Friday, August 12, 2011

Ohio State awaits a verdict

Ohio State's final NCAA hearing/plea for pity came and went Friday in relatively quick fashion, lasting just four hours (IIRC, the infamous USC hearing dragged on for about two days). The only real "newsy" item that came out of it was Ohio State's decision to give back its Sugar Bowl paycheck of about $340,000, a very noble act given the way the school appealed to get its five ineligible players cleared for a game it never should have been playing in.

Media people weren't allowed, so nobody knows what Jim Tressel or anybody else had to say outside of his statement that "I had an open and constructive exchange with the committee on infractions." I'm sure he did. What we do know is this: Gene Smith said afterward that a final ruling is expected in about eight weeks, which puts the big announcement smack dab in the middle of the season. If it's bad, it could be really bad for morale and recruiting ... but it probably won't be that bad.

In a remarkable stroke of coincidence (totally a coincidence, I'm sure), the NCAA's much-debated July 13 letter was released by ESPN on Friday, and the content is ... ummm ... interesting:
On Monday, the enforcement staff conducted another call with institutional officials and determined that it is possible to move forward with the August 12 hearing while acknowledging the additional review is necessary. At this point in the inquiry, the available evidence does not warrant additional allegations; however, the investigation remains open. As a result, the staff and institution agreed not to postpone the currently scheduled hearing date of August 12 while we finalize the investigation of the remaining open issues. The institution understands and agrees that additional allegations may result from the ongoing inquiry and that the violations set forth in the current notice of allegations may form the partial basis for a failure to monitor of lack of institutional control when viewed in light of any additional violations. The institution also understands that if new violations are discovered, a second hearing may be necessary.
The NCAA is definitely leaving open the possibility of coming down hard in the future, and because of that, I've come to the following conclusions:
  1. The investigators have some information that they think is damaging but hasn't been confirmed or thoroughly fleshed out (whether that'll ever happen is completely unknown).
  2. The penalties stemming from the original report won't be terribly severe.
Regarding that first conclusion, word on the interwebs is that the guy named Ellis who was heavily sourced in the Sports Illustrated expose has met with the NCAA, which obviously would be bad news for OSU since he seemed to have the scoop on everybody's shady dealings. If that tweet is accurate (and that's a big if), it would explain the NCAA's stance, which is basically: "We think we know some stuff but wanna hear it from the horse's mouth and will then determine a course of action."

As for the second statement, I'm coming to grips with the fact that the TatGate stuff alone isn't going to result in devastating penalties. I mentioned at some point recently that the recent NCAA standard has been two for one: For example, if you play two ineligible players, you lose four scholarships for a year (or two for two years). Based on that, I'd expect OSU to lose 10 total scholarships -- stretched out over some not-super-long period of time -- on top of the meaningless probation the school has offered to "impose" on itself.

What makes the OSU case so much more egregious than usual (and thus harder to predict) is Tressel's involvement. There's a big difference between finding out after the fact that a player was ineligible, which is normally what happens, and knowing about it/covering it up in order to win as many games as possible ... so that seems bad. Maybe the fact that he's gone offsets that, but maybe the fact that he "retired" and wasn't actually punished in any meaningful way pushes things back in the other direction. And does the whole Sugar Bowl fiasco potentially bring postseason sanctions into play? I dunno. It's a weird scenario.

But since I'm somewhat obligated to make a prediction (which will probably change repeatedly in the next two months), here you go: Five scholarships stripped for each of the next two seasons, a fine proportionate to the school's Sugar Bowl earnings and no postseason ban. Oh, and the always-devastating probationary period.

In (approximately) October, we'll find out one way or another ... unless the NCAA comes across something of substance before then, in which case there could be a much more meaningful hearing after the season that would make this one seem like a pat on the back. Another hearing would mean another notice of allegations, and another notice of allegations would almost certainly mean a failure to monitor and a lack of institutional control. If that happens, all bets are off and I'll be preparing a new bag of popcorn.


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