Paid in full?

DISCLAIMER: This column was originally published in 2011. 

Terrelle Pryor announced he was quitting on Ohio State a mere few days after his then-coach, Jim Tressel, did the same.

As you see, this story ends with Pryor but in more ways than one, he is only its beginning. Pryor’s story, if you will, is akin to Sigmund Freud’s iceberg model, but substitute “Pryor” for conscious, “Tressel” for preconscious and “Ohio State” for unconscious. Then, you have the NCAA as Freud himself, sitting on a wooden chair. The NCAA is the one doing the digging and so, it is safe from any reprimands. Much like every other similar case.

Now, let’s get it out of the way: there is no way in hell that Pryor ever reports to Regina to play for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders before having burned every bridge he has to the NFL and, even, the UFL. Forget about lame puns (such as this one: What use would his nice cars be in frigid Regina?). Pryor remains a singular talent who, despite the early indications, will do his best to salvage his career anywhere in the NFL.

The problem about Pryor is that this isn’t about Pryor. Sure, the young man contravened one of the most important NCAA rules and he’s now paying dearly for it. But, most of the media members seem intent on painting Pryor as the lone culprit. As if Tressel has never been in trouble with NCAA officials –Youngstown State, anyone? As if Buckeye boosters can make it rain on student athletes with impunity. As if Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee can seriously make us believe he feared Tressel would fire him instead of the other way around. As if he can still stick with both athletic director Gene Smith and Tressel (until he resigned). No, Pryor is far from the lone culprit.

This story doesn’t end with Pryor, but it likely will. Most of all, that’s the problem.

College football has become a bigger and bigger business and, as is the case every time that happens, the aim becomes to further yourself and secure the biggest piece of the pie possible. Not to mention that there is also nothing noble about being broke. Some might respect you for living a simple life, but mostly you’re just broke. America teaches bragging rights, not humility; boldness, not shyness; improvement, not treading water. America wants you to better yourself if and when you can — that’s the American Dream. Yet, that American Dream apparently doesn’t apply to college football generally, and to Pryor specifically.

Should this debate be one of whether collegiate athletics should pay its student-athletes? I don’t believe so, because that would be somehow simplifying the Pryor case. It would be losing ourselves in some broader conundrum; it would be talking about Pryor and Ohio State, but without really doing so. Though one thing is certain, if you do happen to decide to pay some student-athletes (read: football and basketball players) you better be prepared to pay every last one of them; all 400,000 of them.

But no, this debate is about Pryor even if it isn’t, remember? This is about Pryor looking out for himself; about Pryor realizing that the money will always be there and that unless he goes out and get it, that unless he is vying for a piece of the pie, he will not get one. All he will get is a smaller and smaller seat at the table until one day, he is booted off it.

This is also about Ohio State football, which threw Pryor, not Tressel, under the bus even though the young man helped the school win the 2011 Sugar Bowl when he should have been suspended. This is about Ohio State, which you could argue did not do much to prepare Pryor for professional football in his three years on campus. Considering this, the most witty can see what a fitting end is Pryor’s exit from Ohio State.

It always is the same with suspended NCAA student-athletes, whether it be with Pryor, North Carolina’s Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn or, earlier, Southern California’s Reggie Bush: young men trying to better themselves. (Well, maybe for that difference: Quinn, Austin and Bush were all much better prepared for the NFL during their collegiate career than Pryor, as they all were selected in the first few rounds of the NFL draft. Meanwhile, Pryor’s best bet to play professional football is likely to join the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders for a few seasons.)

America teaches you to take the money and run, not to leave it on the table. Because if not you, then surely someone else will take that money. Better be you than he or she, right? Because if you don’t take it, you’ll be left by yourself at the table. Feeling miserable, not noble.