NEW ORLEANS – Ohio State players facing five-game suspensions next season would not have traveled with the team to the Sugar Bowl if they had not pledged to return in 2011, head coach Jim Tressel said on Thursday.
The five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, have been punished by the NCAA for selling championship rings and memorabilia and taking discounts from a tattoo parlor.
Tressel said he wanted to make sure that the players wouldn't "skirt the consequences" by playing in the Sugar Bowl, then declaring for the NFL draft and avoiding any punishment.
"We told them they would have to make the decision on the NFL prior to leaving for the bowl game," Tressel said at his first Sugar Bowl news conference. "It wouldn't be fair to not face the consequences down the road."
Tressel says their playing time against the Razorbacks will hinge only on how they practice and fit into the game plan.
The other players are tailback Dan Herron, offensive tackle Mike Adams, receiver DeVier Posey and defensive end Solomon Thomas.
Tressel said he had instructed the players not to speak about the NCAA "issue" during Sugar Bowl week because of their pending appeal of the sanctions.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said he was pleased that the NCAA and Ohio State found a way to allow the players in question to compete in the Sugar Bowl.
"We want them to be eligible for the game," Petrino said. "We get to a bowl game of this magnitude, you want to play against their best players. So I think we're fortunate that they're eligible to play."
The players all sold items to or traded autographs for tattoos with the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.
The NCAA does not permit players to use their status as college athletes to get deals or freebies.
Four sold their 2008 Big Ten championship rings for $1,000 to $1,200 apiece, Herron sold his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000, Solomon and Pryor each sold their "gold pants" trinket — given to Buckeyes players if they beat Michigan — for several hundred dollars. Pryor also sold a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award.
Tressel said he was disappointed not only because his players broke the rules, but also because they sold what he thought of as important keepsakes from their football careers.
"A number of people reached out as we've been dealing with this thing maybe to calm my thinking or whatever, and one the thing said was, 'Keep in mind coach, you're dealing with a different generation. Back when you were growing up one guy got a trophy, maybe, and now you're dealing with a generation that if you were on the team and you were 7 years old, everyone got a trophy. Maybe this generation doesn't understand the value of awards like we did,'" Tressel said.
Tressel said he understood that argument, but was not sure that helped him justify what his players did.
The coach added that he hoped the players gained a greater appreciation for the significance of the items they sold after they visited the home of former Buckeye star Archie Griffin, who had the players over to his home.
Griffin, the only player to win two Heisman trophies, is the CEO of the Ohio State alumni association.
Tressel said Griffin told him, "The kids might get a different perspective when they look at my basement and see how important some of those things are to me."
Tressel called the experience "a valuable lesson" for the players.
"I've said many times: In adversity, lives are changed," Tressel said.