National Football League
If NCAA won't police self, NFL should
National Football League

If NCAA won't police self, NFL should

Published Aug. 24, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

NFL commish Roger Goodell did the exact right thing by suspending Terrelle Pryor for the first five games of what we now know will be his Raiders career — at least that was my initial thought.

Media reaction was swift and vicious and not in agreement.

Much like the day in middle school when I wore what I thought were awesome pink glasses, doubt immediately crept in. Maybe this issue needed deep thinking rather than Twitter immediacy.

What I came back to is, Roger killed it. What he needs to do going forward is dig his heels in and consistently apply his genius to all coaches and players.


He did not play enforcer for the NCAA. Nor did he overstep his bounds or act as a capricious holy roller, as many have implied. In this increasingly ugly and infinitely cynical time in college football, he took a stand. Roger sent a clear message that the NFL will no longer be a safe harbor for college football terrorists.

What else can you call the administrators, athletic directors, coaches and players who throw scandal bombs into the college football programs they profess to love and then bolt just ahead of whatever fallout ensues, leaving a bunch of incoming freshmen and bullied compliance officers to wade through the muck of others?

The ugly world of college football has been created brick by brick, greed piled on desperation piled on stupidity until all of college football has been tainted by the actions of a few.

This is not to say Pryor is a bad dude. I am sure he is a fine young man who had no motivation for staying clean. Few get busted. Most who do are already in the NFL making bank.

Whatever your argument against suspending Pryor — the rules are arcane and hypocritical, athletes should be paid, the NCAA is fraudulent and obsolete — none justifies his wanton disregard for his teammates and his school or entitles him to walk away without being nicked by a mess of his creation.

Please also stop with the “he’s a catalyst for change” meme.

Real change begins with a guy willing to sacrifice for a larger principle, the guy standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square, not a guy trying to get the Chinese word for “Buckeye” tattooed onto his bicep for free.

No revolution ever began with “Free tattoos” as a battle cry. Or “Show me the money,” as in Reggie Bush’s case, or “Hey, Nevin, pass me a stripper,” as in the allegations against The Miami 15.

The big people are no better, and in most instances, they’re much, much worse. They act like they have the moral high ground because they pay for their pinot noirs and tattoos and have a higher calling of amateurism and education, turning a blind eye to the ugly realities this system creates. How fun for Pryor that he makes enough tattoo cash for everybody but himself to live on. The moral indignation from Paul Dee, then-chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, about violations at Southern Cal and Long Beach State while all of this Nevin Shapiro craziness is alleged to have gone down on his watch at Miami perfectly defines the hypocrisy of the NCAA, a point that Long Beach State president F. King Alexander spelled out rather testily.

“Dee told us, ‘You have to put in place the kind of institutional control we have at Miami,’” Alexander told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “The hypocrisy of the NCAA makes me sick. To allow institutions like Miami . . . to chair and oversee its infractions committee is like putting foxes in charge of the henhouse.”

Well done, sir.

Although a better analogy might have been “like putting football coaches and ADs in charge of compliance.”

Because as former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s nasty little email trail suggests, coaches often lie to cover their butts or at least turn their heads to allow for plausible deniability. I mean, really, we believe Pete Carroll had no idea that Bush was drowning in cash just because the NCAA failed to link him?

The problem with the NCAA is its punishment model sucks as a deterrent. The risks are minimal, the upside worth it. Look at Miami. “Death penalty” keeps being tossed around as a possible answer to allegations of blatant and, frankly, impressive in-scope cheating.

Now ask yourself: Whom exactly are they putting to death? The name on the front of the building; a few remaining administrators and compliance guys who, if Miami is like most places, answer to the football coach; incoming freshmen?

While the little terrorists (or those so accused by a very-little, admitted money terrorist, Shapiro) all have cushy landing spots — at Texas Tech and Missouri and the NFL or, in Dee’s case, at the very place charged with administering justice, from where he slapped Long Beach State around for far fewer and less egregious violations than Shapiro is alleged to have committed undetected (best case) or with a wink and a smile (worst case) on Miami’s campus.

The NCAA would be wise to take a page from Roger Goodell. The punishment needs to be applied to the offender, not only to the location of the offense. This should especially be true in the case of coaches and ADs who do not have the folly of youth or being broke to fall back on as an excuse. A coach needs to take that penalty wherever he goes, or — in instances where rules were knowingly, willfully and blatantly violated — the death penalty needs to be applied to the guy with the highest salary and the most power and actual ability to change things: the head coach.

Most programs are as clean as their coach, and this almost assuredly would bleach college football faster than any NCAA mandate. Very little happens at a program without a coach knowing. If the threat of professional death penalty were looming and actually applied, they would make it their business to know everything else. Instead of cheating to survive, survival would be linked to staying clean.

I realize somebody will use this opportunity to note that all signs point to the NCAA readying to levy “show cause” penalties on former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, which basically kills his opportunity to coach at another NCAA school for the length of the ban.

Good start, but it’s useless unless applied with more uniformity, to big names and without an NFL-NBA safe harbor. Players and coaches must be responsible for cleaning up their messes.

And that is why what Roger did is exactly the right thing.


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