Ben Roethlisberger's ban at 4 games

NEW YORK -- Ben Roethlisberger's suspension has been cut from six games to four by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' star quarterback met with Goodell early Friday and was told he could return on Oct. 17 against Cleveland.

In that one-on-one meeting, which took place at Westchester County Airport, about 30 miles north of the NFL offices in Manhattan, Roethlisberger was contrite and real, a source with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. Then Goodell informed Roethlisberger that the suspension would be reduced -- but that Roethlisberger must continue to avoid any further violations of the personal conduct policy.

Roethlisberger was suspended in April for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but Goodell said at the time he would review the player's behavior over the next few months. Goodell was satisfied that the quarterback has followed the league's guidelines and stayed out of trouble.

"I have learned a lot over the past several months about myself as a person," Roethlisberger said in a statement. "I am committed to continuing on this path of being the type of person my family raised me to be, and exceeding what is expected of me as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student following a night of drinking in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar on March 5. He was not charged by Georgia authorities.

The league said the "reinstatement is contingent on Roethlisberger continuing to adhere to the program established by our advisors and avoiding any further violations of the personal conduct policy."

"You have told me and the Steelers that you are committed to making better decisions," Goodell said in a letter to Roethlisberger. "Your actions over the past several months have been consistent with that promise and you must continue to honor that commitment."

Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the NFL's personal conduct policy who was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. However, Goodell said in April the policy allows him to impose such a penalty when the league's integrity and reputation are at stake.

Roethlisberger's representatives at one point wanted the suspension cut in half, to three games, but Goodell stipulated in April it would be a six-game ban that could only be reduced to four games.

Steelers president Art Rooney accompanied Roethlisberger on his trip to see Goodell. Rooney and his organization kept in frequent contact with Goodell throughout the four-month process, during which Roethlisberger underwent extensive evaluations.

Indeed, Goodell's ruling was made in consultation with Rooney and the Steelers, who were angered by the two-time Super Bowl winner's behavior and would have punished him if the league hadn't.

"Commissioner Goodell informed us today that Ben Roethlisberger's suspension has been reduced to four games," Rooney said. "Ben has done a good job this summer of growing as the person that he needs to be, both on and off the field. I am confident that Ben is committed to continuing in this positive direction. As a team, our focus is now on preparing for the regular season and getting off to a good start on opening weekend."

Roethlisberger and Goodell met last month at the team's training camp in Latrobe, Pa. At that time, Goodell said he was encouraged by the progress Roethlisberger was making and promised to make his decision on the term of the suspension before the regular season began.

Goodell kept his word Friday.

While he is out, Roethlisberger can't practice with the Steelers, nor can he attend games or represent the team publicly in any way. He can't have contact with any member of the coaching staff or football operations personnel.

Roethlisberger plans to work with a California-based quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield, and he'll throw to some free-agent receivers who are looking for work in the league. This weekend, he's going to regroup with close friends and former Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge, who has become his mentor.

The Steelers re-signed Byron Leftwich and planned to start him in Roethlisberger's absence.

But Leftwich hurt his left knee in Thursday night's exhibition finale against Carolina. Sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that Leftwich has a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament that could sideline him for most or all of the first month of the season.

The Steelers could be down to Dennis Dixon and veteran Charlie Batch while Roethlisberger is suspended, and would certainly need to add another quarterback.

Pittsburgh hosts Atlanta, plays at Tennessee and Tampa Bay and then hosts division rival Baltimore before an Oct. 10 bye. Roethlisberger can begin practicing with the Steelers on Oct. 4.

Roethlisberger also is being sued in Nevada by a woman who says he sexually assaulted her there in 2008. No charges were brought in that case, and it did not figure in the NFL's suspension.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN's Sal Paolantonio was used in this report.