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Monday, August 22, 2011

Eligibility is all Relative

This past week NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declared former Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor eligible for the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft, taking place today. Goodell included one proviso in Pryor’s eligibility. Pryor, who would have been suspended for the first five games of the OSU season, would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 NFL regular season – no playing, no practicing, no nothing.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor 3

Pryor, of course, was involved in the recent OSU scandal involving improper benefits to players. Pryor, among others, was alleged to have received cash, and tattoos, and other possible benefits in exchange for game memorabilia. Upon discovery of the alleged activity, the NCAA investigated Ohio State, Pryor and other players were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, OSU was placed on probation, and longtime, legendary Head Football Coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign. 

Roger Goodell received a barrage of criticism from current and former players, television analysts and talk show hosts following his decision to suspend Pryor for five games. The criticism frequently aired was that the NFL had no business being concerned with infractions that happened at the college level. I find the probability of Goodell’s concern for the integrity of the NCAA discipline process doubtful.


I do find his stated concern for the integrity of the NFL draft to be probable. The NFL is a business that ultimately seeks to make money. Given that mission, NCAA discipline is no more relevant than its impact on the NFL game. I think that many, if not most, of the general public has an erroneous perception that Goodell’s decision to suspend Pryor was a means of enforcing NCAA discipline that would have otherwise been avoided by Pryor playing professional football.

The notion that the NFL would oblige the NCAA by acting as a bureaucratic means of extradition of wayward players for any reason other than the best interests of the National Football League is absurd. The NFL has no ownership stake in the NCAA. It functions entirely independently of the NCAA, and vice-versa. Its 32 owners have clearly demonstrated that their mission is to earn a profit. Arbitrary delay of the entry of new talent into the league runs counter to that mission.

I buy into the reason that Roger Goodell offered for suspending Pryor: Pryor undermined the integrity of the NFL Draft. He effectively circumvented the 2011 draft and attempted to enter the league prior to the 2012 draft class he would have been a part of had he returned to Ohio State in 2011 and served his five game suspension imposed by OSU.
Goodell's primary, secondary, and tertiary concerns, not the NCAA. 1

There is substantial speculation on whether Pryor would have been allowed to remain on the team after Tressel resigned and how his circumstances may have changed after his coach left, had Pryor chosen to return this season. This speculation is irrelevant, however, because Pryor resigned from the university and hired an agent, ending his college eligibility, before OSU took any additional disciplinary steps against Pryor. Pryor, at the time he hired an agent, had the option to return to Ohio State, serve his five game suspension, and play for OSU in the 2011 season.

By applying for the supplemental draft, Pryor essentially attempted to enter the league after the deadline to apply for the 2011 draft and the 2011 draft itself had passed. Yet Pryor wanted to play in 2011. The supplemental draft exists for players with special circumstances, such as a revocation of college eligibility prior to the upcoming season. Pryor’s eligibility was not revoked at the time he forewent his remaining eligibility by hiring an agent. At best, Pryor jumped the gun and assumed he would be kicked off of the OSU team. At worst, he decided that having to serve a suspension under the tenure of a new head coach was inconvenient and not beneficial to his long term interests.

Pryor is trying to get into the NFL, not the Hilton. There is no early check in program. 2

I think that Roger Goodell made the correct choice to suspend Pryor for five games of the 2011 NFL season. I think it is important, however, to emphasize that the reason for the suspension has nothing to do with NCAA discipline. In fact, it appears that the suspension is a compromise by Goodell.

Pryor’s supplemental draft application approval is not by the book, as he voluntarily left the Ohio State football team.  On one hand, Pryor is an exceptional athletic talent with the potential to make the league better. Conversely, the league likely thought it had to send a message that players could not simply skip the regular draft because their circumstances with their college teams were suddenly no longer to their liking as a consequence of players’ own actions.

There are two alternatives to suspending Pryor. The first would be to make Pryor wait until 2012 to enter the regular NFL draft, not allowing him to play at all in the NFL in 2011. The second alternative would be to allow Pryor to enter the supplemental draft without any strings attached, possibly sending a message that the NFL is willing to allow players to enter the league when they feel like it, for whatever reason. With the five game suspension, college players in similar circumstances in the future know that a supplemental draft application approval will be neither a slam dunk nor an easy road to professional football. 

Pryor: "Time for an upgrade!" 4

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