Andy Gottesman / Lantern photographer
The NCAA has suspended Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other athletes for the first five games of the 2011 season “for selling awards, gifts and university apparel and receiving improper benefits in 2009.”
The players are eligible for the Sugar Bowl, in which OSU will face Arkansas on Jan. 4 in New Orleans.
Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey and Solomon Thomas also “must repay money and benefits ranging in value from $1,000 to $2,500. The repayments must be made to a charity,” the NCAA announced in a press release Thursday.
“While we believe sanctions should be rendered, we do believe they are severe,” athletic director Gene Smith said at a press conference Thursday.
According to the release, Pryor must repay $2,500 that he received for his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award and his 2008 Gold Pants, given to players for beating Michigan.
The NCAA reinstated the athletes for the Sugar Bowl on the basis that the athletes “did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, in the release.
“We were not explicit with these young men that you cannot resell items that we give you,” Smith said. “They stated in their interviews with us and with the NCAA that they felt those items were theirs, that they owned them, that they could sell them to help their families. … We were not explicit, and that’s our responsibility to be explicit.”
Adams, the starting left tackle, must repay $1,000 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring.
Herron, the starting running back, must repay $1,150 for selling his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000 and receiving discounted services worth $150.
Posey, a starting wide receiver, must repay $1,250 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,200 and receiving discounted services totaling $50.
Thomas, a reserve defensive lineman, must repay $1,505 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring for $1,000 and his 2008 Gold Pants for $350 and receiving discounted services worth $155.
The discounted services stem from players receiving tattoos in exchange for autographs.
“They got a perceived discount on tattoos — that’s what the NCAA felt,” Smith said. “As an athlete, you can’t use your persona to get discounts.”
Linebacker Jordan Whiting also must sit out the first game of the 2011 season and repay $150.
Smith said the university plans to submit “mitigating circumstances for the NCAA to consider, to hopefully reduce the number of games” the players are suspended.
“I can’t speculate on the appeal,” Smith said. “But I think we can build a case, and we’ll begin doing that next week. But I can’t speculate what the outcome will be, but obviously I hope there will be reductions.”
Quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the Alamo Bowl in 2004 and the opening game of the 2005 season after accepting $500 from a booster.
“The biggest disappointment I have is knowing there are mitigating circumstances in all of our lives,” said OSU coach Jim Tressel. “We have to seek the right solutions, (which) are to come to the right people who can maybe provide a direction we could go.”
Gene Smith said the U.S. Attorney’s Office contacted OSU on Dec. 7 after finding the items while conducting an unrelated investigation. The office thought the items might have been stolen, Smith said.
The university interviewed the athletes on Dec. 16, at which point the athletes explained that they didn’t know they couldn’t sell the items, Smith said.
“They were honest, forthright, told the truth and were remorseful,” Smith said.
Following the interviews, Smith said OSU contacted the Big Ten and NCAA offices to inform them the university was in the process of filing a self-report on a “secondary level one infraction.”
“We sent it in on (Dec. 19) and declared our student-athletes ineligible on that report,” he said.
The NCAA, not OSU, handed down the suspensions. Smith said the university did not suggest self-imposed sanctions to the NCAA.
The players were informed of the consequences via phone Thursday morning, Smith said.
“We, as coaches, feel the buck stops here,” Tressel said. “We’re the ones who need to make things even more crystal clear.”
On a holiday break, the team reunites in Columbus on Sunday night before practicing Monday and Tuesday and leaving for New Orleans on Dec. 29.
For their first five games next year, the Buckeyes play Akron, Toledo, at Miami (Fla.), Colorado and Michigan State.
Pryor, Herron, Posey and Adams — all juniors — could look into leaving early for the NFL draft, rather than spend nearly half of their senior seasons sidelined.
Pryor, Herron and Posey have accounted for 44 of the team’s 53 offensive touchdowns this season. Adams was named first-team All-Big Ten.
College juniors and redshirt sophomores must declare their eligibility for the 2011 NFL draft by Jan. 15.