COLUMBUS — As soon as the wheels of the team plane hit the ground here and the celebration ended following Ohio State's win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes went on offense. But this time, it was in the legal field.
Ohio State is putting together its appeal of the five-game suspensions handed to five of its key players for the start of the 2011 season.
The ball got rolling on the appeal shortly after the NCAA slapped quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other players — who will also be seniors next season — with the suspensions for their roles in selling championship rings, awards, and team apparel for cash, and receiving discounts on tattoos.
The NCAA allowed the players — Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas — to play in the Sugar Bowl, but before they left for New Orleans, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel required them to make a commitment to return for the 2011 season and not avoid serving any suspension by jumping early to the NFL.
A week before the bowl game, Ohio State notified the NCAA of its intention to seek the removal or reduction of the five-game suspensions for 2011.
Ohio State officials have contended all along that the players were not aware at the time, in 2008 and 2009, that they were not allowed to sell the items. The Buckeyes' brass also hopes to contend that the players used the money to help their families. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith hopes the NCAA will consider what he called "mitigating circumstances.
"We believe that the sanctions are severe," Smith said. "The time that this occurred … was a very tough time in our society … the decision that they made, they made to help their families. These young men went into their decision with the right intent — to help their families."
Although the players gained no competitive advantage by selling the items and getting discounted tattoos, they violated the NCAA's "preferential treatment" bylaws.
Pryor, who was the MVP of Ohio State's 31-26 win over Arkansas, said that whatever the punishment ends up as, it will be a shocking change for him because he has never had to sit out and watch his team compete without him. Pryor also reiterated his pledge to return to Ohio State for the 2011 season.
"I don't think I'm really ready for the NFL. I think I've got a lot of learning and better decision-making I have to make, on and off the field," Pryor said after the Sugar Bowl.
"And I think even off the field, I think I need to grow up a little bit more and mature as well. So, I just have a lot of growing up to do. And we'll take steps. I talked to Coach Tressel and we have a plan going down and I have to follow it exactly how he put it."
If the suspension stands at five games, the Buckeyes would be without Pryor and company for their dates with Akron, Toledo, the Miami Hurricanes, Colorado, and Michigan State. The Miami game is the only one to be played away from Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State's appeal will be heard by the NCAA's Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, an independent committee comprising representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities, and athletic conferences.
According to the rules guiding the process, the committee's decision is final. It can reduce or remove the reinstatement conditions, but it cannot increase the penalty.
No date has been set for an appeals teleconference that Ohio State wants all five athletes to take part in.
In the meantime, the Buckeyes involved in the case are permitted to work out with the team and take part in all team activities, including spring practice and the spring game.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.