COLUMBUS, OHIO Former Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien committed a major violation when he loaned a potential recruit $6,000, regardless of his motive, a former NCAA investigator testified Thursday.
Dan Beebe, associate commissioner and chief operating officer for the Big 12 Conference, also said that the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations wouldn't apply because O'Brien showed blatant disregard for the NCAA regulations.
"You don't even need a rule book to understand that that's a major violation," he said during testimony in O'Brien's case against the school.
Ohio State fired O'Brien in June 2004 after he told former athletic director Andy Geiger he loaned $6,000 to the family of Aleksandar Radojevic, a prospect from Serbia, in late 1998 or early 1999 because the player's father had died.
O'Brien is suing the school in the Ohio Court of Claims for $3.5 million in back pay and benefits for what he says was an improper dismissal in June 2004. The judgment could grow by millions if interest and other damages are awarded.
O'Brien attorney Brian Murphy questioned Beebe's characterization of the loan as a major violation, citing a deposition in which Geiger stated that the loan didn't provide a recruiting advantage.
Radojevic never played at Ohio State and never enrolled in classes at the school. After he signed to come to Ohio State from a junior college, it was determined that he had played professionally for a team in Yugoslavia and he was declared ineligible by the NCAA.
Murphy asked how it could have been an unfair advantage if Radojevic never played for the Buckeyes or another NCAA school.
"Just because you cheated and missed doesn't mean you didn't create a recruiting advantage over the other rivals who were trying to obtain the services of the same youngster," said Beebe, who served as a director of enforcement for the NCAA from 1987-89.
O'Brien says the loan to Radojevic was not a violation because he knew the player already had forfeited his amateur status by playing professionally. He also contends that the loan did not become known until after the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations.
O'Brien coached the Buckeyes to a 133-88 record that included two Big Ten titles and a conference tournament title in seven seasons.
Jennifer Heppel, a former associate commissioner for compliance and enforcement with the Big Ten Conference, testified Thursday that the NCAA defines a prospective student athlete as a student who has started classes for the ninth grade. That would make Radojevic a prospect even though he played professionally, she said.
"There's nothing that precludes a professional athlete from being considered a prospective student-athlete," she said.
Murphy pointed out during his cross examination that Radojevic loses his eligibility under five other NCAA criteria for determining amateur status.
Closing arguments are expected today.