How did Roger Goodell miss Pete Carroll?
Last week, the man who proudly views himself as the NFL's sheriff sentenced Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor to a five-game suspension for actions taken before Pryor was ever an employee of the National Football League. A year ago, Goodell allowed Carroll to march into NFL upper management at a reported $7 million annual salary after barely getting out of Los Angeles before the NCAA enforcement committee showed up and put the bandit program he was running in leg irons.
After a four-year investigation, the NCAA found Carroll's highly successful but apparently blind football operation at USC "lacked institutional control'' and slapped it with sanctions that cost the school a national championship, a Heisman Trophy, athletic director Mike Garrett's job, 30 scholarships over three years, and 14 victories in games that RB Reggie Bush appeared in during 2004 and '05. The Trojans received a two-year ban on postseason play and four years' probation. USC was also nearly banned from television, but the NCAA enforcement committee ultimately decided that was too stern a punishment.
Compare that to Pryor getting some free tattoos in exchange for signed memorabilia and other personal property and you have to wonder how much longer Goodell can get away with a massive double standard when it comes to punishing player misconduct and management misconduct.
The NCAA's ruling against USC was a stinging repudiation of the Trojans' decade of dominance under Carroll, a time in which it won or shared seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships. Carroll fled L.A. like a two-bit dictator seeking a safe haven and found it in the NFL. Not surprisingly, from there the Little Lord Fauntleroy of coaching claimed to be "absolutely shocked and disappointed'' at the penalty.
He was also shocked anyone would think he skipped town for the Seahawks just before the cops showed up, even though that's exactly what he did. Carroll said it was just a coincidence, which was like Tony Soprano calling a drive-by an accidental shooting.
When USC's penalty was announced a year ago, Carroll insisted "the agenda of the NCAA's infractions committee took them beyond the facts." The facts are that the sidelines at USC practices under Carroll were regularly overrun with various and sundry non-football personnel, including movie stars and even a guy named Mike Ornstein, who twice pled guilty to involvement in illegal financial dealings. At the moment, he's serving a sentence in federal prison after being convicted of fraud in a memorabilia scam.
Lo and behold, among his marketing clients was Reggie Bush.
Goodell turned a blind eye to Carroll's failed leadership at USC, but a year later he slapped Pryor with a five-game suspension for getting free tattoos. This is NFL justice?
Had Pryor remained at Ohio State, he would have been suspended for the first five games this season, but he avoided that by waiting until after the draft and then hiring an agent, thus making himself eligible for the NFL's supplemental draft. The league thought he gamed the system and thus it took action, allowing him to become the property of the Oakland Raiders but suspending him for five games. Pryor originally said he would not appeal but later changed his tune, conceding that if Raiders' owner Al Davis wants him to, he will.
Exactly what kind of legal leg Goodell has to stand on is hard to fathom. What is harder to fathom is how he could, in good conscience, slap a 22-year-old kid with a five-game suspension while embracing without a question a grown man who ran an out-of-control college football program right into a train wreck of sanctions and penalties.
In addition, when did the NFL become a de facto enforcement arm of the NCAA? The NCAA has said it hopes to see financial penalties imposed on players who break its rules even after they're in the NFL. Goodell's action against Pryor seems to be the first salvo.
If that's the case, then how can a coach who runs a shady college program with inadequate institutional control walk into the same workplace as Pryor and snatch a $7 million salary while the school he left behind crashes and burns?
Ron Borges is a columnist for the Boston Herald.