Commentary

Let Pryor in the supplemental draft

NFL should do the right thing: Make the ex-Ohio State star eligible and move on

Originally Published: August 15, 2011
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

The right and wrong thing cuts all ways when it comes to the case of former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

What Pryor did to violate NCAA rules throughout much of his three-year career for the Buckeyes was wrong.

What former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did by allegedly covering up his knowledge of potential violations by Pryor and other players was wrong.

What Tressel and Ohio State did by coercing a 21-year-old Pryor and other Buckeyes players into signing an agreement to return to school in 2011 and sit out the first five games for violations in order to play in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl was wrong.

It also will be wrong if the NFL denies Pryor his eligibility for Wednesday's supplemental draft.

Yet NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has sat technically undecided but privately opposed to granting Pryor eligibility into the supplemental draft because of an apparent belief that the quarterback intentionally made himself ineligible after the regular April draft. That's why Pryor seeks a private meeting with the commissioner to make his case.

Goodell has had his security department review the facts of Pryor's ineligibility for the 2011 collegiate season. By not yet granting Pryor eligibility for the draft while clearing other players such as North Carolina defensive end Michael McAdoo and Georgia running back Caleb King, one can conclude that NFL security has not provided a favorable review on Pryor's case.

The commissioner also can break out one paragraph of the NFL's draft-eligibility rules that say that "expiration of a player's college football eligibility through withdrawal from school, dismissal or signing a professional contract in another football league" does not automatically qualify a player for the NFL.

There always are exceptions. McAdoo's and King's schools dismissed them because of academic eligibility or misconduct.

The NFL rules also clearly say that college players (eligible underclassmen) may not bypass the Jan. 15 deadline to declare for the regular April draft so that they can instead declare for the supplemental draft.

Yet, despite subjectivity that should have been addressed in the new collective bargaining agreement with some form of arbitration, Pryor can stand on one clear statement in the draft-eligibility rules:

"Any player who is ineligible for the principal draft but who becomes eligible after such draft and prior to the beginning of the League's next season is not eligible to be signed as a free agent but is eligible for supplemental selection procedure conducted by the Commissioner."

Pryor was not eligible for the principal draft because he did not petition the league by the Jan. 15 underclassman deadline. His present ineligibility for the 2011 college season came not only after Jan. 15 but also after the April regular draft.

The commissioner would be on stable footing if Pryor had made himself ineligible to turn pro by signing with an agent or quitting school after the April draft. This case isn't that simple.

On June 7, Pryor indeed announced he was leaving school, and he did sign with an agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Through his attorney, Pryor pushed Ohio State for a letter to clarify his ineligibility for the entire 2011 season so that he would be eligible for the supplemental draft. Ohio State obliged and banned him from involvement with the program for five years.

This is where confusion apparently reigns.

In that Ohio State letter, the school cited Pryor's failure to cooperate with the NCAA as the catalyst for his ineligibility. That reason would not motivate Goodell to act on Pryor's behalf.

However, in the same letter, Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith revealed Pryor had been cooperating with the NCAA.

"I have appreciated your willingness in the past to consent to lengthy interviews by the institution and the NCAA, and to provide certain financial records," Smith said in the letter. "I was disappointed to learn from your attorney that as of June 7, 2011, you have chosen not to interview [anymore] with the representatives of the NCAA and the Ohio State University.

"In light of that decision the university must declare you ineligible for intercollegiate competition because you failed to cooperate with the university in violation of NCAA Bylaw 10.1 [which requires, among other things, cooperation and forthright, honest answers]. In addition, due to that failure to cooperate, the university must disassociate you from its athletic program for a period of five years."

Pryor had met confidentially in May with the NCAA and provided financial records in response to follow-up requests from those investigators. Pryor had acknowledged that confidant Ted Sarniak had provided him and his mother with cash after he enrolled at Ohio State over and beyond the memorabilia scandal that created the five-game suspension. These violations all took place before Jan. 15, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the April draft, not after.

Pryor was looking at the inevitable -- he wasn't going to be eligible for 2011. Waiting for the NCAA to complete its full investigation wasn't practical because Ohio State wasn't about to play him and expose itself to the potential ominous "lack of institutional control" violation.

Fuzzy? Pryor pulled the plug because the writing was on the wall. He wouldn't be allowed to play at Ohio State this season. He had 'fessed up to the NCAA and OSU officials. At that point, he left school, decided to abort his cooperation with the NCAA and signed with Rosenhaus.

Premature? It's a weak debate.

Let's also get something clear. Pryor would have been better off by seeking eligibility by Jan. 15, but he had signed that letter for Tressel and the school well before the bigger scandal burst open.

By waiting until June, Pryor hasn't been able to go through a thorough pre-draft process with interviews and workouts because there was a lockout in effect and no new CBA, which wasn't signed until Aug. 5.

There is little expectation that any NFL team will invest a high draft pick in Pryor if he becomes eligible Wednesday. He will not sign anything close to a lucrative contract by NFL standards. He's not even assured he'll be chosen at all, although it seems reasonable a team would spend a mid-to-late-round 2012 pick on him by selecting him in the supplemental draft.

There has been an undercurrent of strained relations between the NCAA, college coaches and the NFL that may play a diplomatic role in denying Pryor. But those strained relations have been centered on policing agents who cause college players to violate NCAA rules, not to reward players who violate the agent rules.

Not to indict everyone, but whose hands are clean here?

This rite is not about sainthood. What would have happened if an NFL team had hired Tressel as an assistant coach after his resignation in late May? Do you really think Goodell would have denied Tressel that right or blocked a team from hiring him?

Pryor is not to be celebrated. Off the field, he knowingly did wrong. On the field, he played his three years and helped Ohio State to a 31-4 record during that stretch, not to mention three BCS appearances that generated plenty of money for OSU and the Big Ten Conference, as well as TV partners.

Did you forget what Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan told the Columbus Dispatch when he acknowledged he had lobbied for a resolution that would allow Pryor and other teammates to be cleared for the Jan. 4 BCS game?

"I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year's game, we would greatly appreciate it," Hoolahan said. "That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I'm extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution."

Pryor was 21 when all this went down. Most of the others involved in this drama were real adults.

Just let him in and move on.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.