Tressel questioned on academic probe - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Tressel questioned on academic probe

By JASON STRAIT, AP Sports Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - While declining to address specific allegations of misconduct, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel says he may do more to emphasize academic responsibility within the football program.

Speaking to the media Wednesday at the annual Big Ten kickoff, Tressel refused to comment on specific allegations that Buckeyes players received preferential treatment in classes.

The university opened an investigation into the allegations after a New York Times report that running back Maurice Clarett was allowed to take two oral exams to pass a class.

"Maybe I need to do a better job of making sure we keep pounding and pounding and pounding the importance of academics and the importance of doing things right," Tressel said. "I think we do a great job of that at Ohio State. I don't have an ill conscience about that whatsoever. But I also know that I can do things better and I believe we'll keep working on that."

The Times reported that Clarett, selected Wednesday as the preseason offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, passed African-American and African Studies 101 by taking two oral exams.

An associate professor told the newspaper she worked directly with Clarett and administered the exams after he walked out of the course's midterm exam in the fall quarter. The instructor also said several players claimed tutors occasionally wrote their papers.

Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns last season -- both Ohio State freshman records -- and played a key role in the Buckeyes' national title run.

Tressel said he had not read the Times story and wouldn't comment -- other than in generalities -- on the allegations.

"There are certain things that are expected of our (athletes), academically and socially," he said. "When someone starts saying that perhaps we're not doing those as well as we can, then it's like any other thing.

"When they tell us we're not throwing the ball as well as we can, we go figure out whatever it is that we're not doing as well, evaluate the validity of it and go to work on it."

The university has set up a committee to investigate athletes' academic performance and relationships with tutors and faculty.

The defending national champions were selected by sportswriters and broadcasters to repeat as Big Ten champs -- though Tressel spent scant time answering questions about his football team.

After several queries about the academic probe, a Big Ten moderator told reporters: "We'll take one more question -- please make it a football-related question."

The Buckeyes return 11 starters on offense to a team that finished the season with a perfect 14-0 record but plenty of close calls.

Ohio State won the national title in double overtime against Miami, was trailing Purdue in the closing minutes before pulling out a win and needed overtime to beat Illinois on the road.

"I think our guys are fully aware of the fact that we were very fortunate in some ways. You can go right down the schedule," Tressel said. "We didn't walk right through 14 games. I would like to think that we'll have the maturity to understand that."

Michigan, which finished third behind Ohio State and Iowa last season, was picked second. Wisconsin was third.

Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson was selected as the preseason defensive player of the year. The junior has 98 tackles and six interceptions in his first two years with the Wolverines and was a second-team All-American last year.

The Wolverines also return quarterback John Navarre, who showed dramatic improvements last season and will be a full-time starter for a third season. Michigan returns 15 starters.

The Badgers, 8-6 last season, could get a big boost on offense with the return of standout receiver Lee Evans.

Evans, who set a Big Ten record in 2001 with 1,545 yards receiving, tore ligaments in his left knee during the Badgers' 2002 spring game. He later had a second operation on the knee.

Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said Evans should be ready to go.

"When you have one of the best football players in the country, let alone one of the best receivers, obviously that has quite an impact on a football team," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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