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Ruling is further evidence of NCAA tightening stranglehold on college athletes

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If “Tattoogate” has truly resulted in any inking, it’s colored Ohio State’s student-athletes black and blue — by the NCAA.

The NCAA’s ruling has put OSU’s hopes for a strong run next season into jeopardy. It not only forces five impact players to sit out the first five games of the season — including non-conference games at home against Colorado and on the road against Miami (Fla.) — but also has seemingly put the early nails in the coffin for  quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s Heisman campaign next season. In fact, the ruling suddenly has diminished Pryor’s prospects for even returning to the gridiron his senior season.

Despite all that, the bigger issue involved here is the NCAA hammering its soulless, iron fist.

In what’s now being called “Tattoogate,” five OSU football players — Pryor, Daniel “Boom” Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey and Solomon Thomas — must sit the first five games of the 2010–11 football season and repay between $1,000 and $2,500 to charity.

All because they sold their personal belongings and traded autographs for tattoos.

None of these players was taking payouts from agents, receiving free Hummers or partying on private yachts with rappers. Instead, Pryor sold his things to help out his mother, Pryor’s high school coach Ray Reitz told ESPN.

The reality of life is that sometimes people need to sell their things to get by, even if they’re cherished. We don’t know what sentimental value these players placed on the rings, awards and jerseys they sold, but if these players truly were in financial need, is it really appropriate for the NCAA to punish them so harshly? Few people actually want to sell their wedding ring, but sometimes it’s necessary to help make ends meet.

Buckeye fans might feel a little stung that Pryor sold a Big Ten championship ring and his Gold Pants, but if Pryor truly was trying to help out his family, can we really be that upset with him?

And is trading a tattoo for an autograph really so bad? It’s not like these players were trading tattoos for an all-expense-paid vacation to a party at the Playboy Mansion.

Erik Kuselias of ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” makes a good point: These athletes can receive hundreds of dollars in free merchandise for playing in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, but trading an autograph for a tattoo is worthy of a five-game suspension?

Great logic, NCAA. Great logic.

Let’s not forget the NCAA’s inconsistency, either.

Earlier this year, the NCAA ruled that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was eligible to play, despite reports that his father was shopping him around to universities for six-figure payouts. However, according to the NCAA, an investigation is still ongoing.

The NCAA also took several years to reach a verdict in the Reggie Bush case at USC, where Bush received $300,000 in illegal benefits. Bush played at USC from 2003-05, and it wasn’t until June 2010 that the NCAA placed the program on four years probation, forced them to vacate victories and stripped them of scholarships.

Being angry with these players for making a mistake might not be the best way to direct our aggression. Instead, we should be more upset with the NCAA for its ridiculous stranglehold on the lives of student-athletes.

We should also push the OSU athletic department to educate student-athletes more thoroughly on rules violations. Athletic director Gene Smith even admitted Thursday in a statement that OSU didn’t do a sufficient job educating its student-athletes about these types of violations.

And remember that report in The Lantern saying that OSU has an allocation of about $500,000 set aside to help student-athletes in financial need? Perhaps OSU should do a better job of letting these players know they aren’t going to be totally hung out to dry if their wallets are running on empty.

It’s not known for sure what the intentions of the players were yet or what the money was spent on, but if the players truly had only good intentions, the NCAA’s ruling is just another case of the NCAA exploiting its embarrassing and illogical stranglehold on each and every move student-athletes make.

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