Chris Holtmann entered the interview room at Value City Arena on Thursday afternoon in a new gray Ohio State long-sleeved shirt and armed with an opening joke.
“It’s been a pretty slow week here in college basketball,” the coach deadpanned.
Then as his 45-minute news conference designed to discuss his first Ohio State team got underway, Holtmann spent roughly the first 17 minutes fielding questions about the corruption scandal that has significantly impacted college basketball this week.
On Tuesday, 10 people were indicted on charges of using hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence athletes’ college choices. Four assistant coaches were named in the investigation and all were arrested, and the revelations have already cost Louisville coach Rick Pitino his job. Alabama has also accepted the resignation of a member of its basketball staff after starting an internal review.
At Ohio State, though, Holtmann said the FBI has not made any contact and no internal review is underway or in the works. For that, he credited both the coach he replaced in Thad Matta and athletic director Gene Smith.
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“Gene Smith has empowered me (and) I know he empowered Thad to walk away from situations that we were uncomfortable with or (where) we felt like these types of things that the public is now learning about were involved,” Holtmann said. “Thad and I would talk about some of them on the road. There were certainly instances in the past for both of us where there were things we had to walk away from.
“I have great respect for all of those that intend to do this right way and have done it the right way. There are certainly types of things that, quite honestly, I think we’ve had to walk away from and I’m grateful that I work for an athletic director here and I worked for an athletic director at Butler who not only empowered me to do that, but it was the expectation.”
The federal investigation is ongoing, and the expectation is that more coaches and schools are likely to be named before it’s complete.
Holtmann said it’s his understanding that he is ultimately responsible for the actions of his assistants because it is his program to oversee. On Tuesday as word spread, Holtmann sent a text message to his staff addressing the situation.
“It was pretty direct and straightforward, a text message to our staff from coach,” assistant coach Ryan Pedon said. “He reiterated his expectations for us as coaches, not that we had any sort of doubt or worry. There’s no blurred lines with that. We can sleep and rest easy, I feel like, comparatively to what is going on around the country.”
The situation has brought into question the entire notion of amateurism as well as questions on what should happen to coaches who are caught knowingly breaking the rules. For Holtmann, the hope is that this situation might generate some change within the sport that helps level the playing field.
“The NCAA does a really good job in a lot of ways, but as we’ve seen here, this is massive in its scope potentially,” he said. “The FBI is a little more scary than the NCAA. There is an element of fear right now, quite honestly, that if there’s a hope that there might be some change because of that it might come of this.”