Ohio State Penalties Enough and Not Enough

The NCAA announced today that Ohio State will receive a one-year bowl ban, lose nine scholarships over the course of three years and face an additional year of probation. These penalties, while damaging to Ohio State, are not as severe as they could have been. The one-year bowl ban will greatly hurt the university, but this is just another demonstration of the NCAA’s inability to police college athletics.

Who pays most for the indiscretions of Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel? The current players at Ohio State. The ones who did nothing wrong.

Now, Pryor had to serve a five-game suspension in the NFL and that was an excellent, bold move by commissioner Roger Goodell. And any school that wishes to hire Tressel in the next five years will have to demonstrate why it needs to employ him. Thus, neither escaped unscathed from the scandal in Columbus, but they are not hit particularly hard as well. Pryor is on the Oakland Raiders roster while Tressel is now a video-review coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. Certainly, that is not the dream job for either man, but each is making a living and still actively involved in the NFL.

Pryor received massive illegal benefits during his time in Columbus and received a five-game NFL suspension. And he’s one of the first to receive a suspension for his college actions (and the suspension was technically for a “deliberate manipulation” of the league’s eligibility rules). That’s not exactly much deterrence for future college athletes to decline benefits. As for Tressel, he’s still an elite coach. In five years, how long will it be until an elite school hires him to run its program? Once again, the punishment is not much deterrence for future coaches to admit that their players accepted improper benefits.

So who receives the lasting punishment? The current players, especially next year’s seniors. For many of them, it will be their final year of top-level football and now they have no chance of playing in the postseason. Yes, they could transfer, but it’s not so easy to change schools with just before your senior year. These young men have made lives at Ohio State, they’ve made friends and become part of the community. Changing schools for a chance at a bowl birth is a tough decision. No doubt, every player would rather have a shot at a bowl game as a Buckeye.

The NCAA and NFL need to come together and enact stronger punishments. Pryor should have been suspended at least five games, if not more, for accepting illegal benefits while he was in college, not for “deliberate manipulation” of the league’s eligibility rules. Whatever school Tressel goes to next should have to face a year bowl ban in Tressel’s first year there. How many school’s are going to hire the ex-Buckeye coach given that it comes with a one-year bowl ban? Not many and certainly not any elite ones. That type of punishment  will give coaches an incentive to follow the rules.

But don’t punish the innocent student-athletes at Ohio State. That doesn’t defer future players and coaches from committing similar infractions. It just hurts the current players. Fine the school. Suspend university officials from attending games. Punish the individuals directly involved in the scandal, but protect the student-athletes. After all, that’s what the NCAA is supposed to be doing all the time.


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