|Should Jim Tressel be forced to pay a penalty for his Ohio State misdeeds? Popular question. (Getty Images)|
When former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel quietly slithered into the NFL after fleeing from a scandal partly of his own making, he created one of the NFL's greatest public relations challenges.
Indianapolis hired Tressel as a game day consultant, and he'll advise coach Jim Caldwell on whether the Colts should challenge a play call. Tressel and Caldwell are friends. It's the only reason Tressel was able to get into the league.
The hire itself is now in the past, but what it did was leave Roger Goodell with a huge mess to clean. What Goodell does next -- or doesn't do -- will have massive repercussions with many of his players, who are watching closely.
Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five games by Goodell because of his actions at Ohio State. Players union officials, I'm told, at the time urged Pryor to fight the suspension, but he initially declined. I've confirmed that Pryor is appealing the suspension.
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Players sources said over the past few weeks Pryor has been approached repeatedly by a number of players, including teammates on the Raiders, who have urged him to fight the ruling.
After so many players and others urged him to appeal, Pryor changed his mind, these players said.
Whether that's accurate at this point is almost irrelevant because one thing has become clear: Players portray the situation as one of the more important decisions Goodell has made because, to them, it exemplifies whether Goodell is actually serious about discipline applying to all members of the league and not only players.
If Goodell punishes Tressel, then the entire thing dies. If he doesn't, I'm told, some players intend to speak out harshly against the commissioner.
"I can guarantee you many players are watching Roger Goodell's next move on Tressel," said one veteran. "It's been one of the most talked-about things in our locker room."
"If Tressel isn't suspended, there's going to be a major reaction from players," one team player representative said.
The league is said to be investigating the Tressel/Pryor story. But it seems there is little to investigate. Either these types of suspensions apply to all league employees -- as they are supposed to -- or they do not.
When Goodell punished Pryor, the NFL released a statement from Goodell that read in part: "Pryor then applied to enter the NFL after the regular draft. Pryor had accepted at the end of the 2010 college football season a suspension for the first five games of the 2011 season for violating NCAA rules. Pryor will be ineligible to practice prior to or play in the first five games of the NFL regular season after he signs."
"Pryor made decisions that undermine the integrity of the eligibility rules for the NFL draft. Those actions included failing to cooperate with the NCAA and hiring an agent in violation of NCAA rules, which resulted in Ohio State declaring him ineligible to continue playing college football."
The problem Goodell faces is that Tressel made similar mistakes -- if not much worse -- while he was at Ohio State since Tressel is a grown-ass man and educator.
Ohio State suspended Tressel for the opening two games and fined him $250,000 for covering up his knowledge of NCAA violations committed by Buckeyes players. Tressel then requested his suspension be extended to five games, which was the same number as the players. The request was granted, and Tressel was supposed to miss the first five games of the season, like Pryor. The NCAA later accused Tressel of massive misconduct and several instances of lying. Tressel eventually resigned.
The NFL might argue that Pryor's suspension was about eligibility rules -- not personal conduct -- and wanting to stop players from using the NFL as an escape hatch if they're caught cheating. The latter is a valid argument since that does seem to be an issue with some players who accept illegal benefits knowing if they're caught, professional football awaits.
But that same argument could be made with coaches. And if the NFL wants to set a precedent with players, it must also set the same precedent for coaches and staff, right?
So the players wait. Depending on what Goodell decides, this could all go away quickly.
Or get really interesting.