NEW YORK (AP) -Michael Vick's plea agreement and Roger Goodell's decision Friday to suspend the Atlanta quarterback indefinitely add up to this: It's better than 50-50 that Vick will never play in the NFL again.
Vick might be out of jail in time for the 2008 or 2009 seasons. But the NFL commissioner made it clear that Vick's involvement in a dogfighting ring and bankrolling that operation were far too reprehensible for a simple post-prison ``you've served your time, you can go back on the field now.''
So Vick misses 2007 and likely will spend at least a portion of 2008 incarcerated. He is expected to get at least a year and perhaps more from U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson when he is sentenced.
Next season? Forget it. Goodell won't allow it.
``Your admitted conduct was not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible,'' Goodell wrote in the letter suspending Vick. ``Your team, the NFL, and NFL fans have all been hurt by your actions.''
That covers the dogfighting part - the part that riled up animal-rights groups and others.
In court papers filed in Richmond, Va., on Friday, Vick admitted that six to eight dogs not worthy of the pit were killed ``as a result of the collective efforts'' of himself and two co-defendants. The method of killing included drowning and hanging.
To the NFL, Vick's acknowledgment that he bankrolled gambling on the dogfights is even more serious. If anything terrifies the folks who run sports, it's gambling. Witness the problems for the NBA with the admission by a rogue referee that he bet on games.
``Even if you personally did not place bets, as you contend, your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player,'' Goodell wrote Vick.
You can argue that some of this is rhetoric, but most of it isn't.
During his year in office, Goodell has been portrayed as a hard-line guy, quick to crack down on any player who breaks the law. Those who think that way point to the suspensions: a year for Adam ``Pacman Jones; eight games each for Chris Henry and Tank Johnson. And now an indefinite suspension for Vick.
However, he tempered those suspensions by holding out the prospect of a reduction if the players involved behaved well.
Moreover, those who have known him during his more than two decades working his way up the ranks in the NFL regard him as a compassionate man who is not afraid to steer away from conventional wisdom. He keeps in a prominent place in his office a picture of his father, the late Charles Goodell, who as a U.S. senator opposed the Vietnam War, earned the enmity of the Nixon Administration and lost his seat because of it.
If there's a parallel between father and son, it's compassion. In Roger Goodell's case, compassion (and disgust) at the brutal treatment of canines.
That raises the question of whether compassion comes into play when Vick is released from prison.
It won't.
Yes, there was organized pressure on the NFL from animal-rights groups as soon as the allegations of dogfighting became known. But the public reaction was just as sharp.
Take the case of Kendale Smith in Green Bay, where, coincidentally, Michael Vick played one of his best games - a wild-card match - following the 2002 season.
Smith was arrested after police found evidence indicating he was training three pit bulls for fighting. As the trial began, Smith's lawyer, Tim Pedretti, requested that the courtroom be closed because the jury could be tainted if the case was compared to Vick's.
``(What) kind of aggravates the whole situation is what I think was fairly massive reporting with the regard to the Michael Vick case on every TV station, locally, nationally, talk shows, which I think just has the impact of focusing more attention on this case,'' Pedretti said.
What will aggravate Vick's situation when and if Goodell clears him to play is that the public clamor will remain - centered on any team that even thinks of signing Vick, who clearly has seen his last game in Atlanta.
Beyond that, he will be 30 years old, his skills eroded by three years of inactivity. Yes, he will try to keep himself in shape. But few players come back in the NFL after missing three years, especially players who depend on speed and quickness.
Maybe someone will take a chance (Oakland?). And maybe Vick will return with some of his skills intact.
But it's a big maybe.
AP Football Writer Dave Goldberg has covered the NFL since 1984.

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