Why is Pryor playing in the Sugar Bowl?

Written December 23rd, 2010 by Eric

No Clue At All

The stink from this is going to be on the airwaves for months to come. Five Buckeyes selling their championship gear to earn money – albeit to help their parents out – are allowed to play in a big bowl game and serve their suspensions the next year. The argument is going to go something like this,

Clearly the Buckeyes are more interested in bowl wins than punishing their student athletes!

Certainly seems like a valid argument. The Buckeyes look like they are trading the opportunity to play their guys now for losing them for 5, mostly meaningless games next year.

Consider who the Buckeyes are playing:

  1. Akron: September 3rd
  2. Toledo: September 10th
  3. at Miami (FL): September 17th
  4. Colorado: September 24th
  5. Michigan State: October 1st

Three of those teams stand out.  The game at Miami (FL) might not be so bad, especially since they’ll have to deal with having yet another new coach, but they can still play football.  Colorado…well, they’re Colorado.  But we follow that up with a Michigan State team that I’m certain would love to come into the Shoe and pound us for the 2006 (38-7) and 2008 (45-7) home losses they suffered to us.

But here’s my point.  The Buckeyes chose to punish these guys before the NCAA stepped in.  What punishment did Ohio State choose?

The five players would sit out the Sugar Bowl.

Ohio State recognized the failure in compliance with NCAA bylaws and punished their players by preventing them from playing the next game – a game they worked hard all season to earn.  A game I’m certain they all desperately want to play.

The NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, took a look at this decision and formed an opinion of their own.  Instead of punishing them for the Bowl Game, the NCAA decided to let them play the Sugar Bowl but punished them for the next season instead.  Now why would they do that?  Wouldn’t the NCAA rather choose “all of the above”, if not the immediate punishment?

You may recall a set of articles written by MaliBuckeye on the subject of the BCS bowl system.  Allow me to refresh your memory:

  1. How we got to the system today.
  2. What it’s all aboutMoney. (This is the lynchpin)
  3. What it all means.

This implies one very obvious, ugly answer.  The Sugar Bowl, having invested millions of dollars already on this matchup between Ohio State and Arkansas, put pressure on the NCAA to not punish the OSU players for this bowl game.  That action preserves the Sugar Bowl’s investment in the game, and even goes above and beyond by giving the game lots of free publicity to draw more viewership.

Look, it’s bad enough that a bunch of student athletes unknowingly committed NCAA violations.  It’s great that the university found out about what was going on, moved quickly through the investigation, and dropped what they viewed as an appropriate punishment as fast as possible.  It’s even better that the players were willing to come forward and be honest about all of this, which sped the whole process along.  That’s a huge victory for the OSU compliance office, even if the entire problem was caused by their failure in understanding the bylaw rules the first time around.  Clearly OSU compliance is teaching the student athletes what they need to know to remain eligible.

However, the players still committed violations.  By NCAA rules they should be declared ineligible until such time that they’ve repaid the money, plus whatever additional time the NCAA sees fit.  The fact that the NCAA is willing to bend the rules for a bowl game is nothing more than a disgusting sign of the times.

In case you read that wrong, I am much happier sitting Pryor and friends out for the bowl game than letting them play and force them to sit out next season.  Ineligible players should be ineligible no matter what the circumstances.

The Ozone has an article posted with a different perspective.  Castel states

NCAA policy allows suspending withholding penalties for a championship or bowl game if it was reasonable at the time the student-athletes were not aware they were committing violations, along with considering the specific circumstances of each situation. In addition, there must not be any competitive advantage related to the violations, and the student-athletes must have eligibility remaining.

The policy for suspending withholding conditions for bowl games or NCAA championship competition recognizes the unique opportunity these events provide at the end of a season, and they are evaluated differently from a withholding perspective. In this instance, the facts are consistent with the established policy, [NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, Kevin] Lennon said.

It’s great that the NCAA has the student-athletes in mind when establishing their rules.  Clearly they care about the “unique opportunity” to play in a bowl game.  However, if the violations don’t involve a competitive advantage how is there not a withholding clause for regular season games as well?  Clearly by this argument the NCAA should not hand down suspensions for any violation that doesn’t involve a player who gained a competitive advantage.

There’s only one difference between a bowl game and a regular season game – the amount of money they get from it.  Whether you buy it or not, it seems as if the NCAA has created itself a “wiggle room clause” that allows it to decide not to suspend players if the organization can benefit from it monetarily.  The NCAA doesn’t give a rats behind about the student athletes, they care only about lining their pocket books.  In the comments, feel free to name your favorite example of an NCAA screw job of a player because the NCAA decided to follow the letter of their precious bylaws instead of the intent they were written.  Mine might be the unfortunate lower division football player who redshirted his first year only to have the football program get canceled.  When he tried to switch to basketball, the basketball team said they didn’t want him.  Upon transferring to another program to play basketball, the NCAA refused to grant him a waiver forcing him to sit out an additional year.

Moving on, Ohio State is going to appeal the decision as passed down by the NCAA.  It will be interesting to see what comes of that appeal, but I already have a guess at how this is all going to work out.

  1. The appeal will be decided after the Sugar Bowl.
  2. The NCAA will follow the letter of the law rather than it’s spirit, choosing to penalize them for 5 games “because the books say so”, even if the mistake was made with the best of intentions.
  3. Pryor, Herron and Posey will bail for the NFL – seriously, why stick around to play only a half a season when you can bolt for the money?  Heck, they might not even have to pay the money to charity if the cards get played right.  Why repay if you’re not going to play another college down anyway?
  4. The NCAA will quickly forget that they completely and utterly failed to enforce their rules – what punishment did the violators suffer, exactly?
  5. The NCAA will happily continue to count their cashy-moneys.

If the NCAA is lucky, the appeals decision will take until after the NFL draft to come through.  The OSU players will be on the fence until the last moment, and ultimately decide to risk it.  That’s if the NCAA is lucky.  If Pryor, Posey, Herron and Adams are smart – and the more I learn, the more intelligent I think they really are – they are going to hop ship for the NFL just as fast as they can.

This is a disaster of monumental proportions, and it just goes to show the truth of a particular old saying

The worst of consequences can happen from the best of intentions

Too bad the NCAA will never have to suffer the consequences of their ignorant actions.

7 Comments

  1. el KaiserNo Gravatar
    December 23rd, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Bravo, sir Eric.

    [Reply]

  2. CjkanskiNo Gravatar
    December 23rd, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Coach can still bench these guys right? I mean selling your Gold Pants & Championship Ring has got to be a violation of team rules.

    [Reply]

    EricNo Gravatar
    December 23rd, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    That’s actually an open question, and I chose not to talk about it in the article for precisely this reason. With the NCAA explicitly stating that they’re eligible for the bowl game, is Tressel going to override their decision?

    I absolutely think it is in Tressel’s best interest to bench these kids. Here’s the rub, though – Tressel will likely think that a 5 game suspension next year is more than sufficient punishment to fit the crime. He will also trust the NCAA to know best about rule enforcement, and agree to defer to their decisions.

    That means that he will allow them to play, given that the NCAA infractions group decided to say they can play. I imagine he’s very disappointed with them, but I don’t believe he thinks they did wrong – especially since Tressel is very much a “Family First” kind of guy. Heck, other than breaking the rules, he might be impressed that they went to such lengths to help their families out.

    *Edit* – Ultimately, we don’t know that he’s not going to suspend these guys for the bowl game as well. I just think that it’s unlikely with the current circumstances as they are.

    [Reply]

  3. While We’re Waiting… Where the Grinch has Stolen OSU’s Christmas | WaitingForNextYear
    December 24th, 2010 at 8:02 am

    [...] Well, here’s a theory as to why Pryor and Company aren’t missing the Sugar Bowl- “This implies one very obvious, ugly answer. The Sugar Bowl, having invested millions of dollars already on this matchup between Ohio State and Arkansas, put pressure on the NCAA to not punish the OSU players for this bowl game. That action preserves the Sugar Bowl’s investment in the game, and even goes above and beyond by giving the game lots of free publicity to draw more viewership.” [Buckeye Battle Cry] [...]

  4. RussellNo Gravatar
    January 7th, 2011 at 1:17 am

    How about a little perspective. A J Green not only sold his jersey, he sold it to an agent and lied about it to the investigators. What was his suspension? 4 games.

    Now, even more perspective, and maybe a little clarity. How many games was Brandon Spikes suspended for? I mean all he did was try to gouge an opponents eyes as he lay helpless on the ground, and he was caught on camera doing it. His punishment? 1/2 game.

    I thought all along that people were getting a little too excited about what amounts to a minor rules violation. Should they be punished? Yes. But I never thought missing the Sugar Bowl was appropriate punishment.

    Truthfully, I think the appropriate punishment is to pay back the money the school paid for the item, plus a fine that equals the amount they received for the item, especially when that can be established. No money now? Pay it back when they get to the NFL, and yes, every one of them will be in the NFL, even if just for a couple of years in some cases.

    Frankly I am sick of the NCAA and schools rushing to suspend players for minor infractions. Truthfully, it hurts other players. What if it is just a couple of linemen on the blind side? What if missing your best linemen there causes a breakdown in protection and a young QB loses his career due to a serious injury. See, nobody ever thinks of things like that. Meanwhile, those guys are sitting out getting healthy. See how suspending players for a few games can have side effects that hurts other players? Punish yes, but stop with the rush to suspend. Be more creative.

    [Reply]

    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    January 7th, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Good point, Russell!

    It’s also frustrating for Ohio State fans to see their program continually in the news for doing the right thing… self reporting and responding to these types of issues.

    In a situation that could have easily been “investigated” until after the bowl game, the University responded swiftly and appropriately. That’s something to be proud of.

    [Reply]

    EricNo Gravatar
    January 7th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    That’s a great argument Russell. I only have one issue – visibility. While I agree that lots of NCAA infractions are probably not severe enough to warrant suspensions, there is a visibility factor to suspensions that other forms of punishment can’t quite attain.

    By handing down suspensions, the NCAA makes it obvious to observers that a punishment is in progress. By forcing the players to repay to charity (but nothing else), the system becomes a black box that most people will argue isn’t transparent enough to confirm if an actual punishment took place.

    There’s probably also an element of “harsh justice” to this. By making extreme punishments that affect player’s playing time (the thing they want most, of course) the NCAA more strongly discourages the behavior in others.

    [Reply]

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