Friday, July 22, 2011

NCAA chooses head-in-sand option

I was pretty sure this was a mistake when I first heard about it. I mean, seriously, there's no possible way Ohio State's getting off this easy ... right?

Ohio State likely won't face the most severe charges possible in the memorabilia-for-cash-and-tattoos scandal that cost football coach Jim Tressel his job.

NCAA investigators said they found no evidence that Ohio State failed to properly monitor its football program or any evidence of a lack of institutional control, according to a letter sent to the university and released Friday.

NCAA investigators also said they have not found any new violations.

OK ... first of all, "NCAA investigators said they found no evidence that Ohio State failed to properly monitor its football program or any evidence of a lack of institutional control." That's a joke, right? I mean, OSU has been rewriting the freakin' definition of "lack of institutional control" for the last five months:

  1. Star quarterback and three other offensive starters (not exactly no-name guys people wouldn't have noticed around town) -- as well as one defensive backup -- each receive hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars worth of impermissible benefits.
  2. Head coach finds out about players receiving improper benefits, doesn't tell anyone for a full year, lies about it repeatedly to the NCAA and covers it up so the aforementioned players (important ones, of course) can remain eligible.
  3. Information comes out through a federal investigation, and the school then claims that it "self-reported" the violations, an obvious lie that's not even a good one.
  4. School suspends coach for two games and claims that the violations were "an isolated incident," which turns out almost immediately to be an embarrassing lie, leading to the coach's resignation and later acknowledgement that he knew the football program was "gonna pay the fiddler" at some point due to the extent of violations.
  5. School releases records showing that compliance warned football administration about players receiving improper vehicle-related benefits as far back as seven years ago (!!!).
  6. Records show that a particular friendly car dealer was the source of more than half the football players' car purchases (and those of many of their out-of-state family members, since it's so convenient to drive hundreds of miles to look at and buy a car), and that same car dealer received sideline passes from various players until the athletic department decided that was a "conflict of interest" (duh).
  7. Compliance director signs off on releasing NCAA emergency funds for an athlete's car repair in April despite that not being listed as an applicable usage and despite the repairs occurring at the dealership known to represent a "conflict of interest."
  8. School acknowledges that it has large amounts of missing equipment items that were either not tracked (a pretty bad oversight) or were just allowed to be taken by players and sold/traded away, which would seem hard to believe if not for the extent of other shenanigans.
I could go on all day, but that's a pretty good summary of things that definitely happened and that the school has acknowledged/admitted.

Even if there is absolutely nothing else to add to the case -- and I'll get to that momentarily -- the undeniable fact is that the list above represents an impressive accumulation of major NCAA violations, a general defiance for rules and laughable administrative incompetence. Lack of institutional control? Obviously.

Remember this quote?
“The real issue here is if you have high-profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level,” NCAA committee chairman Paul Dee said. “So high-profile players demand high-profile compliance.”
That was the part of the NCAA's justification for the massive penalties dumped on USC. There seems to be a disconnect here, yes?

Sticking with the USC comparison, the main reason their punishment was so shockingly severe was that the compliance issues stretched between two sports (football and basketball). But that doesn't mean the football team's bowl ban and devastating scholarship cuts were due to Tim Floyd giving O.J. Mayo envelopes of cash; I feel pretty confident saying that the overall lack of oversight in the athletic department contributed more to the extent of punishment than the type of punishment (for example, that "lack of institutional control" might have been the NCAA's reasoning for yanking 15 scholarships per year rather than 10).

USC's football program got hammered primarily because Reggie Bush was getting large amounts of cash/free rent/impermissible benefits and the NCAA determined that the school (Todd McNair, specifically) should have known about it. That was a bit of a jumping-to-conclusions decision, but it wasn't an unreasonable one.

In the Ohio State case, you have five players who received impermissible benefits over an unknown period of time (less valuable but more widespread violations than in the Reggie Bush case) and the head coach (not just a position coach) definitely knowing about it, lying about it repeatedly to the NCAA and covering it up in order to keep his players eligible. The school didn't cooperate, lied about how the information was discovered and tried to sweep everything under the rug before the media pulled out the dirt.

There is no question: The Ohio State violations were worse, if for no reason other than the head coach's involvement and coverup. The rest is comparable, but Jim Tressel's hilarious email chain and the school's reaction to it -- "I just hope the head coach doesn't dismiss me," for example -- take "lack of institutional control" to another level.

Yet the NCAA finds "no evidence that Ohio State failed to adequately monitor its football program." Head asplode.

And then there's this:
NCAA investigators also said they have not found any new violations.
Did they read Sports Illustrated or talk to any of those witnesses? Did they look into Terrelle Pryor's extensive collection of "loaner" cars (which, by rule, must also be available to every other student-athlete in order to not represent an impermissible benefit)? What about Dennis Talbott and his impressive assortment of signed memorabilia and golf outings with Pryor at the local country club? Those were totally on the up-and-up?

The only possible explanations for NCAA investigators not finding any new violations are:
  • They're sitting at their desks playing WordFeud rather than doing anything useful.
  • They're walking around Columbus with their heads up their asses.
That's it. Between ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Columbus Dispatch and the gazillion other media outlets in on the feeding frenzy, I could fly into Columbus right now and bump into somebody at the airport holding proof of an NCAA violation. Seriously, just look around.

Come August 12, Ohio State will go before the Committee on Infractions with an O.J. Simpson-esque smirk on its collective face. The recent standard of punishment has been at a two-for-one level (for example, playing two ineligible players for a year equals four lost scholarships for a year, and playing in one postseason tournament with ineligible players equals a two-year postseason ban); by that template, Ohio State should get absolutely no less than a two-year postseason ban and 10 lost scholarships for two years (one year for the ineligibility and one for the coverup). If they get away with simply saying "we're really sorry, so we'll pretend we didn't win all those games last year," the idea of upholding the already-outdated model of amateurism might as well be thrown into a bonfire along with the NCAA rulebook.

The lesson (assuming that happens): cheat. If you're a coach, cheat -- you might eventually lose your job as the scapegoat, but you'll walk away with tens of millions of dollars in the bank and the adoration of fans everywhere because you beat Michigan almost 90 percent of the time. If you're an administrator, cheat -- nobody cares about you, and by looking the other way, you help ensure your athletic department's success and add more zeroes to your paycheck. If you're a booster, cheat until you're blue in the face -- you're not in anybody's jurisdiction, and as long as the school has plausible deniability, all the NCAA can do is say "hey, all those games your team won didn't really happen" ... except you have the memories and memorabilia that say they did.

I would cheat. Why not?

Until the NCAA can answer that question, I'd cheat until I ran out of ways to cheat.

As for Ohio State ... ugh. When Stewart Mandel is right, reality is wrong.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.