Friday, January 7, 2011

Sports Q&A: NCAA Buys What Terrelle Pryor’s Selling

By Jeffrey Boswell

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four teammates have been sanctioned by the NCAA for selling personal memorabilia and receiving improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo parlor owner. The five must sit out the first five games of 2011, but were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl on January 4th. Is this just another example of a hypocritical NCAA ruling, and does the punishment fit the crime?

Leave it to the NCAA to issue a ruling that benefits them yet, in their eyes, preserves and protects the sanctity of the game. But here's what is hypocritical of their ruling: the NCAA keeps the star power of the Sugar Bowl intact, thus preserving their money-making endeavor, yet they've ordered Pryor and his teammates to repay the money they made from selling their personal belongings. The NCAA can have its cake, and eat it, yet Ohio State players can't have a yard sale? The line has been drawn, through the dollar sign. If Woody Hayes were alive today, he'd punch someone. I'm just not sure if it would be the NCAA, or Ohio State student-athlete-peddlers.

While it's easy to question Pryor and company's contention that they didn't know the rules, it's safe to say Pryor and his teammates have done their homework elsewhere, most notably in economics class. Supply often dictates demand, and apparently there was a demand for chintzy Buckeye paraphernalia, and the Ohio State players just did their part to complete the equation. What makes more economic sense than the "buy low, sell high" axiom? The "get for free, sell high" axiom, which I believe was inked across Pryor's midriff at the fine tattoo establishment in question.

How often have you asked yourself, "I sure would like a Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award to adorn my mantle?" If you're like me, probably never. But in a capitalist economy, I feel confident that should that need ever arise, I now know where to look. Does the fact that these items in question were all sports-related make a difference? Would there be any uproar at all if Pryor had sold, say, an English award from his freshmen year, or the coveted "Leisure Studies 101 Most-Improved" trophy, or a collection of old eight-track tapes? Probably not.

Pryor and his cohorts claim they didn't know their actions violated NCAA rules. They are clearly lying. In today's college athletics atmosphere, in which compliance is king, the "I didn't know" defense doesn't fly, unless it's bowl season. Football players should know that if they are doing something that benefits them, outside of winning games and making their university millions, then it's probably wrong by NCAA standards. Who gets a cut for every Terrelle Pryor jersey sold? Lots of people and organizations, but not Pryor himself. Ironically, the NCAA "bought" the "I don't know" defense, and came down with a soft, spongy fist, a hand that no doubt belongs to a creature with no backbone.

The NCAA cited the "unique opportunity" of playing in a bowl game in their reasoning for not suspending the players for the Sugar Bowl. The "unique opportunity" argument can be equated to the "I didn't know" defense, in that both are pure cop-outs. You know what else is a "unique opportunity?" The chance to sell useless memorabilia for cash, or getting a tattoo for an autograph. Those situations don't present themselves everyday, and are certainly "unique."

Football coaches extol the virtues of "teachable moments." The NCAA claims there weren't enough teachable moments at OSU in regards to compliance. Oh, but there were. A former Buckeye said players were repeatedly told not to sell items. It appears that at Ohio State, compliance seminars are led by an auctioneer. What's the NCAA's next ruling? That's players should be assigned tutors for compliance classes? This is the business of college football. Compliance should the most mandatory class on a player's schedule.

For Pryor, though, this is the ultimate teachable moment. Heed the warnings, Terrelle, lest the next time, the operable words may not be "in exchange for improper benefits," but "in exchange for your testimony."

Of course, this all leads to argument of whether or not to compensate student-athletes with something more than tuition, meals, room and board, tickets, and other amenities that amount to roughly $150,000 over four years, give or take $20,000 in under-the-table booster payments. Who on earth can live on that, and expect to have money left over for tattoos?

These athletes need a little extra to get them through the tough times, like when the child support payment is due. Athletes, absolutely, should be paid. But not in cash. They should be compensated with items that have a resale value, whether on the open market or the black market. Then a player should be free to squeeze as much cash as possible from a sucker for said items, on the condition the player doesn't boast about it on Twitter or Facebook. A Twitter or Facebook post about a questionable transaction should result in an immediate suspension, and the proceeds of the transaction should be donated to a scholarship fund for non-athletes, like kickers and punters.

Alas, as one of the conditions of their delayed punishment, all five players vowed to return for their senior years and not jump to the NFL, thereby avoiding the five-game suspension. That's interesting; usually, after you commit a violation, they tell you not to come back. Pryor and his teammates must love the spotlight, because next year, they'll be more "watched" than Ohio State games. As they say, you "get" what you "pay" for.

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