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P.S.R. Op-Ed

Compare and Contrast 3 N.C.A.A. Rulings

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.

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  1. Kazzy says:

    What about Boise State’s ruling, I think it might be insightful to add them in this list.

  2. Hokieshibe says:

    Wasn’t USC also punished more heavily because of the basketball program? I thought that was part of the reason that the Trojans got hammered. The Bush thing was going on right around the same time the Mayo thing went down. Correct me if I’m mistaken.

  3. DMK says:

    If you get arrested holding a marijuana cigarette your punishment will depend on what state you’re in, what attorney you have, how old you are, what your skin color is, and the whim of the arresting officer, prosecutor, judge and jury.

    Exactly the same crime, huge range of outcomes.

    And that’s in real life.

    Legalize it! (Pay for play, of course.)

  4. Gotham Gator says:

    I disagree that USC and Ohio State were similar in how they stonewalled the NCAA. Ohio State was slow to acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations, but they eventually fired Tressel and cooperated.

    USC stonewalled from start to finish.

    I agree that USC’s transgressions were less serious than the other school’s, but they have nobody but themselves to blame for the penalties.

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    Of course Ohio St and Delaney made certain that key players were eligible for a much needed Sugar Bowl win over an SEC school during the process.

  6. Nicholas says:

    What’s not mentioned in this article is that there was an investigation into USC’s basketball team simultaneously because of OJ Mayo receiving improper benefits, and that they fact that two programs had these problems lead to a ruling that the athletic department had systemic issues. UNC and Ohio State’s basketball teams aren’t in the same trouble USC’s was in.

    Paul: It’s not mentioned because it has no bearing on the football penalties listed above. The “lack of institutional control” was applied because of U.S.C.’s issues with football and basketball. The football penalties are because of Reggie Bush, not O.J. Mayo. For example, Oklahoma football wasn’t penalized when the N.C.A.A. cracked down on the men’s basketball program in November.

  7. [...] the Southern Cal cheating case so different from Ohio State’s and North Carolina’s?  Beats me. GA_googleFillSlot("wpcom_sharethrough_viplite"); Share [...]

  8. Hokieshibe says:

    But Paul, it does have a bearing. USC had 2 sports teams simultaneously going through scandals. That’s why it got tagged with a lack of institutional control. It’s not “lack of institutional control with regards to football.”

    And then on top of that, it had an athletic director actively thumbing his nose at the NCAA and stonewalling them at every point in the investigation. That’s like flipping the judge the bird during a trial – of course you’re going to get a harsher sentence.

    You can’t look at just the sentences in a vacuum – it’s misleading.

  9. Paul says:

    Agree with earlier commenter that USC stonewalled all the way, while OSU eventually acknowledged wrongdoing.

    Also, Reggie Bush’s trangression was so well known that the thought is “how could you not know”… while the tattoos and gold pants were less showy.

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