Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Comeuppance of the kinda-acceptable variety

So ... Ohio State. You know the story by now: one-year postseason ban (no Big Ten championship game or bowl), loss of nine scholarships spread over the next three years, probation and a five-year show-cause penalty for Jim Tressel.

I'm filing this under "acceptable," which is a small victory in the world of NCAA illogicality. I used to say things like "I'll lose all respect for the NCAA if (insert hypothetical and fair scenario here)." I lost respect for the NCAA a long time ago as I gained the realization that the NCAA has no real police power whatsoever. It's an organization almost totally dependent on schools doing the policing, which would be like asking the fox to police the hen house if the hens were both delicious and stuffed with money (mmmm, money hens). I've lowered my standards quite a bit; they hit rock bottom with the Cam Newton debacle.

The postseason ban is a real, tangible-ish penalty that will negatively affect Ohio State for at least the next year. So that's good. Like I said yesterday, I was expecting an NCAA tsk-tsk followed by an Urban Meyer tickling session and the continuation of my general frustration level.

But the reason it's "acceptable" and not "OMG YES SUCKEYES LOL" is two-fold: (a) it still doesn't align with precedent or the NCAA's stated desire to make it so schools "can no longer do a cost-benefit analysis of cheating" and (b) the long-term damage is minimal.

As for the precedent thing, I'm not just talking about USC. All those comparisons were interesting but not totally valid because the cases have a lot of differences, but if you break it down to just football, USC's penalties (a two-year bowl ban and 30 scholarships over three years) were still more than twice what Ohio State got despite having just one player involved in impermissible benefits (albeit at a much higher dollar amount) and one assistant coach who was very tenuously connected to him by a single picture. There was talk that the "lack of institutional control" charge and widespread indifference toward compliance bumped the penalties up a couple degrees, but I doubt it doubled them. So the Ohio State case was somehow deemed less severe even though there was documentation of widespread impermissible benefits -- including some from a big-money booster given access to the program -- for a bazillion athletes followed by an entire year of coverup by the head coach. It's hard to reconcile the penalties and the established facts of the cases.

But again, I'm not just talking about USC. The Committee on Infractions has established a precedent over the last several years: two units of punishment for one unit of screw-up. I can't find a specific link, so just look up any case from the last five-ish years and compare the punishment to the crimes. A 20-hour overage of countable practice time typically results in 40 hours of lost practice time over the next couple years. Improper benefits to three athletes for a year usually results in six lost scholarships for a year or two. And so on. Those are obviously flexible based on the circumstances, but they serve as a pretty good starting point when schools self-impose whatever they choose to self-impose.

A two-for-one situation with Ohio State would have yielded roughly the following: 16 lost scholarships per year for the next two years (eight players known to have received impermissible benefits) a two-year bowl ban (since the Tat 5 all played in last year's Sugar Bowl while known by Tressel to be ineligible) and two lost coaching-staff positions for one or two years (the Tressel fallout). The Gene Smith/Gordon Gee hilarity and lack of cooperation from Terrelle Pryor also should have affected things negatively given the COI's response to USC's consistent disregard for everything. Keep in mind that Tressel was never officially punished (he retired with benefits and pension intact) and the school did nothing of note until the "failure to monitor" charge came down, at which point a token scholarship reduction was put in place. Clearly, the actual punishment didn't come close to the two-for-one stuff. I'm not sure why, but it's the NCAA, so that's why. Dr. Saturday offers this:
The double standard is obvious enough. And the reason is just as clear: The NCAA is significantly less concerned with actions that is with reactions.
Pretty much. More on the cost-benefit thing momentarily.

As for the long-term thing ... yeah. Three lost scholarships per year for the next three years is not going to put Ohio State at a significant competitive disadvantage, especially with a guy who's raking in five-stars at a ridiculous rate. The next few classes will just get the fat cut off the bottom, which might have an impact on depth but shouldn't make a serious impact on overall quality.

The one-year bowl ban is even less damaging in that regard. It's probably the most embarrassing from a program/institution standpoint (excellent) but really doesn't mean much in the big picture. USC's two-year deal was waaay more painful because it cut the meaningful portion out of half of the incoming recruits' careers. That created an actual deterrent to committing to USC for high-end guys like DeAnthony Thomas with other comparable options. Ohio State's top commits are already coming out and saying they're solid, which makes sense since a postseason ban during your redshirt/backup season doesn't mean a whole lot. Long story short, I don't think the postseason ban will have any real effect on Ohio State's ability to win at any point in the future. I'm happy about it purely because of the embarrassment it represents to Gene Smith and everybody other snarky Ohio State fanboi who said things like this:
"It will be hilarious to watch the tears of the Ohio State-haters, though. They will be glorious, so let those tears flow. So much faux-anger about 20 year olds getting discounted tattoos and a few hundred bucks -- I can't wait. And when that biblical flood of tears come -- and it will come, my friends -- here's what I propose be the official reaction of every Ohio State fan to the haters: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯."
If you're wondering what their actual reaction was, their site was completely down after the penalties came out. Same with Bucknuts. In reality, they should be thankful for anything short of a USC-style cratering; I assure you that they are not since they still think Jim Tressel is God and believe Gene Smith can shoot a 38-under (with five aces!) in his first-ever round of golf.

Gratuitous picture:

Just replace "Americans" with "violations" and "Baghdad" with "Columbus" and that is absolutely perfect.

Jim Tressel has essentially been banned from coaching for the next five years; that's two more years than Bruce Pearl got and half of what Dave Bliss got for covering up a murder (!!!) that revealed his direct payments to players at Baylor. There was obviously some NCAA acknowledgment that a lot of stuff happened and a lot of nothing was done about it. But at the end of the day, the extent of the "punishment" amounts to erasing the 2010 season from history (impossible since it definitely happened), trading Tressel for Urban Meyer, cutting a couple third-stringers and missing the 2013 Capital One Bowl (or whatever). The fact that this is acceptable and borderline woo-worthy says a lot more about the NCAA than it does about the punishment.

Here's the full quote (courtesy the Los Angeles Times) from NCAA president Mark Emmert about the aforementioned cost-benefit thing:

Is addressing this deteriorating reputation your most important job?

Yes. The most important thing right now is for everyone in college sports to know they can no longer do a cost-benefit analysis of cheating.

Let's do one for Ohio State anyway. The cost: The stuff in the previous paragraph. The benefit (and I'm assuming the shenanigans were going on for a while given Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and Tressel's not-so-coincidental violations at Youngstown State): seven Big Ten championships, an 8-1 record against Michigan, eight BCS bowl games, a national championship and roughly $500 million in revenue* in Tressel's 10 years. Think they'd give all that stuff back for the 2013 Capital One Bowl? /rhetorical question.

If the goal is to ensure schools "know they can no longer do a cost-benefit analysis of cheating," the NCAA is failing miserably. Hammering USC was a step in that direction; the Ohio State thing is a step sideways.

FYI, this has nothing to do with the weird argument that the NCAA is in bed with the big money schools. The NCAA makes zero money from FBS football; all TV revenue and BCS payouts go to the conferences and all bowl payouts go directly to the schools. Almost exactly 90 percent of the NCAA's total revenue comes from the TV rights to the basketball tournament, and while there's probably some incalculable benefit to the schools with large fan bases being more visible in revenue sports, the NCAA has not suffered financially during the periods in which USC/Alabama/Ohio State/Michigan/Notre Dame whoever was blah. This is a weak-minded excuse for the kind of tinfoil-hat-wearing people who fill the ESPN comments sections with "ref$" and "O$U" and "RABBLE RABBLE CONSPIRACY RABBLE." The NCAA isn't a gigantic conspiracy; it just inherently lacks organization and real power because of the fox-in-the-hen-house thing. That's why my expectations are (generally) impossibly low.

A decade of blatant rule-flouting and competitive advantages should be punished with more than a year of quasi-irrelevance. This is not debatable. I'll just have to take solace in some tears of unfathomable sadness, Jim Tressel never coaching in college again** and Ohio State playing a bunch of pointless games next year in exchange for a cripple fight against Florida next week, a game that could/should have been sacrificed but wasn't because of Gene Smith's total inability to grasp reality.

*Granted, that number isn't substantially higher than it would be for a so-so Ohio State program, but with the BCS appearances and merchandise sales and whatnot, I'm sure it's higher.

**Tressel will be 64 when his show-cause expires, and nobody (other than maybe Akron) is gonna be willing to get hit with a one-year postseason ban just to hire Jim Tressel and hope that a few years of winning will offset the smoking crater of NCAA violations he'll leave behind. Jim Tressel = John Calipari?


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