Compare and Contrast 3 N.C.A.A. Rulings
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 13, 2012
The comparison is inevitable, and only natural. We now have three recent N.C.A.A. rulings at our disposal: U.S.C., from June of 2010; Ohio State, from last December; and U.N.C., with the latter’s Public Infractions Report hitting the wires yesterday afternoon. As a quick reminder:
U.S.C. Impermissible benefits and amateurism violations stemming from Reggie Bush’s relationship with the financiers behind the now-defunct New Era Sports agency, as well as the school’s failure to report said violations, led the N.C.A.A. to cite the university for a lack of institutional control. As a result, the N.C.A.A. penalized U.S.C. 30 scholarships over the next three years and handed out a two-year postseason ban.
Ohio State According to the N.C.A.A., multiple players accepted impermissible benefits – selling team paraphernalia, accepting goods and services from local businesses. In addition, Jim Tressel not only had knowledge of these violations but denied all such knowledge, failing to disclose to the N.C.A.A. the breadth of his player’s missteps. As a result, the N.C.A.A. docked the program nine scholarships over three years and added a one-year postseason ban.
U.N.C. Hot off the presses: impermissible benefits, unethical conduct, academic fraud and a failure to monitor. According to the N.C.A.A., seven players received cash benefits – totaling $27,544.88 – from individuals who “triggered N.C.A.A. agent legislation.” While employed by the university, former assistant coach John Blake was involved in a partnership with an agent, Gary Wichard, and lied about this relationship when interviewed by N.C.A.A. investigators.
As a result, the Tar Heels were docked 15 scholarships over the next three years and handed a one-year postseason ban. In addition, the program will begin a three-year probationary period beginning next March, joining the self-imposed probation that begin last fall, and must vacate all victories from the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
What you see here are three fairly similar sets of violations: each program was found guilty of accepting impermissible benefits, with two — U.S.C. and U.N.C. — penalized for the improper relationship between student-athletes and agents. The N.C.A.A. report for U.S.C. indicated that only one player stepped out of line; for U.N.C., it was shown that seven had such improper dealings.
For Ohio State, it was found that a head coach failed to disclose his knowledge of the particulars of the case to the N.C.A.A.; for U.N.C., an assistant coach lied to N.C.A.A. investigators on two occasions. At U.S.C., the report alleged that an assistant coach, Todd McNair, was aware of Bush’s relationship with New Era Sports and had dealings with representatives from that agency on at least one occasion.
What’s the takeaway? In the particulars of each case, what separates U.S.C. from U.N.C., U.S.C. from Ohio State and U.N.C. from Ohio State? Why did the N.C.A.A. so stringently penalize the Trojans when compared to its rulings with the Buckeyes and Tar Heels?
Here’s one item to take from the comparison in each case: It pays to cooperate. With U.N.C., the N.C.A.A. was quick to point out that the university “cooperated fully” with its investigation. U.S.C. did not; the Trojans stood tall, failing to walk hand-in-hand with the N.C.A.A. during its review of the case, and might have paid a stiff price for doing so.
But was Ohio State fully cooperative? Tressel knew about his program’s violations nearly a year before they became public. Both athletic director Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee have been publicly chastened for their failure to get out in front of the developing situation, not to mention their continued failure to properly handle the N.C.A.A. investigation and ensuing penalties.
Here’s the takeaway: There continues to be an enormous disconnect between the N.C.A.A. ruling with U.S.C. and its subsequent rulings with both U.N.C. and Ohio State. One, U.S.C., was handed substantial penalties for the misdeeds of one single player — there was more, like McNair’s missteps, but Bush’s rampant misconduct formed the heart of the final ruling.
Despite that fact, the N.C.A.A. labeled the entire program as outside-the-lines rule breakers, with the end result a two-year bowl ban and the sort of scholarship reductions that may cause irreparable long-term damage to the U.S.C. program. The Trojans bounced back in 2011, but the lost scholarships may knock the program back down to earth in 2013 and 2014.
It’s the plural that differentiates U.S.C. from the Buckeyes and Tar Heels. Player: players. Why was U.S.C. penalized so heavily when compared to O.S.U. and U.N.C. when the latter pair had several players knowingly committing N.C.A.A. violations? Is it simply a matter of timing — U.S.C. was first?
The big question: What would U.S.C.’s penalties be today? If Ohio State came first, would the Buckeyes be in the middle of 30 lost scholarships and a two-year postseason ban? Considering that U.N.C. also had players dealing with agents, would the school have landed U.S.C.-like penalties had it come first, not the Trojans?
We have three possible conclusions. One, the N.C.A.A. knows it overstepped in the U.S.C. violations. As a result, the N.C.A.A. has attempted to right the ship, in a way, with its rulings with the Buckeyes and Tar Heels. Two, that U.S.C. didn’t cooperate with the investigation was its undoing. However, Ohio State took a similar tack — why weren’t the Buckeyes as heavily penalized?
And three, the N.C.A.A. wanted to make a statement with the Trojans; in particular, the N.C.A.A. wanted to make an example of Bush, a once-legendary Heisman winner whose name is now synonymous with N.C.A.A. violations. Perhaps the N.C.A.A. wanted his name to arise whenever another student-athlete even considered a rules violation — if they did that to Bush, what would they do to me?
Here’s the basic takeaway: U.S.C. was stepped on, chewed up and spit out in its N.C.A.A. ruling. In comparison, Ohio State and U.N.C. got off easy. In comparison, you see similar rules violations with dissimilar rulings. What does this mean to U.S.C.? Nothing. For the Trojans, the violations serve as a painful and seemingly never-ending reminder of the N.C.A.A.’s capriciousness.
That U.N.C. got off with a less-stringent ruling — like Ohio State before it — simply reinforces the belief that the Trojans were unfairly penalized. Once again, there’s a disconnect between N.C.A.A. rulings. Preaching the virtues of sportsmanship, impartiality and fair-mindedness is one thing; the N.C.A.A. should also practice what it preaches.
Tags: Jim Tressel, John Blake, N.C.A.A. rulebook, N.C.A.A. violations, Ohio State, Reggie Bush, U.N.C, U.S.C.
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