Although the NFL publicly has claimed that the five-game suspension of former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor does not represent the first step in an effort by the NFL to help the NCAA enforce its eligibility rules, the private communication from Commissioner Roger Goodell to Pryor makes clear the league’s belief that NCAA rules violations can, and should, jeopardize NFL eligibility.
In Goodell’s letter of August 18, 2011 to Pryor, a copy of which PFT has obtained, Goodell outlines the facts relating to Pryor’s NCAA rules violations, and regarding Pryor’s decision to leave school, hire an agent, and enter the NFL’s supplemental draft.
“I do not believe that a player who has affirmatively acted contrary to NCAA rules should automatically and immediately be deemed eligible to pursue a potentially lucrative career in the NFL,” Goodell writes. “Doing so would be inconsistent with common-sense notions of accountability and personal responsibility, and distorts our own eligibility principles. Accordingly, I believe that it would be entirely appropriate to find you ineligible for the Supplemental Draft, and to require you to defer entry into the NFL until the regular April 2012 College Draft.”
Though Goodell then softened his position to mirror the five-game suspension that was imposed by Ohio State late last year on Pryor, the link between the sanction and Pryor’s NCAA violations is clear. Goodell even cites “the NFL’s historic support for college football” in explaining the decision.
And so, while the league insists that the Pryor suspension sets no precedent, the letter provides a window into Goodell’s mind regarding the issue of NCAA violations. That belief will continue to be a factor in any similar cases that land on Goodell’s desk.
Whether or not this constitutes a “precedent” is a matter of semantics. The NFL, under Goodell, believes that the “historic support for college football” includes erecting barriers to entering the NFL when players have violated NCAA rules. The NFL, under Goodell, should thus be expected to adopt a similar attitude and mindset in the future, regardless of whether violations were uncovered before or after the player joins the NFL.
That’s why Pryor needs to appeal the decision. It’s not just about him — it’s about the question of whether the NFLPA will allow Goodell to rely upon vague notions of “detrimental conduct” to fashion specific sanctions that fit his intended outcome in each given case, regardless of whether the broader approach reflects any sense of consistency, justice, or fairness.