The NCAA used a seven-year old policy for student-athlete reinstatement that had been applied only once previously in allowing six suspended Ohio State players to participate in January's Sugar Bowl.
The NCAA interpreted what is termed Paragraph 16 of the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Policies and Procedures to be an exception for the Buckeyes players who had been suspended for selling their memorabilia to a local tattoo parlor owner. The 116-word policy states, in part, that suspensions can be withheld "in very limited circumstances if the next contest is the NCAA championship." It makes no mention of a bowl game.
It also states an exception can be made if "no competitive advantage was gained." Ohio State's starting quarterback (Terrelle Pryor), leading rusher (Dan Herron) and No. 2 receiver (DeVier Posey), among others, played in the game. In fact, five of the six affected players made key plays in the Buckeyes' 31-26 win over Arkansas.
|QB Terrelle Pryor was one of six players allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl after being suspended. (Getty Images)|
"The general practice is that student-athletes are withheld from the next contests [when suspended]," the policy states.
Instead, five of the players are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. (A sixth will miss one game.) The policies and procedures, dated Feb. 18, 2010, are available in an NCAA membership-only Internet link. CBSSports.com previously gained access to view Paragraph 16. The full text of it appears below.
The NCAA made reference to the policy in a December 29 press release. It states that reinstatement is allowed in "specific instances involving NCAA championships or bowl games. It recognizes the unique opportunity these events provide ..." As stated previously, the principle does not mention bowl games, nor does it make reference to any "unique opportunity." Several persons familiar with the legislative process said that NCAA championship wording is accepted, at times, to also include bowl games.
The policy was developed by the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee in 2004, according to the NCAA, and approved by the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet. CBSSports.com spoke to several members of both groups. None could recall specifically how the policy was formed. To be fair, that was seven years ago. CBSSports.com has requested from the NCAA the original minutes of meetings in 2003 and 2004 when the policy was developed. NCAA librarians are still searching for the documents two months later.
"Anytime anything like this happens, the presidents in particular say, 'We've got to close this loophole,' said former Houston AD Dave Maggard who was on that AEC cabinet in 2003-04, "It's really, really complicated."
Since the Sugar Bowl, there has been a national outcry among some who have been questioning why the players were allowed to participate and their suspensions were delayed after being found to have accepted extra benefits. The NCAA noted that the Ohio State players were not aware they had violated extra-benefit rules. Ohio State said the players did not receive proper rules education. "Inadequate rules education is often cited in student-athlete reinstatement," the NCAA said in the December release.
"I assume the rationale is, do we really want them to miss [these] significant games in their lives?" said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, a former NCAA investigator.
Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany advocated for the players' participation but said they were unaware of Paragraph 16 at the time. NCAA president Mark Emmert told CBSSports.com he was aware of the policy. When asked about some of the seeming incongruities of its wording, he said, "It was a judgment call."
If so, that judgment has been applied only once with this policy according to the NCAA. An unidentified Penn State player was allowed to play in the 2007 Alamo Bowl despite being previously suspended for allowing a friend to sell his complimentary tickets. The player then was suspended the first two games of the 2008 season.
"You can have a rule but you can have 15 interpretations of that rule," said a source familiar with the Ohio State case. "We just self-reported [the violations] and made the request [that the players participate] ... Our position was, that team at that time with those seniors deserved the right to have the best team on the field to win. Whatever hits we took in 2011, we took those hits."
Delany said he had second thoughts about advocating for the players' participation since the news broke about Tressel.
"If we had known [then] what we had known [now], I think that Gene, myself, the NCAA all would have handled it a little bit differently," said Delany, in New Orleans for the BCS meetings.
Per NCAA procedure, the decision to apply the policy was left largely up to Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs, and Utah State professor Dr. Kenneth White, chairman of the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee at the time. White is also the faculty athletic representative at Utah State as well as a professor in the school's Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences. The school website states that Utah State received "worldwide recognition" for cloning three mule foals. The website stated that White is "now recognized as a world leader in this area of research."
White declined to be interviewed. Lennon answered a series of questions via email.
Why did you think Paragraph 16 applied to this Ohio State situation?
"We understand there will be differences of opinion on our decisions and we make difficult decisions on these types of cases regularly. The staff and the committee chair reviewed the specific facts and the unique circumstances and believe the decision was appropriate." What about the perception from critics who believe Ohio State was given preferential treatment?
"Regardless of the situation, NCAA decisions will be scrutinized. There will be proponents and detractors for any case. How people feel about decisions usually depends on their personal alliances ..."
Is it reasonable to assume that student-athletes -- especially those at major universities with big compliance staffs -- should know it is improper to sell equipment?
"While it is a concept that we believe student-athletes should be knowledgeable of, from experience, we can say that is not a safe assumption."
Paragraph 16 from the Division I, II, III Student-Athlete Reinstatement Policies and Procedures:
The student-athlete reinstatement lead administrator in consultation with the division-specific chair has the ability to suspend a reinstatement condition in very limited circumstances if the next contest is the NCAA championship. The general practice is that student-athletes are withheld from the next contests even if the next contests are part of the NCAA championship and that policy remains in place. Suspension of a withholding condition is to be used in very limited circumstances where the student-athlete is innocently involved, no competitive advantage was gained and withholding from the championship does not seem appropriate. Further, the suspension can only be used if the student-athlete has eligibility remaining the following academic year.