More trouble for Ohio State? School looking into players’ car deals.

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel watches from the sideline during the second half of their NCAA football game against the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan November 21, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Ohio State has launched an investigation into used-car purchases made by athletes and their families from two different dealerships in the past five-to-six years.

Ohio State University’s chief enforcer of NCAA rules said yesterday that he will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of OSU athletes at two Columbus car dealers to see if any sale violated collegiate rules.

The investigation was initiated after The Dispatch found in public records that at least eight Ohio State athletes and 11 athletes’ relatives bought used cars from Jack Maxton Chevrolet or Auto Direct during the past five years. The investigation will involve outside experts and examine at least 50 sales, focusing on whether the athletes received improper benefits.

The school is specifically looking into an issue involving a salesman named Aaron Kniffin, who worked at both dealerships and is responsible for many of the transactions. At this point, Ohio State doesn’t know if the players received improper benefits, but is concerned (and rightfully so) that so many of its athletes and their families purchased cars from the same salesman.

In its report, the Columbus Dispatch specifically mentioned linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, who apparently purchased a car for a whopping $0.

The purchases reviewed by The Dispatch were made when Kniffin worked at Maxton between 2004 and 2009 and then at Auto Direct between 2009 and 2010.

Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0.

Mauk could not explain it. “I don’t give cars for free,” he said. Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. “I paid for the car, and I’m still paying for it,” he said, declining to answer further questions.

Kiffin claims that the sales prices were “much more than that” and is disputing the prices in the public records. But he no longer works for the dealerships in question, making the situation even more intriguing.

I don’t want to overact because this report is probably just the tip of the iceberg, but I think it’s safe to say that Jim Tressel has a big freaking problem on his hands. Not only were his players swapping memorabilia for free tattoos, but it also appears some of them were driving around in cars that they didn’t pay for. Now, is it conceivable that he didn’t know about the car situation? Of course. But he knew about the tattoos so was he also tipped off about the cars? If he was and he didn’t tell the school, then I don’t think Ohio State has a choice but to terminate his contract. I’ve long held the belief that the tattoo situation wouldn’t get him fired but he would have caused the school too much embarrassment if he also knew about the cars.

Suddenly, Michigan’s issues in Ann Arbor don’t look so bad.

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