Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Funny business and the NCAA's new standard

So I got back from Vegas on Sunday and was thinking, "Man, it's been like five days since any crazy OSU-related fallout," which was both sad and surprising.

And then I saw a story on the wire slugged "Ohio St-Players' Cars" that seemed to have promise but turned out to be pretty benign:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Two Columbus-area dealerships made money on 24 of 25 sales made to Ohio State football players and family members.

In a 65-page report issued Tuesday, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles said the certificates of titles for 25 vehicle sales by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to Ohio State players and their families accurately reflected the vehicles' sales prices. ...

The BMV investigation found no evidence that tickets and/or sports memorabilia were included in the sales

A BMV investigator found vehicles bought at Auto Direct were sold for an average of $2,000 over their wholesale purchase prices, the report said.

That's obviously (relatively) good news for Ohio State. One fewer nail in the program's coffin, so to speak.

It won't help that much, though. The tattoo thing in and of itself was problematic, representing major violations spread throughout several years and ignored (or plausibly unknown) by compliance. Also bad: the complete lack of vehicle-related compliance while half the team was cruising around with dealer plates, although that's more of a black eye than a bullet in the knee. The autographs-for-golf-and-stuff swaps Dennis Talbot was arranging: worse yet, especially considering that the school obviously knew what he was doing since it cut him off from free tickets two years ago but failed to remove his access to the players/program.

Those alone might not have constituted a lack of institutional control (the worst-case scenario for the school), but when Chris Cicero emailed Jim Tressel and shenanigans ensued -- the coverup, the Sugar Bowl ridiculousness, the emails and phone calls to Pryor "mentor" Ted Sarniak, the hilariously botched press conferences riddled with lies from Tressel and AD Gene Smith -- it was over for OSU. The question isn't "how bad?" It's "how disastrous?"

In that regard, the car-sales legitimacy knocks things down a notch on the disastrous scale. If SMU was an 11 (out of 10) and USC was a 7, Ohio State has dropped from maybe a 9 to an 8.

Adding a ridiculously widespread extra-benefits system like Tressel's Used Car Emporium would've left OSU looking at whatever is the worst possible punishment short of the death penalty. Now ... maybe a four-year bowl ban becomes a three-year bowl ban or something. It's kinda hard to say at this point how much (if any) impact the fishy car-related stuff -- from Pryor's unending cycle of loaners to the "friendly" dealership to the lack of compliance oversight -- will have on the NCAA's ultimate decision.

Meanwhile, over in Chapel Hill, the parking-tickets-for-everyone hilarity has gotten downright weird:
Between March 9 and April 29, 2009, (Greg) Little’s Dodge was issued 16 parking violations under three separate license plates. The car was cited three days in a row from March 30 to April 2, and each time had a different plate. On April 13, the car was cited twice, with two different plate numbers.
Errr ... what? Who changes license plates twice a day?
Several license plate numbers provided on a list of former and current UNC football players’ parking tickets between March 2007 and August 2010 are linked to a car dealer currently serving time in a federal prison for money laundering.
Oh. OK then.

And I briefly mentioned the John Blake phone records the other day, but seriously:
Former North Carolina assistant coach John Blake was in communication with UNC football players Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas during their trip to a training facility in California before the 2009 season.

Cellphone records obtained following a court ruling in a lawsuit filed against the university by The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and other news organizations also show that Blake, head coach Butch Davis' top recruiter for three and a half years, used a university-paid number to contact (phone calls or texts) numbers associated with NFL agent Gary Wichard and Davis during the players' visit.
To translate: An assistant coach knew his guys were meeting with an agent in violation of NCAA rules, might have been involved with arranging the trip, didn't report any of it and was in contact with them -- and possibly the agent and head coach -- from his university-paid phone during their visit.

Maybe Blake was some sort of rogue underling hoping to set up a bunch of money-on-the-side deals (not totally unlikely), but regardless, Butch Davis has become the Simpson-ized Whitey Ford, with pretzels raining down from above:

If the NCAA can connect him to any of the Blake stuff, he's done. If they just decide that he should have known and hit him with a "failure to monitor" charge, he might be able to survive, although that's assuming UNC doesn't say "screw it" and just fire him after a year and a half of NCAA investigators poking around campus and players getting suspended. He's walking between the raindrops at this point.

This is where I call on Brian at MGoBlog to (as usual) hit the nail on the head:
The question the NCAA is going to have to answer soon is "how obviously fishy does something have to be before we punish someone?" ... The NCAA dared to make inferences in the USC case, something that forms the basis for much of the Trojan outrage surrounding the case. They made a leap of logic many fourth-graders could make.
A new standard for guilt was established in the USC case. It's no longer a courtroom-style version of reasonable doubt; it's "if we think you're guilty, you're guilty."

The evidence against USC was essentially the following:
  1. A photo of assistant coach Todd McNair with the wannabe agents (Lloyd Lake and the spectacularly named Michael Michaels) who threw a house and piles of money at Reggie Bush.
  2. A couple of documented phone calls between McNair and Lake, whom McNair told the NCAA he had never met.
From there, the big inference was that USC must have (or at least should have) known what was goin' down. It was the NCAA equivalent of O.J.'s armed robbery case or Al Capone's tax evasion: They've gotta be punished for something even if we can't really prove the blatant stuff.

In both the OSU and UNC situations, there are some obviously sketchy things going on that might be almost certainly are violations of various degrees. For Butch Davis and Carolina, pretty much all the evidence (at least everything other than the already-established violations that led to last year's suspensions) falls under that category. For OSU, it's a much smaller subsection of the overall violations and will only serve to determine how nuclear the bomb will be.

Given the precedent and the repeated statements from NCAA prez Mark Emmert about making sure that "the cost of violating the rules costs more than not violating them," my guess is that neither school is gonna be real happy with the final notice of allegations and ensuing hammer droppage.

Side note: MGoBlog includes Oregon's questionable-at-best "recruiting package" payments as part of the argument, but I need to see a little more on that before I'm ready to throw them into the sinking boat with Ohio State and UNC. Then again, I guess that's kinda the point: How sketchy is too sketchy?


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