The latest incident in this year’s college football season defined by suspensions, investigations and controversy has assured that a cloud of scandal will hang over this season.
The NCAA on Thursday suspended five Ohio State players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three other starters, for five games next season for accepting improper benefits. They are, however, eligible to play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4, when the Buckeyes will face Arkansas.
The violations included selling memorabilia like Big Ten championship rings and accepting discounted prices from the owner of a tattoo parlor in Columbus, Ohio.
“These are significant penalties based on findings and information provided by the university,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs.
Ohio State will appeal the length of the suspensions. The news was a serious blow to one of college football’s premier programs. Pryor, who came to Ohio State as one of the most celebrated high school football recruits in recent memory, is the biggest star on campus and would have been a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy next season.
Of the other three suspended starters, tailback Dan Herron led the Buckeyes in rushing this season and DeVier Posey was the second-leading receiver. The third, left tackle Mike Adams, had a solid season after his first two years at Ohio State were marked by suspensions and underwhelming performances.
The fifth player, defensive -lineman Solomon Thomas, is a reserve. The players, who are all juniors, must pay between US$1,000 and US$2,500 to charity, depending on the amount each received for their items (The NCAA also announced that the freshman linebacker Jordan Whiting would be suspended for a game. He has to repay US$150 in discounts he received at the tattoo parlor.).
Pryor owes US$2,500 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring; the sportsmanship award he won at last year’s Fiesta Bowl; and his gold pants, a small charm given to Buckeyes players who beat Michigan.
“Whatever the next step of gut-wrenching is, that’s the way you feel,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of the situation.
The NCAA said that the suspensions would have been for four games, but an additional game was added because the players did not immediately disclose the violations when they became aware that they were illegal.
Ohio State was expected to be one of the top contenders for the national title next season. Pryor would have received much of the preseason attention, and Herron, Posey and Adams would have been considered potential all-Big Ten Conference performers. Faced with the prospect of sitting out nearly half of their senior seasons, the players could choose to enter April’s NFL draft and use the Sugar Bowl as an audition of sorts.
“I’m not sure this would be the most advantageous time to have a job interview,” Tressel said.
If the appeals are denied, the players will miss games against Akron, Toledo, Miami, Colorado and Michigan State. Even without the suspended players, the Buckeyes might be underdogs only against Miami, the only road game among the five, and Michigan State. The players would return for Ohio State’s game at Nebraska on Oct. 8 next year, which will be in its first season in the Big Ten.
The ruling does not help Pryor, who is regarded by NFL personnel evaluators as a project on and off the field.