Suspended Buckeyes should miss bowl

BY foxsports • December 23, 2010

When dealing out punishment to athletes, don’t apply it to the current season. Apply it only to future seasons — if the players are even still around then.

That’s apparently the NCAA’s new hypocritical guidelines for punishment and reinstatement of players found in violation of its rules.

At least that’s what you can glean from Thursday’s announcement that five Ohio State players will be suspended for the first five games of next season for each accepting $1,000 to $2,500 in cash in exchange for Buckeyes memorabilia. But they’ll be allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4 against Arkansas.

Regardless of who you cheer for, you ought to be outraged. The NCAA’s sudden, live-in-the-now-and-be-punished-later philosophy doesn't make sense, and follows the arrival of president Mark Emmert on Nov. 1.

Before the former University of Washington president took over, the NCAA had issued immediate penalties this season for players who broke rules. Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green missed the Bulldogs’ first four games after it was discovered that he sold his bowl jersey to an agent for $1,000.

North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little and defensive end Robert Quinn were declared permanently ineligible in October after being found to have accepted jewelry and travel accommodations in the amounts of $5,642 and $4,952 respectively.

The NCAA’s punishment of Green, Little and Quinn showed that players who violated rules would pay the price as soon as possible, not later. It struck fear in coaches, players and recruits.

But because the NCAA has recently abandoned that precedent in college football, they’re not nearly as concerned as they were three months ago.

And they shouldn’t be because so far under Emmert’s leadership of the NCAA, you can take the risk now and not have to worry about paying for it until later – if at all. That’s been proven by the pay-for-play saga of Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton.

He was declared ineligible last month for a violation of amateurism rules and a day later reinstated by the NCAA after the organization ruled he and Auburn did not know that his father shopped him to Mississippi State for $180,000. Of course, the NCAA’s enforcement investigation into the matter remains ongoing, but Newton and Auburn couldn’t care less as long as it doesn’t prevent them from playing Oregon on Jan. 10 in the BCS title game.

And while Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith didn’t say it during Thursday’s press conference about the Buckeyes who will be suspended next season, he was clear about the financial importance of them playing in the Sugar Bowl.

“We have a lot of fans going down there,” Smith said. “A lot of fans. You have a lot of people who are committed to this bowl game. I felt that the sanctions that will be served in 2011 will be enough.”

But that’s not the way it used to be, which Ohio State coach Jim Tressel knows firsthand. Former Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the 2004 Alamo Bowl and 2005 season opener for accepting $500 from a booster.

The most heinous part of Thursday’s announcement is that some of the Ohio State players punished, such as quarterback Terrelle Pryor, may never serve their suspensions because they could enter the NFL draft after this season.

On Thursday, Smith was already campaigning for the punishments to be reduced. He said the university will appeal the suspensions based on the “mitigating circumstances” of players selling the memorabilia to provide money to help their struggling families. He also emphasized that the players did not receive adequate rules education training before the violations occurred, which the NCAA in part cited in its decision to allow them to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Sadly, it’s funny how the I-didn’t-know excuse in the case of Newton and players-not-receiving-adequate-rules-education explanation from Ohio State have actually worked with an organization that used to be referred to by critics as the National Communists Against Athletes for its lack of sympathy to players. So take note, players, coaches and administrators, and start practicing both defenses in case you run afoul of NCAA rules in the future.

Know this, though: If the late Myles Brand, who Emmert succeeded as NCAA president, were still in power, it’s unlikely that either strategy would have been as effective.

And while the NCAA apparently is no longer willing to issue immediate punishments for rule-breakers for fear of jeopardizing the millions of dollars generated by BCS bowls, Ohio State could still do the “right thing,” which Tressel talks about ad nauseam and prides himself on. It could sit out the players immediately.

That’s something that Auburn wouldn’t do earlier this season when Newton came under scrutiny. But the Tigers have been all in with their star from the start and are gambling with a lot more than just a national championship.

It’s different for Ohio State. And if Buckeyes fans are honest with themselves, they know this season has been a disappointment. That’s what happens when a team expected to play in the national championship game doesn’t make it there.

So do what the NCAA should have done: Don’t allow Pryor and company to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Perhaps that would help Ohio State’s NCAA appeal for its players and end up shortening their suspensions. Maybe it wouldn’t, but the Buckeyes would be doing the "right thing.".

At the least, it would make the statement that Emmert’s NCAA hasn’t: Breaking rules will bring consequences now, not just in the future.

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