Commentary

Roger Goodell merges NFL, NCAA

It looks like he's trying, anyway, the way the Terrelle Pryor decision blurs lines

Updated: August 18, 2011, 5:00 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

In a development that surprised even the most seasoned observers, the NFL/NCAA merger took place Thursday when commissioner Roger Goodell suspended NCAA miscreant Terrelle Pryor for the first five games of the NFL season.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor has been working wth QB coach Ken Anderson to train for the five games he won't be able to play.

The decision marks a bold statement for the new league, tentatively renamed the NFLAA pending formation of its new television network. Goodell's decision to give himself jurisdiction over college improprieties sent shock waves throughout the college landscape. The city of Miami -- home to a reported 72 athletes with booze, women and money issues with the old NCAA -- was hardest-hit.

Pete Carroll could not be reached for comment.

Pryor, the former Ohio State quarterback, is believed to be the first employee in history to be punished before being hired. He will, however, be eligible for Monday's supplemental draft. If he is chosen -- and follow along closely, because this gets confusing -- he will be allowed to complete training camp with his new team but will then be suspended for five games without pay. During that time, he will not be allowed to practice.

All of which means the team drafting Pryor will get to see him for a couple of weeks of training camp before warehousing him for five games while he takes up a roster spot. It's sort of like redshirting, which may be another NCAA rule Goodell has decided to co-opt. Whatever the case, it does not appear to enhance Pryor's appeal to a team in his new league.

Given the near-mythical impossibility of rookie quarterbacks learning even the simplest aspects of an NFL playbook, it seems unlikely that Pryor will be of any near-term use to the team that drafts him.

Goodell cited Pryor's offense as undermining the "integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL draft." He did not provide a definition for the phrase, but apparently it's a concept that allows the commissioner to collude with the NCAA to grandfather penalties and restrict access to the professional league. For instance, Goodell offered no opinion on whether "integrity of the ... draft" extended to the imposition of artificial age restrictions on draft eligibility -- restrictions that many observers feel exist solely to maintain the status and money-making ability of the NCAA while ensuring that Goodell's league does not have to spend money training its own workforce.

Under the current format, the draft's integrity dictates that someone with the talent and physical attributes displayed by Adrian Peterson while running for 1,900 yards as a freshman at Oklahoma must spend two more years at Old State U before getting paid a salary commensurate to his talents. The average length of an NFL career -- roughly 3.5 years -- is presumably not a consideration under Goodell's definition of integrity.

Goodell's motives for his pre-emptive punishment of Pryor are as unclear as the reasons why the NFLPA reportedly allowed agent Drew Rosenhaus to accept the deal without a fight. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello cited Article 8.6 of the NFL constitution and bylaws, which -- broadly speaking -- states, "The commissioner is hereby authorized to do whatever the hell he wants, whenever the hell he wants, for whatever the hell reason he sees fit."

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIf Terrelle Pryor was expecting a parade to welcome his arrival in the NFL, he was sadly mistaken.

Critics suggest this is another example of a professional sports league engaging in a little quid pro quo with the allegedly amateur organization that provides it with talent. Goodell's decision to "honor" Pryor's five-game Ohio State suspension by transferring it to the NFL is eerily similar to the NBA/NCAA collusion on NBA age limits.

John Calipari could not be reached for comment.

By extending his jurisdiction to the college ranks and forming the combined NFLAA, Goodell is serving notice that their rules are his rules, and his rules are all rules. There is, make no mistake, nowhere to hide.

Goodell apparently believes Pryor's suspension will serve as a deterrent to college athletes who might now think twice before taking money, attending parties or receiving sexual favors as a result of their connection to wealthy boosters. The fact that such a postulate flies in the face of human nature and everything everybody knows about 18- to 22-year-old men did not factor into the decision.

However, it is unclear whether Miami players who either did or did not partake in Nevin Shapiro's numerous booze-and-flooze cruises would have thought twice about indulging in the free distribution of their most primal desires had they known Pryor will have to miss the first five games of the 2011 season.

"Oh, definitely," said a source close to the situation. "If we'd see all those available women and all those wads of cash now, the first thing we'd think about is Terrelle Pryor having to sit out five games."

It is unknown what role NCAA president Mark Emmert will have under Goodell in the new organizational structure. There is speculation that Emmert will take over the reins of the soon-to-be-announced National Collegiate High School Association (NCHSA), which will merge college and high school sports in much the same way the NFLAA merges the professional and the collegiate.

Among other things, Emmert's potential new job would give him the ability to suspend high school players from competing in college for transgressions committed equally out of context.

"Parking tickets, tardy slips, detentions -- everything could be in play," lamented a high school senior who requested anonymity. "Rumors are flying. One of my buddies said two late hits and you automatically have to go to community college."

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote the autobiography of "Pawn Stars" reality TV star Rick Harrison. "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and my Life at the Gold & Silver" is available on Amazon.com. He also co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," available as well on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Senior writer, ESPN.com

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