- Sal Paolantonio, SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
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In Friday's meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Ben Roethlisberger's representatives plan to ask the commissioner to reduce the six-game suspension by at least three games, bringing along team president Arthur J. Rooney II to the New York meeting to support the quarterback's case, sources with knowledge of upcoming proceedings told ESPN.
Roethlisberger was suspended in April for six games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy a week after prosecutors decided not charge him in a case involving a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub in March.
At the time, Goodell pledged to consider reducing the length of the suspension if Roethlisberger complied with a number of league-imposed conditions, including a comprehensive behavioral evaluation, and stayed clear of any other off-field problems.
Most observers believe Goodell has had in his mind all along to reduce the suspension by two games to four. But Roethlisberger's attorney, David Cornwell, is expected to ask for a greater reduction in the suspension, according to those with knowledge of discussions between the commissioner's office and the quarterback's representatives.
Some in the Roethlisberger camp have argued that since Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the personal conduct policy who has not been arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime, he should not be suspended more than two games. His camp has always considered the six-game suspension too harsh. But few believe Goodell will go that far, and some in the Roethlisberger camp do not want to anger the commissioner by asking for too much.
Goodell wrote to Roethlisberger in April: "The Personal Conduct Policy makes clear that I may impose discipline 'even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime' as, for example, where the conduct 'imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person' ... or conduct that 'undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL.' "
At the time of the suspension, Rooney released a statement agreeing with and supporting Goodell's ruling. It's not known what role Rooney will play during Friday's meeting between the commissioner and Roethlisberger.
If the suspension is reduced to four games, as expected, Roethlisberger would presumably spend the Steelers' bye in Week 5 getting ready to start at home against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 -- giving him two weeks of preparation for his first game back.
Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was critical of Roethlisberger in an interview with the Shreveport Times.
"Going to bars -- treating women like that; oh my God," Bradshaw told the Times. "I pray they don't cut [his NFL suspension] to four games. I hope they leave it at six. There is no excuse for that. The egos get out of hand."
The Steelers were heartened last month when Goodell said Roethlisberger was going "above and beyond" what the league asked him to do since the two-time Super Bowl winner was accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. The quarterback has stayed out of trouble since the March incident, and he spent considerable time during training camp interacting with the team's fans.
"I'm very encouraged by what he's doing," Goodell said at Steelers training camp. "He hasn't just done what he's been told to do, I think he's worked hard to really try to improve and focus on himself and understand what he's been through and what he's going to do differently going forward. I think that's a very positive thing."
Asked what the league still needs to see, Goodell said, "He's got to work through the program that's designed for him to help him. A lot of that is confidential, but he's done it and he's done it with enthusiasm. I think that's a good thing."
Roethlisberger played two series in the Steelers' final preseason game, completing 4 of 6 passes for 39 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Pittsburgh.
Byron Leftwich, expected to be the Steelers' starting quarterback while Roethlisberger is suspended, hurt his left knee during the first half Thursday.
Leftwich completed an 18-yard pass to rookie Emmanuel Sanders before being knocked off his feet as running back Mewelde Moore attempted to block safety Marcus Hudson. The play occurred with 10:25 left in the second quarter Thursday night.
Leftwich was examined by team doctors on a stretcher behind the Steelers' bench, then limped into a nearby tunnel that leads to the locker room. Team officials said he would not return to the game.
Sal Paolantonio is an NFL reporter for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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