Thursday, December 23, 2010

NCAA is a Wishy-Washy Supreme Court: Terrelle Pryor & 4 Teammates Still Eligible for Sugar Bowl with 5-Game Suspension Starting in 2011 Regular Season

I couldn't have put it better than my sports writing inspiration (and now good friend) Pat Forde did as he started his article on this whole debacle:

"You thought it was Bowl Month? Guess again. It's We Didn't Know Month."

Cam Newton started us off with all the whispering around Auburn, and his ever-so-graceful statement while he accepted his Heisman Trophy saying that "his parents did a lot behind the scenes", but that he never knew about his dad trying to sell his soul for $180K to Mississippi State. Now we have five Ohio State players saying they had no idea it was wrong to sell their championship rings and awards to get a tattoo back in 2009.

And guess what? The NCAA bought it.

Maybe this all starts and ends with the way our court system works. It doesn't require someone to be a law student to know that in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. But you might not know unless you're a 1L in criminal law that a true guilty verdict requires that the accused meet every element of the crime you are charged with (thank you Professor Pierson).

A lot of crimes require "specific intent" as an element, which means that unless you purposefully or knowingly intended to commit the crime, you cannot be held accountable. This usually means it is mitigated down to a lesser charge, either recklessly or negligently committing the crime. However, even if someone can prove that you had the specific intent to commit the act you were doing, you might not be held accountable for the full weight of the crime if there was a true "mistake of law", where you were completely unaware that what you were doing constituted a crime and you had a good-faith belief that what you were doing was okay. And in all honesty, most courts don't even recognize this as an excuse at all.

The NCAA sits as the Supreme Court for these football players, and they are essentially ruling that for the players to be guilty of these violations, they needed to have the specific intent to do them (Cam Newton). In the case of the five Ohio State players who obviously intended to sell their Big Ten Championship Rings and Gold Pants (awarded to players on the team who defeat Michigan) in order to get tattoos (which can cost upwards of $1,000 for some ink), there seemed to be a "mistake of law", where because the players "honestly didn't believe it was wrong", they're scott-free. Sometimes this defense works, sometimes it doesn't. Courts are usually skeptical, but the NCAA seems to think it applies just fine in this case.

So because Terrelle Pryor and teammates Daniel Heron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Solomon Thomas all thought it was okay to do what they did, their punishment is not effective immediately and they are not required to sit out during the Sugar Bowl on January 4th. Instead, they're suspended from the first five games of the 2011 regular season.

But let's be honest: we know that the student-athletes at Ohio State are not the sharpest crayons in the drawer, but it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that selling your winnings would probably be a violation in some form. The economy sucks? Oh well, wait to get another tattoo. It hardly sends a message to future rule-breakers when the NCAA allows these players to participate in their big revenue-attracting bowl game and then potentially book it to the NFL draft, never suffering any of the consequences of their actions.

Jim Tressel has a defining moment in his career approaching to make the big move that the Supreme Court of Football didn't: to sit these five players out on his own. Do I think he's going to? No, I think his sweater vest cut off oxygen to his brain long ago. But no one really expects him to have to pick up the pieces that the NCAA left by this shotty ruling, including the many Buckeye fans who were very hurt by these players' slap in the face to Ohio State tradition.

I've said it once and I'll certainly say it again now. GO RAZORBACKS.

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