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NFL’s slippery slope: Pryor decision protects league’s free farm system

One of the longstanding–but mostly unspoken–relationships in professional sports is between the NFL and NCAA. They’re separate entities, but the NFL reaps the benefits of college football providing a free farm system capped off with made-for-TV draft.

The NFL knows its has a cozy deal–one that the other professional leagues wish they could match–and the league showed on Thursday that it will do everything possible to protect that partnership.

In an unprecedented move, the NFL announced Thursday that it will force former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor to serve a five-game suspension once he signs a contract with a team after the supplemental draft. The suspension begins after the preseason, and is the same length as the one he was handed down by Ohio State for selling team issued gear in exchange for tattoos.

Pryor broke no laws. He didn’t even break an NFL rule. And he fit the requirements (that a player’s NCAA eligibility or academic standing changes from the time of the draft and supplemental draft) of a player applying for entry into the supplemental draft.

But still, he’s facing an NFL suspension before he’s been hired, stemming from wrongdoing in the eyes of the NCAA.

“We are not enforcing NCAA rules,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote on Twitter in response to the Pryor decision. “We are upholding our own eligibility rules, which have never been based on the notion that a college player could choose to violate NCAA rules, obtain declaration that he is ineligible for college [football], then enter the NFL draft.”

The reality, however, is that the NFL is enforcing NCAA rules. Pryor did not choose to violate NCAA guidelines as a way to avoid the April draft and sneak in through the supplemental draft.

If Pryor had his way, he would still be playing for Ohio State, serving a five-game college suspension that he accepted from coach Jim Tressel. But much changed during the course of a few months.

Let’s recap what’s happened in the time that passed since Pryor elected not to declare for April’s draft (which he was eligible to do because he’s three years removed from high school):

Tressel was forced to resign, Pryor was the subject of additional NCAA and OSU investigations, his new coach Luke Fickell refused to take his calls, and Ohio State ruled him ineligible and ordered him to stay away from the program for five years.

If that doesn’t constitute a change in college eligibility, I’m not sure what does.

The NFL says that it does not want players violate college rules to become ineligible, and then try to get into the league through the backdoor using the supplemental draft. Instead, it would prefer that players fail out of school, then declare for the supplemental draft without any problems, just like Georgia running back Caleb King did this year.

By this ruling, Pryor would have been better served in the NFL’s eyes if he failed all of his classes, causing his academic standing to change. Great message.

Additionally, the ruling shows a stark contrast from the treatment of other NFL players and coaches who have escaped to the professional ranks to avoid punishment from the hands of the NCAA.

Reggie Bush skipped his senior season at USC and picked up a fat payday from the NFL, all while the NCAA continued an investigation into him receiving improper benefits in college. That investigation eventually caused Bush to return the Heisman trophy he won.

USC coach Pete Carroll did the same, leaving to coach the Seattle Seahawks just before the Trojans got hit with devastating sanctions stemming from his tenure at the head of the program. The football program will take years to recover from those punishments. Carroll, meanwhile, has a 5-year NFL coaching deal worth about $35 million.

Just last year, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton skipped his senior year and jumped to the NFL in the middle of the NCAA investigating his father’s pay-to-play scam. His rookie deal is worth about $22 million. It remains to be seen if Auburn will face NCAA sanctions for his actions. If the NCAA finds he accepted money, then fled to the NFL to avoid punishment, shouldn’t the precedence set by the Pryor decision mean that the NFL will hand down a punishment?

And what about all of the former Miami Hurricanes now in the NFL mentioned in the school’s current scandal?

Did the NFL punish any of them? Where’s the consistency?

It’s one thing if the NFL wants to work in cohoots with the NCAA to make amateur rules violations carry over to the professional level. But it’s a dangerous path to start selectively enforcing college regulations, all in the interest of protecting the NCAA beast at the expense of the “student-athlete.”

Category: Commentary, Football, NCAA, Sports

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