University puts blame on fired coach O’Brien, one assistant
Friday, August 26, 2005
Kathy Lynn Gray and Aaron Portzline
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Ohio State University said yesterday that it properly monitored its men’s basketball program and instead heaped blame for violations of NCAA rules on two former coaches.
The assertion came as the school sent its 200-page response to nine charges of wrongdoing to the NCAA. Accompanying the response were thousands of pages of supporting documents.
Ohio State agreed with eight of the NCAA’s allegations but said that one — that it had failed to monitor an incoming basketball player’s housing and his relationship with a Gahanna woman — was not true.
The report slams former men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien and one of his assistants, Paul Biancardi, saying they knew — but did not report — that player Slobodan "Boban" Savovic was receiving benefits that violated NCAA rules.
"Ohio State has found itself the victim of improper behavior on the part of two former coaches and a few boosters, which has given rise to the allegations," the report concludes. "The institution . . . took all reasonable steps to ensure the university’s compliance with NCAA bylaws and did not fail to adequately monitor the situation."
The NCAA has charged OSU with seven suspected NCAA violations in the men’s basketball program and one each in football and women’s basketball.
The violation in the women’s basketball program is that a Columbus orthodontist provided free or discounted care to players. The football violation stems from quarterback Troy Smith taking $500 from an OSU booster.
The NCAA’s infractions committee will review the allegations and responses at a hearing Dec. 9-10. That committee will decide any punishment.
Ohio State already has selfimposed one penalty, stripping the men’s basketball team of a possible postseason berth in the 2004-05 season.
Another penalty is listed in the report: the reduction of men’s basketball scholarships for the upcoming season. Those have been cut from the permitted 13 to 11. OSU has given out 10 scholarships so far.
The university said it is considering additional punishments for its programs.
Kathleen Salyers, the Gahanna woman who is the subject of several NCAA allegations, scoffed at the idea that the violations were caused by rogue coaches.
"To say that Ohio State didn’t know what was going on, well they should have because everyone else did," she said last night.
And O’Brien’s attorney, who has filed a separate response to the NCAA allegations that defends his client and says the OSU compliance system failed, questioned the university’s version of events.
"If their letter contradicts our letter," Murray said, "they aren’t telling the truth."
Ohio State officials said they wouldn’t comment on the report yesterday.
Intertwined with the NCAA investigation are two lawsuits.
In one, Salyers is seeking compensation for caring for Savovic, a native of Serbia Montenegro. She said her former bosses, Dan Roslovic and his former wife, Kim, had promised to pay her $1,000 a month plus expenses to care for Savovic.
Salyers’ lawsuit kicked off the NCAA investigation when depositions in the case revealed that O’Brien had given another potential recruit, Aleksander Radojevic, $6,700 to help his family in Yugoslavia in the fall of 1998. Radojevic never played at OSU.
In the other case, O’Brien wants $3.5 million from Ohio State, arguing that the school fired him in June 2004 in violation of his contract. O’Brien was fired because of the $6,700.
Information from both cases has been used in the NCAA investigation.
Ohio State concluded that the first allegation, which involved the gift to Radojevic, is true. O’Brien told NCAA investigators that he gave the money to Biancardi; Biancardi told investigators that he then gave the money to Spomenko "Semi" Pajovic, a street agent, to give to Radojevic’s family.
O’Brien has said this wasn’t a violation because Radojevic had been deemed ineligible for college sports.
Several of the allegations center on benefits Savovic received from Salyers. The NCAA alleges that those benefits broke a rule that a player cannot receive anything of value from a booster.
OSU’s report says that O’Brien "encouraged and supported" the relationship between Salyers and Savovic rather than monitoring it, as evidenced by O’Brien providing Salyers with two season basketball tickets for four years.
Biancardi, now head basketball coach at Wright State University, "was aware of and actively participated in" the arrangement for Savovic to live in Salyers’ home and knew Salyers was paying Savovic’s international taxes, the report concludes.
As evidence for that conclusion, the report cites notes from Heather Lyke Catalano about a July 27, 1998, meeting with O’Brien and Biancardi. Lyke said she told the coaches that Savovic needed to pay his own expenses if he stayed in Columbus and that Biancardi should document Savovic’s rent payments with copies of his checks.
O’Brien denied knowledge of that meeting and Biancardi said that, while he remembers discussing Savovic’s housing and rent payments, he cannot remember details of the conversation or when it took place.
Biancardi admitted in a June 29, 2004, interview with an NCAA investigator that he did not check with anyone at Ohio State to determine whether Savovic was permitted to live at Salyers’ home.
OSU’s report also says:
• Savovic "played up his academic weaknesses" so Salyers and others would help him with his schoolwork.
• Biancardi denied any involvement in providing Salyers with basketball tickets, although Salyers said Biancardi had given her an envelope containing tickets twice and O’Brien said he might have had Biancardi give her the tickets. Ohio State said Biancardi’s denial of any knowledge of the tickets was not credible.
• Biancardi lied about a phone call to Mike Sierawski, a Columbus resident who befriended Savovic. In the call, which Sierawski had recorded, Biancardi asked Sierawski to sign a form agreeing to provide financial support for Savovic.
• Ohio State has sent letters telling several people that they cannot associate with the school’s athletic program. Letters went to Salyers, Sierawski, the Roslovics and Robert Q. Baker and his wife. Baker was involved with the Troy Smith violation. The school also sent "letters of education" to several individuals, including Sam Farb, an OSU booster who gave Savovic a ride to Salyers’ home. Salyers also has said Farb drove the late Dave Thomas to Salyers’ home, where the Wendy’s founder allegedly tried to give Savovic some money.
• Yearly performance evaluations show the OSU compliance staff did not grade O’Brien and Biancardi well on compliance matters. Both were criticized repeatedly for their failure to document recruiting visits.
• The Roslovics refused to talk to the NCAA.
O’Brien’s attorney said his client could not comment on OSU’s report. Biancardi’s attorney did not return telephone calls.
Dispatch reporter Suzanne Wilder contributed to this story.