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Ohio State investigating used-car purchases; athletic director Gene Smith’s lips are sealed

More bad news has found the Ohio State athletic program, and administrators aren’t talking.

OSU will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of university athletes at two local car dealerships, The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday.

Though OSU officers refused to speak to The Lantern about the university’s response to the investigations, representatives from other Big Ten schools were open.

Gary Bargen, the associate athletic director of compliance at Nebraska, indicated that compliance departments at different universities would handle the situation differently.

“Depending upon the circumstances, whether there is specific evidence that would lead one to believe that (violations occurred), it would just be strictly (up to) their compliance department and the personnel as far as how they are going to go about finding that information,” he said.

OSU associate athletic director for compliance Doug Archie and athletic director Gene Smith declined to answer questions.

OSU’s chief enforcer of NCAA rules and outside experts will examine at least 50 deals made by salesman Aaron Kniffin at Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct over the past six years.

Representatives at both dealerships were not available for comment.

Kniffin and Auto Direct owner Jason Goss both have attended seven football games as player guests in the past.

The sales would be in violation of NCAA rules if the players received any benefits or discounts based on their status as OSU athletes. Determining such violations may be difficult given the variability of used car sales.

“The OSU compliance office has strong and active monitoring programs for student-athlete vehicle registration that go above and beyond NCAA requirements and are among the most robust in the nation,” Archie said in a statement released Saturday.

The Dispatch reported that Kniffin sold cars to former defensive linemen Thaddeus Gibson, Robert Rose and Doug Worthington and former running backs Chris Wells and Maurice Wells. Current wide receiver DeVier Posey and basketball player William Buford were also reported as having made car purchases from Kniffin along with multiple members of current and former players’ families.

Student-athletes are permitted to purchase cars and are required by the OSU compliance department to report the make, model and price of the car along with any co-signers, Archie’s statement said.

Gibson’s was the most concerning of the purchases. Currently a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Gibson acquired a Chrysler 300 with fewer than 20,000 miles from Auto Direct that was titled to the then-sophomore for $0 according to public records, The Dispatch reported.

Gibson told The Dispatch that he has been making, and continues to make, payments on the car.

The football program already has endured NCAA investigation for improper benefits received by five players — Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, Solomon Thomas, Mike Adams and Posey — that resulted in a five-game suspension for the players at the start of the 2011 season.

Coach Jim Tressel knew of the violations, and the program is currently under investigation for his failure to report the information. Tressel also is suspended for the season’s first five games and will attend a compliance seminar June 6–10 in Tampa, Fla.

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