Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Q & A: Legal Primer On Terrelle Pryor (With Some Tressel)

Why was Pryor suspended by the NCAA?

Pryor and other players traded Ohio State Buckeyes memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. Pryor was suspended for 5 games (given that people don’t work as hard when they are doing so at a discount, I’m not sure I’m a fan of discounted tattoos).

What kind of player was Pryor at Ohio State?

Pryor is an impressive physical specimen, measuring 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds and having been clocked at 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He's coming off his best season statistically at Ohio State, throwing for 2,772 yards and 27 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

Given is size and speed, some believe he may end up being a wide receiver.

How long is Pryor’s NFL suspension?

He was suspended for 5 games – the same number of games he would have sat out had he returned to Ohio State.

Apparently there is no truth to the rumour that when Pryor heard he was drafted by the Raiders, he asked/begged that his suspension be doubled to 10 games.

With the NFL’s suspension, Pryor forfeits $110,000 of his $375,000 salary for 2011. He also can’t practice with the team. If he appealed, the sides may have settled and Pryor could have recouped maybe $25,000 plus in lost income.

Why did the NFL suspend Pryor?

The NFL feels that Pryor manipulated the draft system to avoid punishment by the NCAA and to gain entry to the NFL. In so doing, he undermined the integrity of the draft.

More please

He initially planned to spend his senior year at Ohio state and as a result missed the regular draft.

After the NCAA handed down its 5 game suspension, Pryor manipulated the system to get tossed off the team with a view to making himself eligible for the Supplemental Draft. Among other things, Pryor hired an agent and refused to cooperate with the NCAA.

The NFL wanted to protect the integrity of the draft process. And likely protect and preserve its relationship with the NCAA, its farm system.

What does the NFL hope to accomplish with Pryor’s suspension?

The NFL is hoping the suspension will discourage future college players who violate NCAA rules from trying to use the NFL as a means of escaping punishment.

The NFL doesn’t want players to get themselves kicked off college teams if they have committed an NCAA violation, signing with agents, and requesting draft eligibility for the Supplemental Draft.

What was the legal basis for the NFL suspending Pryor?

So where does the authority to suspend Pryor come from? According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, it comes from Article 8.6 of the NFL Constitution and By-Laws.

It provides that the “Commissioner is authorized…to take appropriate steps as he deems necessary and proper in the best interests of the league…whenever any party or organization not a member of, employed by, or connected with the league or any member thereof is guilty of any conduct detrimental either to the league, its member clubs or employees, or to professional football.”

So Pryor’s actions of manipulating the draft system undermined the integrity of the draft, which Goodell saw as “conduct detrimental” to the league. That enabled him to act and suspend Pryor.

The CBA does not contain any express provisions regarding the ability of the NFL to impose suspensions on players based upon the manner in which they attempt to secure eligibility for the Supplemental Draft. Still, they have broad rights under the Constitution.

What Did Goodell write in his letter to Pryor?

In a letter to Pryor, Goodell wrote as follows:

“I do not believe that a player who has affirmatively acted contrary to NCAA rules should automatically and immediately be deemed eligible to pursue a potentially lucrative career in the NFL. Doing so would be inconsistent with common-sense notions of accountability and personal responsibility, and distorts our own eligibility principles. Accordingly, I believe that it would be entirely appropriate to find you ineligible for the Supplemental Draft, and to require you to defer entry into the NFL until the regular April 2012 College Draft.”

Godell also cited “the NFL’s historic support for college football” in explaining the decision.

Even though Goodell wrote that it was “entirely appropriate” for Pryor to be deemed ineligible for the draft, he decided that Pryor would become eligible for the draft if he served a 5 game suspension.

What was the reaction from Pryor’s Camp?

It was mixed. Initially, his camp said they would not appeal the decision.

"We accept that voluntarily," Pryor's agent, Drew Rosenhaus from Next Question fame, told The Associated Press. "It's a small price to pay for him to have a chance to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL."

The NFLPA appears to have been on board with the penalty. Apparently, the NFLPA agreed with the intended approach. However, they have since said they would support an appeal.

Later on, Pryor’s lawyer, David Cornwell, indicated that they might appeal.

“We have the right to appeal within three days after Terrelle signs an NFL contract,” Cornwell said. “And given some of the developments — both in reaching the decision and comments out of the (NFL Players' Association) regarding the decision — I think it's likely that we will file an appeal, and give the Players' Association an opportunity to make its objections to this on the record.”

Cornwell added,

“We have the right to appeal within three days after Terrelle signs an NFL contract,” Cornwell said. “And given some of the developments — both in reaching the decision and comments out of the (NFL Players' Association) regarding the decision — I think it's likely that we will file an appeal, and give the Players' Association an opportunity to make its objections to this on the record.”

It was reported over Labor Day weekend that Pryor was in fact going to appeal. A subsequent report clarified the situation, explaining that Cornwell had written Goodell indicating that Pryor reserved his right to appeal. From a legal standpoint, it’s not clear whether Pryor has preserved his right to appeal by reserving that right. He signed is deal on August 25.

Complicating matters is a very unfortunate development: Cornwell has suffered a stroke.

How long did Pryor have to appeal the suspension?

Pryor had 3 days from signing his deal to appeal the suspension. This is captured by Article 46 of the CBA at Section 1(a), which provides that within 3 “business days following such written notification, the player affected thereby, or the NFLPA with the player’s approval, may appeal in writing to the Commissioner”.

Again, Cornwell may have preserved is right of appeal. Not clear though.

What are the implications of the suspension?

The issue here is this – to what extent can the Commissioner discipline incoming players for pre-employment actions?

To what extent can the NFL discipline someone for actions taken when they were not an employee?

Remember that the NFL did not expressly discipline Pryor for his NCAA transgressions. Rather, the NFL disciplined Pryor for sabotaging his college eligibility with a view to gaining entry into the NFL. So he was technically disciplined for undermining the integrity of the draft.

Some would argue, though, that’s not how it looks and that Goodell has awarded himself jurisdiction over enforcement of NCAA violations for incoming rookies.

The implications are interesting.

What happens if Cam Newton is implicated by the NCAA’s investigation of Auburn? Does Goodell go after Newton?

What happens if current NFL players are implicated in the scandal at the University of Miami? Does Goodell go after them?

What of Reggie Bush?

We’re not going to be reaching backward and penalizing people for breaking NCAA rules five, six years ago” Aiello the NFL has said.

So how does this shake out – what does Pryor’s suspension mean practically speaking?

I’m not sure that the precedent is as far reaching as some may believe. For now, it looks like the NFL has left open the option to discipline players who look to evade NCAA punishment by making themselves eligible for the Draft. For me, that’s the narrow precedent that has been set.

If a player is disciplined by the NCAA and accepts his punishment, I can’t see the NFL going after him as well. Can’t punish someone twice for same transgression.

As well, I don’t see the NFL going after its own players for issues that are a number of years old.

For me, this is about incoming rookies.

Ultimately, however, the NFL wields extensive powers as its Constitution provides that it can take action to protect its “best interest” in the face of “conduct detrimental” to the league. From a legal standpoint, this is broad language.

What was the reaction to Goodell suspending Pryor?

As you can expect, it was mixed. Some thought the NFL had overextended itself.

However, in Cleveland, Bud Shaw wrote that Goodell “should be applauded in looking at all the circumstances surrounding his case, and for weighing the attempt by people around Pryor to artificially enhance his eligibility with claims of even more NCAA violations while at Ohio State. That was a direct challenge to the spirit of the rules governing the supplemental draft…Goodell couldn't let that pass and didn't.”

Umm…Tressel please

Jim Tressel had Pryors.

Tressel resigned amid NCAA violations. Pryor was his quarterback when all this went down.

The Colts hired the Buckeyes coach. After some pressure from the NFL, the Colts announced that they wouldn't use the former Ohio State coach until the seventh game of the season.

Technically, Tressel wasn’t suspended but rather is just sitting out the first 6 games. So perhaps that avoids a messy precedent of disciplining an incoming coach for NCAA violations.

Goodell said that he would have suspended Tressel if the Colts didn't make him sit out games to start the 2011 season.

Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said that "questions were raised with respect to the equity of his appointment as opposed to suspensions being served this season by present and former Ohio State players."

Like Pryor, Tressel is being punished for conduct that occurred when he was not an employee of the NFL. From an optics standpoint, the NFL didn't want to see Tressel go undisciplined, while his Buckeyes quarterback was serving a 5 game suspension.

So before Tressel there was Pryor. And now, there seems to be more of a watchful eye over the NCAA.

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