Editorial: Nothing sweet about NCAA’s lenient punishment of Buckeyes

On Jan. 4, fans at the Louisiana Superdome were treated to an exciting Allstate Sugar Bowl game as Ohio State beat Arkansas, 31-26. It was a big night for several Buckeyes; quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey all racked up the yards and accolades that came with being the 2011 Sugar Bowl champions.

The problem is that these players, along with offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas, should not have been on the field.

In December the NCAA discovered the players committed violations, but instead of enacting an effective punishment, the NCAA let the Buckeyes go with what equated to a
slap on the wrist.

The Ohio State players sold items totaling between $1,000 and $2,500, including Big Ten championship rings, football jerseys and uniform pants. A local tattoo parlor also offered discounted services to Thomas.

In addition to the standard four-game suspension for the violation, the NCAA added an additional game to the punishment because Ohio State did not immediately report the rules infraction. But when presented the option to include the Sugar Bowl game, the Buckeyes’ most important game of the year, the NCAA allowed the players to play and instead sit out the first five games of next season.

The NCAA rationalized the decision by stating the players did not know that selling their personal items was against the rules, the Associated Press reported.

Some of those associated with the Buckeyes, like Posey’s mother, believed there was no crime committed at all. It was the players’ property, Mrs. Posey told the Columbus Dispatch, and there should not be rules preventing them from selling it. The players also explained that the money went to help their families alleviate economic challenges.

Those supporting Mrs. Posey’s belief do have an argument, the counterpoint to which says NCAA athletes should not be able to use personas to sell items for exorbitant prices.

Regardless of the controversial nature of disallowing profit from personal items, the fact remains that such action is currently a rules violation. The NCAA’s choice was simply an excuse let the team keep the most prolific players on the field for a highly publicized event.

Even a partial game suspension, a quarter or a half, for example, would at least offer some level of cost to Ohio State’s program for failing to educate its players on proper NCAA conduct. It is quite possible that the majority of these players will never serve a single game of this suspension. Knowing they will only play seven or eight games next year, they might pursue careers in the National Football League and fore go their NCAA eligibility altogether.

By letting these players participate in the Sugar Bowl, the NCAA is fostering a culture in which television ratings and publicity overrule the ideals it promotes.

If the organization wants to uphold “the highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship,” it must enforce rule violations with meaningful punishment.