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Goodell clears Roethlisberger to return to Steelers

NEW YORK -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleared Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers beginning next week, although no decision has been made on any reduction of the quarterback's suspension.

Goodell suspended Roethlisberger without pay for six games last month after a 20-year-old female college student accused the quarterback of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. No charges were filed.

Roethlisberger underwent a behavioral evaluation as part of the suspension, which could be reduced to four games by Goodell, who will review the case again before the regular season.

The Steelers' next offseason workout is Tuesday, the first of three next week. The team has three workouts the following week, then is off until training camp starts July 30.

Roethlisberger already was cleared to join the Steelers in camp, and he can play in preseason games.

"Commissioner Goodell informed us today that based on the information he received from the clinical evaluations, he has cleared Ben Roethlisberger to return to the Steelers' facility to take part in both meetings and practices," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "We look forward to having Ben rejoin his teammates on the practice field."

Roethlisberger will be suspended through the Oct. 24 game against the Miami Dolphins and can return the next day. His first game would be Oct. 31 against the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

If the suspension is reduced to four games, Roethlisberger would return for an Oct. 17 home matchup against the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger is the first player who hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime yet suspended by Goodell under the NFL personal-conduct policy. When he handed down the penalty, Goodell cited a "pattern of behavior" that gave him the right to impose discipline on Roethlisberger even though no law was broken.

Roethlisberger also is being sued by a woman who accused him of raping her at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino in 2008. He denied the allegation and wasn't charged.

Sitting out all six games would cost the two-time Super Bowl winner an estimated $2.8 million of his $102 million total contract.

In Roethlisberger's absence, the Steelers have used Byron Leftwich as the first-string quarterback in practices. Leftwich likely will be the starter in the Sept. 12 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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