Posted August 18, 2011

NFL’s Terrelle Pryor decision a head-scratcher

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Terrelle Pryor was declared eligible for the supplemental draft, but can't practice or play for the regular season's first five weeks.(MCT /Landov)

USC finished last season 8-5 but was ineligible to play in a bowl game, because of punishments resulting from an NCAA investigation into the Trojans’ football program. Pete Carroll, meanwhile, took the Seahawks to the NFL playoffs.

Carroll, USC’s coach from 2001-09, skipped town in January 2010 to take the Seattle coaching job, right as the NCAA was digging into allegations of impropriety under Carroll’s watch at USC. In June, the NCAA announced that it found a lack of institutional control within the Trojans’ football and basketball programs — USC football was hit with a two-year postseason ban, the loss of 30 scholarships, the forfeiture of a year’s worth of victories including a national title and probation.

Carroll got a $33 million contract from Seattle. The NFL barely made a peep.

Fast-forward to Thursday, when the league announced that Terrelle Pryor could enter this year’s supplemental draft but would carry an NCAA-mandated five-game suspension into the NFL, making the quarterback ineligible to even practice until Week 6 of this season.

Sorry. I just don’t get it.

I will be the last person that tells you Pryor deserves a break — in my mind, it’s a sham that Pryor and the four other Ohio State players suspended last December by the NCAA were allowed to play in January’s Sugar Bowl. And I definitely don’t have any inclination to argue that Pryor will be a great, or even good, NFL QB.

You can try to make the argument, too, that the NFL was just sticking to its guns — Pryor was not eligible for the supplemental draft when he first left Ohio State, because he had not yet been suspended for his entire senior season. After the fact, OSU banned him from the program for five years. So, the NFL rightly raised an eyebrow, wondering if all that tap-dancing was done just so Pryor could get into the supplemental draft.

And comparing Pryor to Carroll (or Reggie Bush, the main focus of the NCAA’s investigation into USC) can only be done while acknowledging the differences in the two cases — namely, that Carroll hadn’t been punished by the NCAA prior to entering the NFL.

But none of that changes the fact that the NFL has turned many a blind eye in the past — heck, the whole idea of the supplemental draft is based on guys losing their eligibility between the regular NFL draft deadline and August — only to throw down the gauntlet on Pryor.

“You can’t break rules that undermine the integrity of our eligibility rules and get a free pass into the NFL,” league spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted after Thursday’s ruling.

If that’s the stance, where’s the league going to draw the line now? It wasn’t with Carroll or Bush. It wasn’t with the other players in this year’s supplemental draft, including Georgia’s Caleb King, who flunked out of school and then immediately looked to the NFL. And it probably won’t be with the plethora of former Miami Hurricanes implicated in this week’s story about illicit interactions with a booster.

The problem with Thursday’s ruling is that it created such a gray area. If, instead of waiting until June to leave OSU and start thinking about the NFL, Terrelle Pryor had just, say, skipped class from January to April, he’d apparently be just fine in the eyes of the NFL.

It seems like the league wanted to put its foot down here, either for its own dignity or to throw a bone to the NCAA, which is getting hammered with high-profile issues right now. How can all this start and end with Pryor, though? He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, player or coach to circumvent problems in college by jumping to the pros.

Carroll just did it last year. Ex-Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel, may try it soon too. For whatever reason, the NFL only cares about Pryor’s attempt.

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