COLUMBUS (AP) – Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger said Tuesday night that he doubted sophomore tailback Maurice Clarett would return to the defending national champions this season.

“I’m not optimistic about any number of games at this point,” Geiger said.

Earlier last night, coach Jim Tressel said Clarett would no longer practice with the team until questions about his eligibility are answered – an abrupt reversal from 10 days earlier when he was allowed to work out with the second-ranked Buckeyes.

“It appears to me – without having seen anything official or any black-and-white indications – that the suspension is going to be significant,” Tressel said. “It’s going to be long.”

Last week, Tressel and Geiger announced Clarett’s suspension from the team. However, they said he would be permitted to practice while the NCAA and an Ohio State panel looked into off-the-field NCAA violations and charges of academic fraud.

The sophomore tailback watched Saturday from the bench as the defending national champions defeated Washington 28-9.

Just before the game, Geiger said Clarett was suspended for “multiple games” because he misled investigators. Ohio State officials are in the process of responding to several pages of the NCAA’s allegations.

Clarett set Ohio State freshman records by rushing for 1,237 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns last season as the Buckeyes went 14-0.

He practiced with the team last week, wearing a Washington jersey and mimicking Huskies’ running back Rich Alexis while running plays against Ohio State’s first-team defense.

Tressel said he made the decision to hold Clarett out of practice after talking to the staff.

“I think that’s what’s best to right now,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to talk about it beyond that.”

Geiger and Clarett’s attorney, Scott Schiff, did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

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