The NCAA handed down five-game suspensions for the 2011 season for five Ohio State football players Thursday for receiving money for selling gifts, apparel and awards. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas must sit out the first five games of next season. Freshman linebacker Jordan Whiting was given a one-game suspension.
Still, the ruling left many questions about the future of the players involved and the OSU football program.
Why don’t the suspensions include the Sugar Bowl?
The NCAA’s press release explained why the players are able to compete in the bowl game.
“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.”
For Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the NCAA released a similar statement. Granted, the NCAA concluded that there is no proof that Newton knew about his father shopping his services around for a six-figure payday.
But if the players inform the NCAA that they were unaware of any wrongdoing, it appears to be enough to maintain their eligibility for the bowls.
“Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs.
The players claimed ignorance, and ended up giving the NCAA an out. After all, would the Sugar Bowl generate as much revenue or attention if Joe Bauserman were starting for Terrelle Pryor?
Michael Wilbon said something similar on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”
“You boys go make us some more money, and you fill those seats, but don’t you make any money for yourselves,” Wilbon said.
Are the players making valid excuses?
The OSU players in question are using a common answer, the same answer that Newton used in the midst of his scandal. Basically, they didn’t know they were in the wrong.
While it’s possible that the players are telling the truth, former Buckeye defensive starter and current San Francisco 49er Thaddeus Gibson said that they were told not to sell personal items fairly often. Gibson played for OSU from 2007-09.
“Oh yeah, they (OSU athletic director Gene Smith and the coaches) talked about it a lot,” Gibson said Thursday in a phone interview with The Lantern.
This would appear to contradict what Gene Smith said Thursday, unless those warnings didn’t start occurring until November 2009.
“We were not explicit with these young men that you could not resell items that we give you,” Smith said. “We began to be more explicit in November 2009.”
Safety Jermale Hines sided with the suspended players in a Twitter post Thursday.
“I dont blame em for selling whatever they sold, there is no reason athletes you struggle when 90% of yo time go to that sport. And no job,” Hines wrote.
Many would argue that Hines has a point, including Gibson.
“I’m with him (Hines) on that,” Gibson said. “The thing about it is, like Terrelle for example, his jersey sales are crazy. You know they’re (Ohio State) making all this money off his jersey selling, but he’s getting in trouble for this.”
We’ve seen this before, recently with star Georgia receiver A.J. Green, who was suspended for four games for selling his jersey earlier in the season.
Perhaps it’s irrelevant whether or not the excuses are valid; regardless, the players broke the rules. But are we asking the right questions? Is a free education and minimal financial support from the school a fair trade for the services of these college athletes, considering the amount of money the make for the schools?
Why make the compliance office scapegoat?
The NCAA postponed the suspensions until after the Sugar Bowl because the players said they didn’t know they were violating NCAA rules. The NCAA concluded that the athletes “did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, in the initial press release.
Smith agreed that the efforts of the compliance staff didn’t meet expectations.
“We were not explicit with these young men that you cannot resell items that we give you,” Smith said. “They stated in their interviews with us and with the NCAA that they felt those items were theirs, that they owned them, that they could sell them to help their families. … We were not explicit and that’s our responsibility to be explicit.”
This takes away some of the blame aimed at the players and places it on the university, and might help OSU make its case when it files an appeal.
What does this say about the NCAA?
The next sentence might sound familiar. The NCAA is being criticized for the way it handled a situation involving the potential eligibility of college athletes.
This has become pretty commonplace. Still, the NCAA continues to open the door for this type of criticism.
Four of the six players are starters and those four — Pryor, Posey, Herron and Adams — are all juniors. They have the opportunity to declare for the draft after the Sugar Bowl.
The four juniors in question might not be happy with their projected draft statuses leading into the 2011 NFL draft. If they fall in the draft — and that’s a likely scenario considering all four players would have almost certainly benefited from one more college season — that in and of itself is a punishment of sorts.
But short of hurting the juniors’ wallets, how does this punishment make any sense? If the players leave after the Sugar Bowl, they’ll completely skip out on any type of NCAA disciplinary action.
In the NCAA’s defense, they had to suspend the players in this situation. Letting the Buckeyes go with a slap on the wrist would have been a hypocritical gesture given their actions involving these situations in the past.
But if the players in question leave OSU for the draft, they won’t have to serve anything. The NCAA tried to make it look like they were doing the right thing, but the punishment won’t mean anything if Pryor, Herron, Posey and Adams leave anyway.
How will OSU’s appeal work out?
The university has 30 days to make its case that the players deserve lessened sentences.
Problem is: college juniors and redshirt sophomores only have until Jan. 15 to decide whether they want to enter the 2011 NFL Draft. Smith said the athletic department will begin the appeals process next week. An NCAA ruling before Jan. 15 would make the players’ career decisions a bit easier.
What role do tattoos play in all of this?
The tattoo angle didn’t play as large of a role as one browsing the Internet earlier in the week would have imagined. Initial reports on Tuesday and Wednesday suggested that an autograph-for-tattoo barter system was the root of the OSU evil.
Instead, the tattoos make up the “discounted services” portion of the NCAA violations committed by the six players. Smith said the cash received for the sold items was a much more significant factor than the tattoos.
How does this affect the draft decisions that Pryor, Posey, Herron and Adams must make?
ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg is reporting that, of the players that were penalized, Herro
n was the most likely candidate to leave for the NFL Draft. That all changed Thursday.
“I’m not sure this would be the most advantageous time to have a job interview,” coach Jim Tressel said at Thursday’s press conference.
Affording these players the opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl gives them a grand platform on which to exit OSU.
Unfortunately for the athletes, they could all benefit by staying another year. The pros aren’t sold on Pryor’s passing ability, despite his improved numbers this season. Herron and Adams came on strong at the end of the year, but their play was inconsistent at times.
Posey, as reliable as he’s been for Pryor, would be coming out in a year where potential studs loom in the wide receiver ranks. Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, Georgia’s A.J. Green, and Alabama’s Julio Jones are all eligible to apply for the draft this season.
If they return, the suspended Buckeyes must sit out for five games. It’s hard to prove that you improved over the summer and can perform at the next level when you’re riding pine on the sidelines.
Not to mention that if the players come back, they could be out of rhythm and look sloppy early. And if these suspensions aren’t reduced and some of the players return, their first test would be a showdown against newly acquired Big Ten team Nebraska in what will be one of OSU’s biggest games.
How does this affect the depth chart for next season?
There will undoubtedly be a quarterback controversy, in more ways than one, come springtime in Columbus. Whether Pryor stays or leaves, a different quarterback must take snaps for the team’s first five games.
Tressel has often rewarded veterans with playing time. Pryor didn’t take the starting job from senior Todd Boeckman until the fourth game of his freshman season. A similar script could play out in 2011, with Kenny Guiton and true freshman Braxton Miller vying for minutes behind Joe Bauserman.
Should Pryor stay, will he automatically earn his job back if the starter is playing at a high level?
Herron might have left for the NFL regardless of the NCAA infraction. He leads the team with 1,068 rushing yards and has taken over the bulk of the carries after sitting behind Brandon Saine on the depth chart at the start of the year. Saine will graduate, but Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Roderick Smith could form a solid backfield.
Wide receiver might be the position that takes the biggest hit. Should Posey bolt, and with leading receiver Dane Sanzenbacher graduating, Corey Brown would take over as the No. 1 option. Brown has served as the team’s No. 3 wideout during his freshman season.
Whose stuff did the players actually sell?
According to Smith, the players believed that they were selling their own stuff.
“They stated in their interviews with us, and they stated in their interviews with the NCAA, they felt that those items were theirs, that they owned them,” Smith said. “And they had the right to do what they wanted to with them. They wanted to sell those items to help their families.”
The players received these items from the university. Technically, the 2008 Big Ten championship rings, Pryor’s Sportsmanship award and Herron’s clothes were the property of the players.
Yes, they did make a profit off of these items. They used their athletic standings to earn money. This is in violation of NCAA rules, and as such the players were punished.
But is there a double standard in play here? Gibson thinks so.
“The crazy thing about it is, we would walk around on campus and sign autographs all the time, and they don’t say anything about that,” Gibson said.
College athletes sign autographs, do charity work, pose for photo-ops and sell jerseys. They’re also used as models for video games, such as EA Sports’ NCAA 2011. But the players don’t see a dime for any of this.
Regardless, Buckeye fans are upset that the players sold priceless items, jewelry and clothing emblematic of the Buckeyes’ success as a team. Tressel said that the players might not understand how important these items were.
“I suppose the older you are, the more you understand the difficulty of what’s gone into having a chance to earn those things,” Tressel said. “I don’t know what’s in the minds of a 19-year-old. It might be, ‘I’m going to win four more of these, so I’m going to help out at home [by selling] this one.'”
Apparently they weren’t so priceless after all.