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At Sugar Bowl, the only thing that's artificial is integrity

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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NEW ORLEANS — You can think it, Paul Hoolahan. You can tell everyone through back channels, Paul Hoolahan. You can even make it happen, Paul Hoolahan.

But you can't come out and say that you openly lobbied Ohio State and the NCAA to hold off suspending Buckeyes quarterback Terelle Pryor and his merry band of pawn stars so they can play in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl. What the Sugar Bowl's CEO said may have been the most disturbing.

"I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year's game, we would greatly appreciate it," Hoolahan told the Columbus Dispatch. last week. "That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I'm extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution."

At least I'm glad to hear someone wanted to maintain the integrity of something to do with college football. By doing so, the Sugar Bowl helped throw more globs of mud at the NCAA and Ohio State. Hoolahan then quit while he was ahead, turning down an interview with CBSSports.com through a spokesman.

"At this time, we will not be doing any interviews," the Sugar Bowl spokesman said. "We're focusing our efforts on putting together a weeks-worth of activities for the teams, as well as events for the fans. We'd like to direct all interview requests to the two teams participating."

Tressel seems to be convincing himself of the ruling on suspensions. (Getty Images)  
Tressel seems to be convincing himself of the ruling on suspensions. (Getty Images)  
(Arkansas is the other team playing, just FYI.)

The problem there is it's hard to believe everything flying out of the mouths of the Ohio State and Arkansas players and coaching staffs about the treatment of Pryor and the pawn stars.

Let's start with Pryor.

"The best way to get into my focus zone has just been to practice," Pryor said. "I'd be most stressed at home. Being on the field has been the least stressful place. I'm just looking it as, we've got a game to play, let's play it. You shouldn't worry about what other people say, but you do take a lot of what other people say into your mind. They're saying it for some reason. That's the hardest thing, I guess, is hearing people say some cruel things about you.

"You know what you did and you take the responsibility, but guys are still out there nailing you and talking about you. That's when my teammates have come in and had my back and told me that it's going to be all right. When bad things happen to you, that's when you want your family around you and, going through all of this, that's when you realize that Ohio State football is your family."

Believable enough, you start to feel a little sorry for the guy.

Pryor followed by saying the rules violations didn't affect him. Then he quickly followed up with something more believable by saying, "I mean, there have been long days going through the process, but we all got through it."

Pryor went on to say he plans on coming back to Ohio State. He may have felt that way at that point in time. To believe he and the pawn stars are returning no matter what is fool's gold.

Then when Ohio State coach Jim Tressel opened his press conference like this, it sounded more like he was talking himself into believing what actually came out of his mouth.

"So the first decision any of our young people needed to make, if indeed they wanted to stay a part of our family and make the trip and have a chance to participate in one of the greatest games of all time, the Sugar Bowl," Tressel said. "They would have to make any decisions based upon their future NFL [careers] prior to us going to the bowl game because we didn't think it would be fair to the NCAA or fair to the other people involved in the process that if someone were able to participate and have no consequences down the road.

"So those decisions were made by our young people and I am excited to say that all the guys that were involved, knowing that they had options, like playing in this game and leaving, in their minds that could have been an option, but it wasn't. Maybe in their minds another option could have been that they would take themselves out of this game hoping that their appeal for the future would be softened. None of them wanted to do that because they wanted to remain part of the family."

So because Pryor and the pawn stars told Tressel they would return for their senior seasons, we're supposed to take everyone involved at their word? In that case, Reggie Bush has a Heisman Trophy he wants to sell you.

The hogwash trickled from the Razorbacks' side as well. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino took the grin-and-smile approach and yearned for nothing more than to play Ohio State at full strength.

"When it first came out, we happened to be having a team meeting right before we were ready to leave," Petrino said. "We all talked about how we hoped there's nothing to this situation. We want them to be eligible for the game. We get to a bowl game of this magnitude, you want to play against their best players, so I think we're fortunate that they're eligible to play."

Razorbacks quarterback Ryan Mallett followed Petrino's lead: "I am glad they are playing. You don't really want to play anybody that isn't at full strength. I am glad they get to play."

Both responses are laughable. I'm not buying it. You want to win and Arkansas' best chance of winning is with Pryor and the pawn stars on the sideline.

So who's left to believe?

Guess that leaves Hoolahan.

Even if you can't believe he actually said what he said.

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