Good News for USC: NCAA Makes Inconsistent Ruling, Again


This morning, the NCAA announced five Ohio State players (including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor) will be ineligible for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling some awards and exchanging autographs for tattoos. The suspension seems rather harsh, but if you are a USC fan there is reason to scratch your head.

Although the NCAA came down hard on these players, they will not miss the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. The NCAA ruled these players ineligible, yet they will be allowed to play in a bowl game. In the Reggie Bush case, USC was given a two year bowl ban for using an ineligible player in two bowls. That ruling was arbitrary and the first of its kind.

In its official release, the NCAA ruled, “NCAA policy allows suspending withholding penalties for a championship or bowl game if it was reasonable at the time the student-athletes were not aware they were committing violations.” This is where the case gets rather outrageous. By the very nature of its findings, the NCAA ruled USC and Reggie Bush should have known about their actions. With the USC case as an example, players around the country should have been on high alert in general. But the Bush debacle isn’t the only case. Earlier in 2010, standout wide receiver A.J. Green of Georgia was suspended four games for selling his jersey for a thousand dollars. The suspension was highly publicized and was just one of several cases that have been floating out there in the media. If Reggie Bush and USC were responsible for knowing, then Ohio State and its players should be held to the exact same standards. They have the benefit of historical cases and living in a time of paranoia. Unless these players have been living in a cave, they would know that selling memorabilia is unacceptable.

And what about this notion of “high profile athlete” that the NCAA imposed upon USC for Reggie Bush. Terrelle Pryor is the most recognizable figure at one of college football’s most storied programs. And he is not required to know the rules? According to Paul Dee and the infractions committee that handled the USC case, high profile athletes require high profile monitoring. By an Ohio State player’s own admission, this tattoo for autograph exchange had been going on since 2001. Furthermore, the punishment is a farce. If he wants, Pryor can play in the Sugar Bowl and head right to the NFL without any consequences for his actions.

As Stewart Mandel of SI points out:

“AD Gene Smith claims the school was “not as explicit with our student-athlete education as we should have been in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 academic years regarding the sale of apparel, awards and gifts issued by the athletics department.”

Since when was ignorance an acceptable response to breaking the rules? The correct answer: once the USC case was finished.

The NCAA hoped to make USC an example and show it wasn’t messing around, but it has undone the message sent by its harsh punishments by creating loopholes in its own rulings. Does the punishment against Ohio State seem rather harsh? Yes. But the severity isn’t the issue. The fact that the NCAA is cherry-picking which games the players can miss doesn’t make sense.

To have the sanctions reduced, USC must prove the NCAA made procedural errors. The Ohio State case gives the Trojans ammunition because of the inconsistencies between the rulings. Proceed with cautious optimism. Today’s findings certainly appear to help USC, but when the NCAA is the appellate judge, the jury, the prosecutor, it is impossible to predict what they will do with the appeal.