It's one of those special privileges that comes with being the boss of a cartel: the power the NCAA has to make a member institution name its own punishment before handing down the real sentence.
As part of this exercise, Ohio State has offered to vacate wins from the 2010 football season and its 2010 Big Ten championship, and put itself on probation for two years as a result of the recent scandal touched off when players traded their own property at market value.
With the university having spared itself the significantly more severe penalties of scholarship losses and postseason ineligibility, critics are on the warpath; one local scribe noted that "Ohio State threw itself on a cocktail toothpick" when it presumably should have fallen on a sword.
But the self-imposed punishment announced last week shouldn't be viewed in isolation from earlier losses suffered by the university. Ohio State has already sacrificed legendary head coach Jim Tressel and lost its senior quarterback, Terrelle Pryor — one of the best in the country — for what was supposed to be the program's best shot at a national championship in years. Both were caught in the crossfire of the misaligned incentives created by the NCAA's ten-figure profiteering on the backs of ... amateurs. And of course, neither Tressel nor Pryor would have been punished at all had one Columbus attorney not broken the law on attorney/client confidentiality to report the violations to Tressel in the first place.
When the chance to publicly eviscerate fallen icons intersects with the pinnacle of tribalism that is big-time college football, there's never going to be enough blood for everybody. But now, especially after OSU's self-imposed sanctions, plenty has been squeezed from the school already.
With Ohio having served as ground zero for this most recent NCAA farce, one might think Ohioans would be in the best position to squeeze some lemonade from the affair. But if the local discourse on Pryor's NFL prospects is any indication, one would be wrong.
With Pryor having announced his intentions to enter the NFL's Supplemental Draft, to be held as soon as the league's labor dispute is resolved, most pundits predict he will be chosen with something between a third- and fifth-round pick. Which might seem like a bargain for the same freakishly athletic, 6-foot-6, 235-pound Pryor who was the consensus top recruit in the nation as a high school senior — the same player who had the reins of the Ohio State program handed to him as a freshman and improved every season, chalking up a 31-4 record as a starter, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl wins, and a 3-0 record against Michigan.
Despite all that, Pryor's skills as a pocket passer are probably rightly in question; but recent NFL history is replete with athletic college quarterbacks who transitioned to the receiver position. Pittsburgh Super Bowl winners Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El are two especially painful examples, and neither came to the league with anything close to Pryor's résumé, physical build, and athleticism.
Still, The Plain Dealer's top Browns beat writer recently published the opinion that he "wouldn't fathom Pryor putting in the hard work required of a position switch at this point of his career," blasting the 22-year-old's work ethic without presenting a shred of evidence for doing so.
That such an unsubstantiated shot would be published at all is some proof that Pryor will come as a bargain, and certainly with plenty to prove. What decent football coach couldn't figure out a way to make use of such a talent?
And if anyone's going to see that a college kid might not be the worst person in the world for trading his own things for some spending cash, it should be easiest to see that from Ohio, where the impact of the NCAA's arcane rules has been felt so acutely.
So what else are we all but doomed to see? Terrelle Pryor: Pittsburgh Steeler, Hall of Famer, and Super Bowl champion.
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