The Fall of Jim Tressel: A SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Investigation Reveals the Full Extent to Which Jim Tressel Lost Control of the Buckeyes

Violations stretch back to 2002; allegedly involving at least 28 football

players; includes accusations that players traded memorabilia for marijuana.

Former Buckeye Robert Rose on trading memorabilia for tattoos: “It was just something I had to do….I was in a hard-spot….Other guys were doing it for the same reasons.”

Tressel potentially broke NCAA rules as an assistant underEarle Bruce – according to a fellow assistant at the time

A Sports Illustrated investigative report by senior writer George Dohrmann, with staff writer David Epstein, reveals a program rife with alleged NCAA rules violations. The new allegations include that the memorabilia-for-tattoos and cash violations stretch back to 2002, involve at least 28 players (22 more than had previously been reported) and accusations that Buckeyes traded memorabilia for marijuana. Former OSU defensive end Robert Rose spoke on the record about his dealings, and a source points to a much deeper relationship between Fine Line Ink and OSU players that involves tickets, cars and favors.

Last Friday, SI informed Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch of all the new allegations and asked that Tressel be made aware of them. Lynch said that the school would have some comment by the end of the day. No comment came, and on Saturday, Lynch told SI to contact Tressel’s attorney, Gene Marsh, for any response from the coach; Lynch also said he could not confirm that Tressel had been apprised of the new allegations. The implication was clear: Ohio State was distancing itself from Tressel, who resigned on Monday. (E-mails from SI to Tressel and to Marsh and multiple phone messages for Marsh went unanswered.)

Excerpts from The Fall of Jim Tressel include:


Former defensive end Robert Rose told SI: he made transactions at Fine Line Ink that were NCAA violations and said “at least 20” other players did as well. He says he has no regrets: “I knew how much money that the school was making. I always heard about how Ohio State had the biggest Nike budget. I was struggling, my mom was struggling. . . . It was just something that I had to do. I was in a hard spot. . . .[Other] guys were doing it for the same reasons. The university doesn’t really help. Technically we knew it was wrong, but a lot of those guys are from the inner city and we didn’t have much, and we had to go on the best we could. I couldn’t call home to ask my mom to help me out.”

Columbus, Ohio tattoo artist Dustin Halko worked out of Dudley’z Tattoos & Body Piercing  in Columbus from the fall of 2002 until early 2004 and revealed to SI that he inked at least 10 Buckeyes in trades for memorabilia  and estimates that at least 15 different players committed NCAA violations at Dudley’z  in similar fashion to the six OSU Buckeyes found to have committed NCAA violations at Fine Line Ink. “What they brought in depended on the kind of tattoo they wanted,” says Halko. “If it was just something small, it might be a signed magazine or something like that. If it was a full sleeve, they might bring in a jersey.” (Tattoos range in price from less than $100 for simple designs to several thousand dollars for more elaborate ones like the full-sleeve inkings of some Buckeyes players.) Halko says those working in the shop preferred receiving items with multiple autographs. His most memorable acquisition was a scarlet-and-gray training jacket with between 10 and 15 signatures on it, including Tressel’s. Halko says he also traded tattoo work for a magazine bearing the coach’s autograph.


A former employee — “Ellis” (a pseudonym to protect his identity) — of Eddie Rife (owner of Fine Line Ink) provides a startling description into the scope of the relationship between  Rife, OSU players and memorabilia and marijuana: “Eddie had storage units all over town,” he says, “and he also sold some stuff off to people.” (Through Stephen Palmer, his lawyer, Rife declined to comment on his involvement with Ohio State players.) Ellis estimates that Pryor alone brought in more than 20 items, ­including game-worn shoulder pads, multiple helmets, Nike cleats, jerseys, game pants and more. One day Ellis asked Pryor how he was able to take so much gear from the university’s equipment room. Ellis says the quarter­back responded, “I get whatever I want.”


Also from the story: The Department of Justice alerted Ohio State to a transaction in which an unnamed player gave Rife a watch and four tickets to the Rose Bowl in ­exchange for a Chevy Tahoe. That player, Ellis says, was running back Jermil Martin: “Jermil came in to the shop and said, ‘Are we doing this deal on this truck?’ They went outside, and Eddie signed the title over and Jermil shook his hand and off he went.” Martin did not give Rife anything at that moment, Ellis says, but a short time later Rife said in a telephone call to Ellis that he was in Pasadena and that Martin had gotten him tickets. Martin was particularly close to Rife, Ellis says; about a year earlier Rife had given Martin a different car, a 2004 Jaguar sedan. (Repeated attempts to locate Martin, including calls, Internet searches and Facebook messages to past friends and coaches, were unsuccessful).


“Eddie tossed him the keys, and off Jermil drove,” Ellis says. (Through Palmer, his lawyer, Rife declined to comment.). Ellis showed SI pictures of players—Pryor, Thaddeus Gibson, Dan Herron and Solomon Thomas—being tattooed or showing off their artwork. Rife appears in one photo with a player. Ellis also produced a photo of 11 plastic bags filled with what appears to be marijuana; he says the photo was taken at Fine Line Ink. A letter the Department of Justice sent to Ohio State last December stated, “There is no allegation that any of these players were involved in or had knowledge of Mr. Rife’s drug trafficking activities.” Ellis says that is true but that he did witness four other Buckeyes trade memorabilia for weed. Three of those transactions involved a small amount of the drug, he says, but in one instance a player departed with what Ellis was told was a pound. (Rife’s lawyer denies that his client gave marijuana to any players.)

Ohio State declined to make any of its current players available to respond to SI.

From Tressel’s days as an OSU Assistant: While Tressel was an assistant under head coach Earle Bruce, one of his duties was to organize and run the Buckeyes’ summer camp. Most of the young players who attended it would never play college football, but a few were top prospects whom Ohio State was recruiting. At the end of camp attendees bought tickets to a raffle with prizes such as a pair of cleats and a jersey. According to a fellow assistant, Tressel rigged the raffle so that the elite prospects won. Says the former colleague, “In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That’s Jim Tressel.”


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