Updated: May 26, 2011 10:48AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small told the school’s student newspaper that he sold Big Ten championship rings and other memorabilia for cash and got special car deals as an athlete during his playing days.
The Lantern reported that Small, who played for the Buckeyes from 2006-2010, said “everyone was doing it” on the team.
Five Buckeyes players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia to the owner of a local tattoo parlor. That is considered an improper benefit under NCAA rules. Coach Jim Tressel also is suspended for five games and is under investigation by the NCAA for knowing about his players’ involvement and not telling his superiors for more than nine months.
Small said, “We had four Big Ten rings. There was enough to go around.”
He added that, despite Ohio State’s large and proactive NCAA compliance department, most of student-athletes “don’t even think about (NCAA) rules.”
Small said he used the money he got to cover his typical costs of living.
“We have apartments, car notes,” he said. “So you got things like that and you look around and you’re like, ‘Well I got (four) of them, I can sell one or two and get some money to pay this rent.”
He said the biggest advantages came from car dealerships.
“It was definitely the deals on the cars. I don’t see why it’s a big deal,” said Small.
Ohio State is investigating more than 50 transactions between Ohio State athletes and their families and two Columbus auto dealerships.
“They have a lot (of dirt) on everybody,” Small said, “cause everybody was doing it.”
Small had 61 catches for 659 yards and three touchdowns during his Ohio State career, which was marked by frequent suspensions and disciplinary acts. He spent time on the practice squads of the Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins and has now returned to Ohio State to get his degree in sociology.
Small said players went to see Edward Rife at Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor because Rife was an Ohio State fan and gave big discounts. It was the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of Rife on federal drug-trafficking charges that led to Ohio State officials finding out about the improper benefits.
Small said the players would have been foolish to turn down the discounted tattoos.
“If you go in and try to get a tattoo, and somebody is like ‘Do you want 50 percent off this tattoo?’ You’re going to say, ‘Heck yeah,’” Small said.
Tressel continually suspended or benched Small during his playing days at Ohio State. One of the team’s fastest players, he was seen as the heir apparent to Ted Ginn Jr. after the wide receiver and kick returner went to the NFL. But Small’s career was marked by being in Tressel’s doghouse.
“They explain the rules to you, but as a kid you’re not really listening to all of them rules,” Small said. “You go out and you just, people show you so much love, you don’t even think about the rules. You’re just like ‘Ah man, it’s cool.’ You take it, and next thing you know the NCAA is down your back.”
Another former Ohio State player interviewed by The Lantern, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, said Ohio State told players about NCAA rules and if they were broken it was the players’ fault.
Ohio State spokesman Dan Wallenberg said, “We educate as best we can and expect student-athletes and staff to follow our messaging and policies.”
Former OSU basketball player Mark Titus wrote Tuesday on his blog that the perks within the football program are far from a secret.
“Any OSU student in the past five years could tell you that a lot of the football players drive nice cars,” Titus wrote. “You’d have to be blind to not notice it.”
Small said there was no shortage of people trying to help Ohio State athletes.
“Everywhere you go, while you’re in the process of playing at Ohio State,” Small said, “you’re going to get a deal every which way.”