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FIESTA BOWL NOTES

Ohio State's Clarett Adds Fuel to Controversy

January 01, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — You figured Ohio State was going to have a tough time beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl with no distractions, so what happens now that off-the-field issues involving Buckeye freshman tailback Maurice Clarett have turned into he-said, she-said?

Monday, Clarett ripped school officials for not allowing him to return to Youngstown this week to attend the funeral of a friend who was shot and killed Dec. 21.

Ohio State said Clarett could have returned but failed to fill out the necessary paperwork to provide emergency financial assistance.

The document involved is known as the Free Application For Federal Student Aid Form (FAFFSA).

Tuesday, however, Clarett said he had done the paperwork.

"They can't lie about that," Clarett said at a news conference.

Maybe Clarett did fill out paperwork, but not in time.

"As of Dec. 30, 2002, there was no FAFFSA on file for Maurice Clarett," Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger said in a statement. "Maurice may have begun the process but at the time we had to make the decision, there was no indication of a FAFFSA on file for Maurice in our Financial Aid office. We were therefore compelled to follow the NCAA rules as they apply to the situation."

In other words, Clarett was stuck in Phoenix.

Distractions were the last thing No. 2 Ohio State, a double-digit underdog, needed as it prepared for No. 1 Miami, winner of 34 consecutive games.

"It's something, in the grand scope of things, that has to be taken care of," Coach Jim Tressel said. "This is a tough situation. None of us can guess how Maurice feels and what grief he's going through."

Clarett, who rushed for 1,190 yards and 14 touchdowns, is the key to the Buckeye chances against the Hurricanes.

How will this affect the Fiesta Bowl?

"He's got his opinions, but nobody questions his heart," Ohio State tight end Ben Hartsock said of his teammate. "Nobody questions his desire to win games and his ability to go out and win games. He's been a spark, there's no denying."

*

Former NBA star Charles Barkley spoke to Miami players this week and said he greatly admired the school's 34-game winning streak.

"I'm a fan of greatness," Barkley said. "When Serena Williams plays, I'm watching. When Tiger [Woods] plays, I'm watching. When these guys play I have to watch. Ohio State had a great season, but [Miami] had a great season. These guys have had three great seasons."

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