With regard to the ever-evolving scandal implicating half of the starters on the Miami Hurricanes’ squad, I feel like we have seen some of this before. No, not at SMU, where corruption ran so deep that it took the stopping of payments to cause an uproar. Instead, I am getting the feeling about Miami that I have gotten about so many recent scandals in college sports- the NCAA will slap the school on the wrist and move on.
This is an organization that, for all intents and purposes, does not even have an investigative arm. Every scandal or violation is either self-reported or delivered in a neat bow to the doorstep of the NCAA, complete with hard evidence, witness statements, and usually a paper trail. When was the last time you heard of a scandal that the NCAA discovered itself? Either the department is underfunded or incompetently run- maybe both. In either case the body that oversees college athletics is unequipped to even verify the information that has been given to them despite the road map laid in front of them.
Take Ohio State for example. Jim Tressel lied to the NCAA on three separate occasions, and in the course of that lie played ineligible players for an entire season. He then lied to the NCAA to get the players reinstated for the Sugar Bowl. He shared the so-called confidential information with a shady booster and “mentor” to his star quarterback but not with Ohio State compliance, who apparently were unable to monitor their players well enough to account for dozens of new cars and selling of autographs, much less monitor the coach. So Ohio State forced Tressel to resign months after the allegations came out, then said that he had retired voluntarily in order that they could pay him the full amount left on his contract… then told anyone who would listen that the retirement was really a firing. You can’t have it both ways… unless you are talking to the NCAA.
So how does the big bad NCAA react to being manipulated and lied to? Some probation and expunging of the past season. No scholarship reductions, no bowl ban, nothing to actually penalize the program. “Got rid of the coach? Good enough for me.” It just seems disingenuous, especially in comparison to USC, the one and only recent example of the appropriate punishment being levied (though by now it looks rather harsh in comparison). In USC’s case the NCAA couldn’t even prove that the staff knew about the additional benefits- in Ohio State’s they had a paper trail. Pete Carroll left- does the difference of whether he was fired or left voluntarily matter that much? If Ohio State is any example, it shouldn’t, since it isn’t clear what happened there.
Any thought of Miami getting the death penalty won’t even get farther than shock jocks on the radio. The NCAA will find any excuse not to actually enforce the stacks of inane rules they have on the books. They will talk a tough game, but have sent a clear message to college athletics- cheat all you want, but when you get caught, get rid of the coach and you are in good shape. If I am an Athletic Director, I play “See no evil, hear no evil” with my head coaches, so that I can get the Bruce Pearl treatment- some great seasons for my team and program and all the punishment goes to the coach, who is now out on his ass.
I know that the NCAA doesn’t want to punish the students, and even I think a bowl ban can be hard on students who went to a school to try to win games. So how about this interesting solution? Does the school have a booster who is giving impermissible benefits? Don’t allow the school to use its luxury boxes for a few years- the drop-off in fundraising and opportunities to engage boosters will hit the school but not the players. Does the school have a problem with making impermissible contact with recruits? Don’t allow the coaching staff to call recruits for a year. If the players are interested they can make the call. Does the school have a bunch of players selling gear or autographs to local businesses? Take the past year’s average number of tickets sold per game and only allow 2/3rds of that number to be sold to each game (tickets to the opposing school to be exempted). Punish the players with less exposure to that community.
The NCAA doesn’t need to have an investigative wing for anything other than fact-checking, Yahoo! Sports and Sports Illustrated can do that. If they start to actually punish teams appropriately, maybe they won’t have to worry about how bad they will hurt the student-athletes.