of the increased scrutiny on the program. And frankly spotting an athlete in a hot car seems like such an obvious thing that I can’t believe that those responsible in the program didn’t know.

    I’ll reserve judgment until the facts come out. As many have stated above the findings here aren’t exactly definitive proof of wrong doing. If true however, I think everyone who supports the program should take a step back and re-evaluate certain aspects and support of the key players. If OSU is indeed a systematic dirty program, than maybe an NCAA delivered time-out is appropriate. I like winning, but not like this…

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Garry…

    On the ticket issue, the Athletic Department thought the salesman was bad enough news that they decided to put him on some sort of list of people that are not to be given game passes by players.

    This car thing is starting to smell just as bad as the tattoo problem. By removing the salesman from the ticket list, it looks like the University might have known there was a problem, but they decided to keep it quiet.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to go a long way for a car deal, and I don’t think it is necessarily suspicious that all of these car deals went through one salesman. It’s the memorabilia, the removal from the ticket list, and the “three day test drive” for Pryor that make me suspicious.

  • Garry Owen

    @ Kev:

    Curious (understanding that it’s not clear to you, either): Why would there be a list of people that are not to be given game passes by players? Wouldn’t that list be “Everyone that doesn’t share your last name and/or DNA”? The alleged bad smell smells bad to me.

    In my best devil’s advocacy, I therefore still call “foul” on the circumstantial evidence. This Court of My Valuable Opinion needs more, counselor. Is that all you got?

    (As for driving a long way for a car deal, I was kidding. Nobody in my family, other than me, would drive outside of 50 miles – but, they mostly live in Ohio and wear OSU gear whenever they shop. I have to put on the State Penn gear when I go shopping – but don’t worry, I always wear Buckeye long johns as a buffer.)

    Which brings me to my next meandering point (and a tangent of Kirk’s original point): I get (figuratively) flogged whenever I suggest here in the land of Nittany that if JT is crooked then JoePa is also likely crooked. It’s amazing what negative attention a whole lot of wins and national attention will bring to your program. I shudder to think what would happen in “Happy Valley” if State Penn ever started winning serious games. As PVT Trip said in Glory, “It stinks, and we all caught up in it. Ain’t none of us clean.”

  • Garry Owen

    Can I call you “Kev”? Sorry about that.

  • Steve

    If you recruit class athletes you won’t have this problem. When you recruit athletes with questionable integrity, you open yourself up to these kinds of things AND this kind of scrutiny. The UNC Tarheel football program had a dozen players letting tutors do their work for them. Do you think there is a problem with the types of athletes they recruit if that many get caught doing that? And that is just the ones who got caught. Buckeye fans need to be satisfied with simply putting quality student athletes on the field and if that means some 7-5 seasons then so be it.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Garry…

    Ha! Yes, you can call me Kev. That’s one of the things I love about this site. The regular commenters get to know each other and their points of view so well. It’s like a virtual “Cheers” in here.

    I’m curious about the ticket list too. The existance of such a list leads me to believe that the University is (rightly) aware of the fact that boosters get tickets from athletes regularly, and some boosters are bigger loudmouths about it than others. You would think that telling the athletes to give the tix to family and trusted friends only would be enough…you would think.

    As for the circumstantial evidence, I have to admit, I feel like a prosecuting attorney getting shut down on Law & Order. I have no proof. The only reasonably hard evidence is the accusation that Pryor was loaned a car for a “three day test drive.” If that part is true, I think most people would see that as a violation considering another player at another school got in trouble for accepting a golf car ride to class from a booster.

    I figured you were joking on the “long drive for a car deal” part. I also agree with your observation that success breeds negative attention.

    Overall, I agree with Steve’s sentiment. You might not always get the freakish athletes when you turn down guys with serious character flaws, but at least you keep your nose clean. I would be fine with a team full of quality students with great attitutes, even if it meant a bad season every once in a while. Winning at all costs should be reserved for truly important matters…not football games.

  • Garry Owen


  • Ron from Akron

    The NCAA and Dispatch are being fair and doing their jobs?

    It is troubling to me that the NCAA has so much unchecked power in any student athletes life. Do you have to give up your civil rights in order to play NCAA sports?

    Where are the Dispatch investigations of other schools and universities? The Dispatch is doing this for one reason and one reason only. Knocking off one of college footballs and basketballs elite programs. Classic case of “investigative” reporters or managers just wanting to make a name for themselves. Think they are concerned about OSU’s largely pristine image or the players lives? No way.

    Where were these investigative azzhats in the last Presidential election? Good grief.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Wow Ron…

    First off, nobody’s asking athletes to give up their civil rights.

    Second, if these athletes are giving up any privileges, they are doing so voluntarily. Complaining about the NCAA as a student athlete would be like complaining about your employer. Nobody’s making you work there.

    Third, why would dispatch reporters investigate any school besides OSU? They are the only major college with high profile sports in Columbus, and the only other Div. 1 school in the state is cincy.

    Finally…what would the dispatch reporters investigated during the last Presidential election, exactly?