Pryor's exit, Buckeyes' downfall 'surreal' to Spielman
Chris Spielman had a couple of minutes to talk while watching his daughter play softball Tuesday night. He didn't need much time to process the latest blow against Ohio State's program, reputation and future.
Terrelle Pryor did what reputable football players -- Leaders and Legends they tend to call them in the Big Ten -- never do. Ever. Terrelle Pryor quit. He quit on his teammates and the fans. The morally bankrupt kid quit on himself. He didn't even have the stones to show his face in public and say it himself. He did it through his lawyer with a statement, apparently leaving Columbus with more cars than guts.
Pryor came to Columbus to play in a pro-style offense. He left it as a pro, if the compensation from selling memorabilia to a scumbag tattoo parlor owner is only the beginning of what the NCAA will eventually uncover. You don't punt your career in June because the supplemental draft is suddenly so attractive. You leave because the alternative would have meant NCAA crucifixion or worse: disgrace. It's possible that after winning three Big Ten titles, Pryor's off-field conduct got to be too much for interim coach Luke Fickell.
Note to prospective NFL employers: Skip the player interview, go right to the game film. You can be sure it doesn't lie.
First, Tressel. Then, Pryor. Ohio State cannot jettison baggage fast enough. It's so bad that .828 (Jim Tressel's winning percentage) and 31-4 (Pryor's record as a starter) were not worth keeping. If you believe they left of their own free will at this point, you're on something. It's clear now that what we don't know means Ohio State should be preparing for some long, cold, nuclear winters.
"You don't know how long it's going to take to dig out," said Spielman, whose greatness as a Buckeye is surpassed only by his greatness as a man. "I wouldn't be surprised if they get USC-like sanctions."
Quitting is against everything Spielman believes in. This is a former Lombardi Award-winning, All-Pro linebacker who once left the NFL to tend to his ailing wife. He had the insight earlier this year to predict that Tressel, a man he respected, wouldn't make it to the regular season. You don't quit around Chris Spielman. It has to pain him to watch a great football franchise, his alma mater, crumble brick by brick.
"It's all surreal to me; it's crazy," he said. "It takes some twisted plot. It's a tragedy, is what it is."
A tragedy that doesn't seem to register as much as it should in Columbus. There was a general feeling before Tuesday that the entire program was ready to move on without its quarterback. If there was a team bus, Pryor had been thrown under it. Freshman Braxton Miller shows the same promise Bucknuts couldn't wait to see from Pryor three years ago. Now with the NCAA walls closing in, one of the most successful quarterbacks in Ohio State history has cemented his legacy. It will include that 31-4 record, those three Big Ten titles and character flaws the size of Ohio Stadium.
Terrelle Pryor's actions not only lead to his early exit, but took down Jim Tressel too. (US Presswire) "It's a wakeup call for all coaches that no longer do you choose to see what you want to see and know what you want to know," Spielman said. "Players need to take more control of their situation. If you can have an alpha dog making these choices, you better have another alpha dog [on the team] saying no."
"It's so strange," he added, "he [Tressel] hooked his wagon to this guy."
The defrocked coach can't be blamed totally for this one, huge mistake among many. It's clear the program doesn't have enough character guys. That doesn't make it unique in college football. Everybody wanted Pryor. There were a load of schools willing to overlook the warning signs, among them having to deal with Pryor's "mentor," Ted Sarniak, a 67-year-old businessman from the quarterback's hometown.
"I think we live in an age of narcissistic kids, with Facebook who think they're owed something," Spielman said. "Start living with five guys [in an apartment], start paying bills. It's really sad. They haven't done anything [to be so entitled]."
Not enough to take a loaner car to Pennsylvania just so mom could check it out. You or I would have to go through a criminal background check just to take a test drive off the lot. All Pryor had to do was play, get better, let the NFL absorb him at some point and he would have had the undying love of Buckeyes. In the end, he wasn't abused by the system. He turned it upside down and shook it by the ankles until all the change fell out of its pockets. ESPN.com reported an unidentified former friend said Pryor made between $20,000-$40,000 signing memorabilia in 2009-10.
Please don't make him a victim. Make him the face of Ohio State at this point in its history. It's a history that includes Tressel's three best players. Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and Pryor all had NCAA issues. In the end, Pryor had a hand in taking down two coaches. It's still tempting to think what the quarterback would have done at Michigan under Rich Rod. That's assuming Pryor would have stayed clean, which is probably assuming too much.
"It seemed to me," Spielman said, "that Coach Tressel had a different set of rules for Pryor."
There is mounting evidence. Along with other teammates, the quarterback was allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl when he "promised" Tressel that he would come back for his senior season. The whole episode is so long ago and so irrelevant it made Spielman pause to consider its absurdity. The coach who hid the fact his players were competing while ineligible, made a deal with them that shouldn't have been possible in the first place.
There has to be more to come from the NCAA, right? All of it negative. We're still two months away from the infractions committee hearing. A return to innocence now seems years away for Ohio State, if ever. For Spielman, it was right in front of him on Tuesday.
"I've got to go," he said through the phone, "my daughter is coming up."
By leaving, Pryor could help to save Ohio State from sins of Tressel era
Terrelle Pryor announced he won't return to Ohio State for his senior year
Pryor no longer has to cooperate with NCAA officials in any investigation
He may come off as a villain, but Pryor took full advantage of his market value
Be nice, Buckeyes.
Don't be like Dustin, whose Twitter bio proclaims that he's "Buckeye born and bred, a Buckeye 'til I'm dead." At 8:34 p.m. Tuesday, Dustin lobbed this grenade at now-former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor's Twitter account.
Real men dont quit on there team @TPeezy2 #quitter
Don't be like Dina, whose Twitter bio identifies her as an Ohio State student. At 8:17 p.m. Tuesday, Dina tweeted this:
@TPeezy2 why didn't you leave before you ****** over your team, coach, and school? Because of you tressel is gone. We all hate you. Peace.
By all means, please don't be as fake as Richard, whose Twitter bio describes him as a "regular, down to earth guy" who loves "God, My Country and Sports!" Twenty-five minutes after he sent Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller a tweet of encouragement, Richard sent this to Pryor:
@TPeezy2 you should have raised your standards with your decision making! #FakeBuckeye
The smarter Buckeyes are saying only the nicest -- or at least the most neutral -- things about Pryor, who announced through his attorney Tuesday that he wouldn't play his senior season at Ohio State. Like coach Jim Tressel eight days earlier, Pryor took a bullet for the program. The 6-foot-6 uber-athlete from Jeanette, Pa., will forever be remembered by people in scarlet and gray as the player who brought down Tressel, when in fact he might be the player who saves Ohio State from most of the sins of the Tressel era. Since he doesn't plan to play another college game, Pryor can give NCAA investigators a one-fingered salute if they knock on his door. He doesn't have to say a word to them. Without Pryor's attempts to explain how so much Buckeyes equipment wound up on the market with his signature affixed or how he wound up with a fresh ride every few months during his time at Ohio State, the investigators might hit dead ends as they try to determine whether Ohio State lacked control of its football program.
Of course, if he wanted to, Pryor could burn Ohio State's football program to the ground. That's why the Buckeyes had better be nice.
Pryor could explain how that gear got out of Ohio State's locker room. He could explain how he wound up taking a two-day, out-of-state test drive. He could explain why he drove cars with dealer plates. No matter what he says, that wouldn't be good for Ohio State.
If Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is smart and clings to any shred of hope for his continued employment in Columbus, he has quietly convinced boosters to buy Pryor's silence. That's perfectly legal now, and if we learned anything from Reggie Bush, it's that the cheapskate could have kept USC off the NCAA chopping block had he paid a measly $300,000 to a couple of wannabe agents to keep their mouths shut. Pryor doesn't have to play by the NCAA's rules anymore. Ohio State officials should do everything within their power to keep him happy. They should be good at that; it sounds as if that's how they got in this mess in the first place.
Is Pryor a bad person because he broke NCAA rules that said he didn't actually own his awards or his signature? Is he evil because he benefitted financially from being the star quarterback at a major college powerhouse? I don't know. I've interviewed the guy face-to-face three times, and certainly never for long enough to make any value judgments. It seems Pryor didn't take into account how his actions would affect his teammates. It seems he got some cash and some sweet tattoos, and all it cost was his reputation. But that's easy for me to say. I didn't have to walk past my jersey for sale in the mall and at the university bookstore.
Pryor took full advantage of the college football experience. With apologies to Jay-Z, Pryor wasn't a businessman. He was a business, man. He understood his market value. That may be against NCAA rules, but the jury remains out on whether it's wrong.
Payment by scholarship is a great deal for about 98 percent of the athletes at the Division I level. It's a terrible deal for the other two percent, and Pryor belonged to that group. Consider this. During Pryor's sophomore year, Ohio State reported $63.8 million in football revenue. How much of that $63.8 million did Ohio State earn because of Pryor? That's tough to say. Certainly, Tressel deserved a huge share. That's probably why he was paid $3.5 million, which may still have been a bargain. Let's conservatively estimate that a star quarterback is responsible for one fiftieth of his program's revenue. That's quite conservative, especially considering Ohio State hawked more than a dozen variations on Pryor's No. 2 jersey on its Web site. Assuming that share, Pryor made $1.3 million for the school. According to Ohio State's Web site, a second-year student spending all four quarters on campus should expect to pay $67,784 in tuition, room, board and books. This is an actual cost of attendance figure, and we know the NCAA scholarship formula does not cover actual cost of attendance at most schools, so Pryor's deal probably paid less. Even if he made $40,000 signing his name as ESPN reported late Tuesday, he was a bargain.
As an added bonus, to enter a system that would pay him a fraction of what he would earn in an open market, Pryor had to sign away the rights to his likeness to Ohio State and the NCAA. The NCAA believes it actually owns these rights in perpetuity, but former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs are about to rectify that little injustice.
Fans of college football, most of whom seem to prefer capitalism in their own economic lives, tend to turn into raving Marxists whenever someone such as Pryor does something that shines a light on the thriving black market created by the NCAA's insistence on an artificial price ceiling on the bulk of its labor force. A scholarship should be good enough for him, they say. It's good enough for everyone else, they say. Yet if their company suddenly announced that everyone would earn an identical salary, they would quit in a minute if it meant they would be paid less than market value.
Pryor thumbed his nose at that system. He could have been patient and enjoyed his payday in the pros, but he was making money for Ohio State now. Why not share in the largesse? That might make him an NCAA outlaw. That might make him a bad teammate. It makes him a good capitalist.
So now Pryor will head off to play football for an over-the-table salary. He might play in Canada. He might enter the NFL's supplemental draft, if there is one. He may never make it in the NFL as a quarterback, but the league usually can find a place for 6-foot-6, 235-pounders who can run circles around a defense. The smarter Ohio State fans will understand the value of Pryor's departure and its timing. The dumber ones will curse his name for decades. Just don't curse it too loud, because ticking him off might tempt him to dial a number in the 317 area code.
Operator: You've reached NCAA headquarters. How may I direct your call?
Pryor: Julie Roe Lach in enforcement, please.
Lach: This is Julie.
Pryor: What do you want to know?
It's funny. For the low, low price of a scholarship, so many people thought they owned a piece of Terrelle Pryor. Now he owns them.
Terrelle Pryor signings netted thousands
COLUMBUS -- Terrelle Pryor, who announced through his attorney Tuesday that he would bypass his senior season at Ohio State, made thousands of dollars autographing memorabilia in 2009-10, a former friend who says he witnessed the transactions has told "Outside the Lines."
The signings for cash, which would be a violation of NCAA rules, occurred a minimum of 35 to 40 times, netting Pryor anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 that year, the former friend says. The source spoke to ESPN under the condition that his face not be aired on TV and that his name not be published.
He said Pryor was paid $500 to $1,000 each time he signed mini football helmets and other gear for a Columbus businessman and freelance photographer, Dennis Talbott. Talbott twice denied to ESPN that he ever paid Pryor or any other active Buckeye athlete to sign memorabilia. He said last week he has only worked with former players to set up signings. On Tuesday evening, he declined to comment whether he had ever operated a sports memorabilia business and said he was not an Ohio State booster.
Pryor's former friend also told "Outside the Lines" that the player often received preferential treatment in the Columbus community, receiving thousands of dollars in free food at local restaurants and convenience stores, free drinks at bars and free tattoos. In addition, he said the quarterback had access to free loaner cars from local dealerships. The source said he spent nearly every day with Pryor before their relationship soured when Pryor began taking on a more "arrogant" attitude after his 2009-10 season.
He said Pryor would get the merchandise to sign from Talbott, who would "bring it to TP, and he would sign it and he would bring him cash. Dennis would give him cash." He said he witnessed the transactions occur about three to four times a week at Pryor's apartment.
The former friend said Pryor would spend his money lavishly at times, that the player had a "shoe fetish" and bought many expensive hats, belts and pieces of jewelry. He said he was particularly fond of Gucci items. ESPN independently confirmed Pryor made multiple such purchases.
Pryor's attorney, Larry James, denied the allegations against his client.
"Terrelle did not sign memorabilia for cash," he said.
Pryor may not have been the first active Buckeye player to collect cash for signatures from Talbott. The parent of one former Ohio State player told "Outside the Lines" that he saw Talbott provide what he called "stacks of money" to active Buckeye players, including a player now in the NFL.
Pryor's former friend said he was wary of Talbott: "He's the type of person that ... I think he really took advantage over TP because he was that person, and he would bring him, he would bring TP like memorabilia to sell for other people. So Dennis is not a good guy for college athletes. That's the guy you really don't want to be around."
Talbott, 40, shot photos of the major sports teams in Ohio, including Ohio State and the Cincinnati Bengals, as a freelance photographer. He has sold images to ESPN.com in the past.
On Tuesday, he denied that he ever received game tickets from players, though records from Ohio State show that he and his wife were on a player's will-call ticket list multiple times throughout the 2008 season. When asked about those records, Talbott said he couldn't remember if he had received such tickets.
According to public websites, Talbott claims to have earned an undergraduate degree from Kent State University and later attended Ohio State briefly.
He has managed or owned staffing and employment recruiting businesses over the last decade, though a search of public records reveals a series of liens and financial judgments against him. The most substantial include an Internal Revenue Service lien filed in 2009 for $278,875 in unpaid federal taxes, followed by a state of Ohio tax lien in 2010 for $74,227.
The latest news about Pryor comes just eight days after Buckeyes coach Jim Tressell was forced to resign for not reporting information he'd received about players receiving improper benefits.
Pryor's career at Ohio State, which started with so much promise and potential, came to an abrupt and scandal-ridden end Tuesday evening, when he announced through his attorney that he would not play for the Buckeyes this season. He had already been suspended for the first five games for breaking NCAA rules by accepting improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor.
"In the best interests of my teammates, I've made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University," Pryor said in a statement issued by James.
James said entering the next NFL supplemental draft is Pryor's "desire." But James acknowledged labor uncertainty could lead to consideration of the Canadian Football League or working with a personal quarterback coach first.
Terrelle Pryor exiting OSU amid scandal
The Ohio State quarterback announced through his attorney Tuesday that he would not play for the Buckeyes this season. He had already been suspended for the first five games for breaking NCAA rules by accepting improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor.
"In the best interests of my teammates, I've made the decision to forgo my senior year of football at The Ohio State University," Pryor said in a statement issued by Columbus lawyer Larry James.
More on Pryor's OSU exodus
Adam Rittenberg says the departure of Ohio St. QB Terrelle Pryor was now unavoidable, as scrutiny in Columbus escalated and a wave of widening NCAA allegations into his car usage deeply tarnished the image of Buckeyes football. Blog
• Rittenberg: Next move for Buckeyes? • Big Ten blog: Can Bauserman thrive?
If Terrelle Pryor wants to know who led him to look for a paying football job a year before he wanted to leave, look in the mirror, Ivan Maisel writes. Story
• Stats & Info: Pryor an OSU all-timer
While Terrelle Pryor has left behind profound questions, Mel Kiper Jr. ponders another looming big one: Is Terrelle Pryor likely jumping to the NFL via the supplemental draft as a QB or potential wideout? Story
James said entering the next NFL supplemental draft is Pryor's "desire." But James acknowledged labor uncertainty could lead to consideration of the Canadian Football League or working with a personal quarterback coach first.
James said Pryor told him of the decision within the hour and that Pryor said it was "in the best interest of my teammates."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported Pryor's announcement.
The NCAA is looking into all aspects of Ohio State's once-glittering program, from cash and tattoos to players, car deals for athletes and other potential violations.
Pryor's announcement comes just eight days after Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign for knowing about the players' improper benefits but not telling any of his superiors.
"He did not want to be a a distraction to his teammates," James said of Pryor. "This is something he came to consider after much thought."
Ohio State's athletic director, Gene Smith, quickly issued a statement wishing Pryor the best.
"We understand Terrelle's decision and wish him well in this next phase of his life," Smith said. "We hope he returns to The Ohio State University one day to finish his degree."
Luke Fickell, who will serve as Ohio State's interim head coach in place of Tressel this fall, found out about Pryor's decision on Tuesday night.
"I was notified this evening that Terrelle has decided to pursue a professional career," Fickell said. "I wish him the best in his pursuits."
Pryor's high school coach Ray Reitz said his former quarterback's move would "probably best for everybody."
"Terrelle can get out of the spotlight and just play football," he said. "The sad part is, as a player, he was tremendous. It's just that all this will be a part of his legacy. It's a shame. I hope he gets a shot at quarterback in the NFL so he can prove people wrong. I think NFL teams want to win so I don't think they'll hold this too much against him."
Pryor came to Ohio State on March 19, 2007, from Jeannette, Pa., as the most acclaimed high school quarterback prospect in the country. His career will be remembered in his adoptive home state for his three victories in as many tries against archrival Michigan, and victories in the Rose and Allstate Sugar Bowl.
But it will also be remembered for a series of missteps and controversies that seemed to follow the 6-foot-6, 233-pound physical specimen wherever he went and no matter what he said.
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In the midst of an NCAA inspection into his cars, he drove a sports car to practice on the day that Tressel resigned. Even when it was shown that his mother had legally bought the car, which is four years old, many fans were angry. The fact that he was driving it made it headline news across the state and around the Big Ten.
On the field, Pryor was very good. He had a 31-4 record as a starter (starting one bowl game as a wide receiver), rushed for an Ohio State-record for a quarterback 2,164 yards and passed for 6,177 yards. He was often at his best in big games, holding the school record with seven games with at least 300 yards of total offense and 22 games with at least 200.
But there were other moments that kept him from ever becoming a fan favorite.
He wore "Vick" on an eyeblack patch in honor of Michael Vick in 2009, after the NFL quarterback had been involved in a dogfighting operation. Pryor then infuriated many by saying, "Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean, everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance."
After Wisconsin beat the Buckeyes in October, handing them their only loss last season, Pryor petulantly said that Ohio State could beat the Badgers nine out of 10 times.
He also has called former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit "a fake Buckeye" for questioning Pryor's emotional sideline behavior.
Few NFL draft experts consider Pryor to be a ready-for-the-NFL quarterback. With his speed and size, he might be better cut out as a big wide receiver in the mold of Plaxico Burress.
Despite the NFL labor problems, a supplemental draft could still be held this summer, although no one has yet committed to entering it. Former Ohio State star Cris Carter went that route after he lost his senior season due to NCAA infractions involving an agent and he went on to a stellar career as one of the best receivers in NFL history.
Ohio State will go before the NCAA's committee on infractions on Aug. 12. With Tressel no longer with the program, along with Pryor who has been the most visible of those who were suspended, it was no surprise that Buckeyes fans expressed relief at Pryor's surprise announcement.
With Pryor no longer a college football player, he is no longer obligated to meet with the NCAA.
James would not comment on whether Pryor would continue to cooperate with the NCAA.
James said that Pryor was reflective when he made the decision to quit college football.
"You know how sometimes you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and then something like this takes a little bit off," James said. "He's still only 21."