Sanctions...What Are They Good For?

Ever since Ohio State was sanctioned by the NCAA a couple of years ago for tattoo-gate, and then Penn State was hammered for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, some thoughts have been festering in my head about the way the NCAA penalizes programs that break the rules.

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. Schools break rules all the time. Without question, the NCAA has created a world where it's almost impossible to not break the rules at least a little without even trying. Between trivial recruiting violations, contact between players and coaches during the off-season (or during the season, as Michigan fans are well aware of), the NCAA rulebook is clearly out of control.

But we're not here to discuss the rules. It's only theoretically possible to construct a post that could even scratch the surface of the magnitude of rules the NCAA has for college football programs to abide by.

What we're here to talk about are the sanctions. What are sanctions? Why does the NCAA have them? Are they fair? Does it even matter?

The Process in a Nutshell
So you're an NCAA program that just broke a rule. Oops.

It was a big rule, too. Let's say a booster from your school provided "extra benefits" to a player or provided them a car to drive or a "no-show job". Well, first, did you find out before getting caught? Let's hope so.

But let's say you didn't know until it became public. Word got out on Twitter and the NCAA rules committee got word. What now? Well, hopefully the coach or coaches or administrators involved didn't lie about it (publicly or privately...but most importantly privately). Hopefully your AD is saying all the right things like "We regret the incident...blah blah blah...we're taking steps to ensure this never happens again...blah blah blah." That's an important step in the eyes of the NCAA.

But rules were broken and those responsible need to pay. But not the booster, of course. The NCAA enforcement staff is now going to investigate you. The timeline for this portion of the process varies by how much you messed up. You're going to have to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff by telling them everything about the incident(s).

Then, they're going to issue you a "notice of allegations". Basically, this is like a traffic ticket. The NCAA knows you messed up, and this is their way of letting you know they know.

Now is your chance to respond to the notice. You have two options here. One, accept the result of the NCAA's investigation and proceed from there (Not advised. You need to drag this process out). Or, two, you can request a hearing before the Committee on Infractions (COI) to challenge any of the findings. Be careful here. You're AD is going to integral in step of the process. Make sure he or she is in good standing with the NCAA.

If you request a hearing with the COI, that process takes only a day or two. Here you present your argument and what you're doing to ensure that you're, like, totally sorry and this kind of thing never usually happens.

Then, a few weeks later, the COI will issue a 24 notice that their final report is imminent. Buckle up folks.

Here's where things get a little nutty.

The final COI final report will outline everything you did wrong, the result of your response to the notice of allegations, and what sanctions you will need to endure to pay for what you did wrong.

Depending on what sort of program you are, sanctions will vary wildly. If you're a program that brings in a lot of revenue and/or is a marquee program for the NCAA, then expect minimal impact. Sure, you could've appeared more vigilant against boosters paying your players, but that's not what this is all about. The NCAA just needs to show that they're aware of what you did, and now you two must go through this little song and dance to appear like you're really paying a price for things you did wrong.

You also have the option to "self-impose" sanctions. This is always looked at kindly by the COI. A little time-out for your program can go a long way in proving you're an upstanding program that values cooperation and sportsmanship.

Expect to lose 3-5 scholarships over the next few years, and of course you're going to be put on NCAA probation. No one's really sure what probation is, but it sounds like a penalty so we're going to go with it. Don't worry. This will in no way impede your ability to run your program to it's full potential.

If you're a landmark case, like you did something no one else has ever done, then you might be expected to miss a bowl or two. Ohio State and USC experienced this. Penn State is really experiencing this. For your case though, I think you'll be okay with scholarship losses and some probation.

A popular sanction these days is to "vacate" wins from the seasons when you broke the rules. Again, this is a toothless penalty. Those games still really happened even though they're no longer wins in your record book. But they were wins then, and the losses for your opponents are still losses, so call this one a draw.

Recent high-profile cases
USC, 2010:
Reggie Bush drove free cars and his family received free houses from agents. It was highly regarded as about the worst breakage of the rules by a star player for a star program since Dickerson and SMU. All USC had to do was turn in his Heisman, lose 30 scholarships over 3 years and miss a couple bowls. Coach Pete Carroll flew town for the NFL before the NCAA came knocking because he obviously saw the writing on the wall. He wasn't the first or the last coach to do this.

Miami, 2011:
Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who ran a $930 million ponzi scheme back in 2009 is one of the worst cases of booster involvement in NCAA history. Between 2002-10, Shaprio dolled out a reported $2 million to Hurricane players. Miami has self-imposed sanctions in place, such as a bowl ban, and is awaiting official word from the NCAA.

Oregon, 2011:
Chip Kelly paid an outside recruiter $25,000 to bring in players like LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk to the Oregon program. After it turned out that the recruiting "materials" that Kelly paid for never existed in the first place, the NCAA became very interested. The crux of the sanctions in the Oregon case are that Kelly has an 18-month show-cause penalty for his role in the rule breakage. Normally, that's a death blow for a coach. Essentially, he's forbidden from working at an NCAA institution for that period of time.

No worries. Long before the sanctions came down, Kelly took the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Show-causes mean nothing in the NFL. For Oregon, the biggest blow is that they lost their coach.

Ohio State, 2011:
Similar to Oregon, Ohio State lost their coach to a resignation when it became public that he had lied to his athletic director about his knowledge of the tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal that shook Columbus. Tressel stepped down, and Ohio State was forced to bump Luke Fickell up to head coach for one season that should have included a self-imposed bowl ban, but didn't. The 6-5 Buckeyes went the Gator Bowl and lost to Florida.

But Ohio State was able to upgrade to Urban Meyer, and in his first season, went 12-0.

The true penalty for Ohio State that came out of Tattoo-Gate is the NCAA-imposed post-season ban took place in the year when they most certainly would've played Alabama for the BCS title.

Penn State, 2012:
Without going into too much detail, the biggest, baddest NCAA sanctions were dealt to Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. A $60 million penalty, 4 year bowl ban, loss of 20 scholarships a year for 4 years, and must vacate all wins since 1998. It's the closest thing to the "death penalty" dealt to SMU back in the early 80's.

Current Penn State players must pay for the poor decisions of their coaches and administrators. It's not a perfect system, but it's all the NCAA has to enforce it's rules. It's certainly not an exact science, either. But the common thread among most recent violations is that if you lied and/or tried to cover it up, then you get the hammer. Anything else amounts to a slap on the wrist.

So what's to stop a program from cheating just as long as they keep saying all the right things and own up to at least a part of the responsibility after the fact? Nothing.

Nothing at all.

So, sanctions...what are they good for? Absolutely nothin'...ho!

1 comment

  1. Actually your question should be, "What is the NCAA good for"? Absolutely NUTHIN