One simple question has resonated following the suspension of five Ohio State players for the first five games of next season: how can they be allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4?
The answer is pretty simple, and it's wrapped up in the money that bowl games provide to conferences and institutions of higher academic pursuit. The NCAA would like the world to believe it's not, and in a posting on its website Wednesday said money was no factor in the decision and attributed bowl game rules to the "Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet," which made its decision in 2004.
Leave it to the NCAA to be the organization that makes Congress seem streamlined and efficient.
Alas, we digress.
The NCAA's ruling does not preclude an institution itself from taking action. And Ohio State should. It simply does not seem right that Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas should have their discipline delayed nine months.
Jim Tressel can do what is right and show that he and his school stand for more than wins and cash. He should suspend the players for the bowl game himself.
Head coaching is about leadership. This is Tressel's chance to show it. Ohio State needs to stand for something more than football, more than Ws and Ls ... like integrity.
This decision is not a simple one, or an easy one. In fact, given the NCAA's quagmire of rules and decisions – especially regarding Cam Newton's eligibility for this entire season and the BCS title game – a fair argument can be made that since Newton plays these five should as well. But the last time anyone checked, two wrongs do not add up and equal right.
Let's also acknowledge that there's no figuring the NCAA, and there's no trying – no matter how hard the Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet works. It's best to deal with each case independently, looking at the facts.
The facts at Ohio State are indisputable. The five players sold items for personal profit. They did not break a law, did not cheat at school, did not accept cash for play, did not hurt anyone. They sold something they gained from playing for Ohio State, which in the NCAA legal system is called receiving improper benefits.
According to NCAA logic, the only people who can profit off an athlete's skills are the schools and the NCAA. A player cannot.
So the NCAA suspended them, but said they could play in the bowl game because they didn't know what they were doing was wrong. Yes, Ohio State trotted out the "we didn't know" defense, and the NCAA bought it. Which is sort of like telling a police officer you didn't know the speed limit when signs are posted everywhere. It strains any shred of common sense well past the breaking point.
No, the rule might not be logical, or fair. But it is the rule. They broke it, they bought the punishment.
Except delayed punishment is never effective. If it's not proper for young kids, it's not proper for grown kids receiving a free education and diploma at a prestigious university. Also, if the offense was serious enough to warrant five games, it's serious enough to take effect immediately. Before the bowl game.
Tressel could stand on principles he has constantly espoused, something Ohio State and the Big Ten have always espoused.
Yes, it would hurt. It would hurt the ticket buyer who bought tickets expecting to see Pryor. (It would not hurt the bowl, though, because the tickets are sold). It would hurt Ohio State, because its chances to win might diminish. It would hurt the players, who would no doubt hate to watch their teammates playing.
Ticket buyers, though, could just as easily not see Pryor if he sprained an ankle in practice. There is a risk in spending all that money on college kids, because college kids can do this kind of thing.
And Ohio State might find something else without Pryor. Many, many years ago, in 1978, then-Arkansas coach Lou Holtz suspended his top two running backs – Ben Cowins and Michael Forrest – and his leading receiver – Donny Bobo – for a disciplinary issue involving a woman in the dorm. It sounds very serious – it sounds far more serious that Ohio State's situation.
But Holtz took action, and it wasn't easy for him. Lawyers got involved. The team's African-American players threatened a boycott. Holtz stuck to his principles, and third-stringer Roland Sales went out and set an Orange Bowl rushing record with 205 yards.
The pain to the players would be significant, but it would be short-term pain for a long-term benefit, especially for Pryor, a kid who has gotten pretty much everything he has wanted his entire career and a kid who carries himself as if he expects every benefit possible. It might wake him up and show him that there are consequences to actions and his celebrity will only carry him so far. That he has a responsibility not only to the present day players but to the ones who came before him, and will come after. Most important, that he has a responsibility to himself.
There is an old principle that to whom much is given, much is expected. Pryor has been given great physical skills. He has been given an education. He has been given a lofty position at Ohio State.
It would not be unreasonable to expect him to set a higher standard for his teammates and for the kids who watch and look up to him.
Same with Tressel, a man who professes to live to high principles and standards, and usually meets them. Same with the school and Big Ten conference, which rests on its academic standing to prove it is different from other conferences, and different from other schools that look away from a father selling his son's talent for $200,000 like a guy hustling a drug-store tonic. Ohio State can look at itself and think how it wants to be viewed.
There seem to be two main choices.
The Ohio State University can be viewed as a school that panders to the money-grubbing world that dominates intercollegiate athletics.
Or it can be viewed as an institution of higher education, and higher standards. In leading, in reaching for something better, in doing what is proper, the school might gain more respect.
The choice really isn't difficult for Ohio State. All it has to do is follow Spike Lee's mantra. Simply do the right thing.
FanHouse TV: LeCharles Bentley says Terrelle Pryor hurt Ohio State, himself.