The idea of mandatory minimum sanctions for major NCAA rules violations was first discussed at MrSEC.com (as far as I can tell. Drop me a note if you’ve seen it discussed earlier elsewhere). I think it’s an idea whose time has come and I don’t think it would be a bad idea to begin laying the framework for a system that treats similar offenders in similar fashions.
Not only would it clearly lay out the consequences for coaches, boosters and administrators calculating risks vs benefits, it would also finally disabuse the NCAA from the fatally flawed concept that “every case is different.” Of course every case is different, but the rules violations those programs get charged with are always the same. Every murder case is different with regards to motive, method and opportunity but at the end of every trial, the jury convicting the killer concludes that (1) someone has died and (2) Butler did it. The penalties are remarkably similar from state to state. Life. Life without the chance for parole. Execution.
Not so with the National Chaotic Athletic Association enforcement process. Let’s examine six cases resulting in sanctions imposed by the NCAA the Committee on Infractions since 2000. Each one involves violations of improper benefits rules.
- USC, 2010: 30 scholarships over three year period, four years probation, vacation of wins, postseason ban.
- New Mexico, 2008: 15 scholarships over three year period, three years probation, no vacation of wins, no postseason ban.
- Arkansas, 2003: Two scholarships, three years probation, no vacation, no postseason ban.
- Cal-Berkeley, 2002: Nine scholarships over four years, five years probation, one year postseason ban, vacation of wins.
- Alabama, 2002: 18 scholarships over three years, two year postseason ban, five years probation.
- Kentucky, 2002: 19 scholarships over three years, one year postseason ban, three years probation.
On its website, the NCAA states “While unfortunate, NCAA-imposed sanctions are meant to be punitive.” Alabama, Kentucky and USC would certainly agree that they are.
How about the NCAA simply set the mandatory minimum for violations of the impermissible benefits rules to 15 scholarships, fix the probation period at four years (to match the repeat-violator window), issue one postseason ban and be done with it. If there is also a dreaded “lack of institutional control” violation, tack on one more scholarship. Unethical conduct? Add one more. Repeat violator? Add two more on top of the deal. That’s close to the Alabama penalty in the Means case. Just ask former Bama coaches, current administrators and fans if that’s harsh enough.
Cal, Arkansas and New Mexico wouldn’t have gotten off as lightly as they did. Southern Cal would have their losses cut significantly.
I am not suggesting that the 15 scholarship penalty should be the standard. That number was pulled out of the air and used to show what would happen to the penalties handed to the six programs listed above if there was a standard and some of the discretion was removed from the Committee on Infractions.
The NCAA isn’t corrupt. It’s broken. Its Enforcement Staff is too small and it can’t catch or investigate all of the cheaters. The Committee on Infractions has far too much discretion in handing down penalties and the “every case is different” meme results in the scattershot seen in the six cases illustrated above. Those penalties are all over the place and there’s no reason for that.
Imagine if we applied that kind of thinking to our legal system. The result would be utter and complete chaos.
A major violation should result in a set number of scholarship reductions, and the penalties can only be increased, not decreased, by the committee. If you want to segregate some of the “major violations” the way felonies are in the legal system, fine. Class A, Class B, Class C. Reserve the harshest minimum sentence for the most egregious offenses, but establish something as a minimum. It’s the best way to level the NCAA’s system of justice.
Under such a system, Southern Cal would suffer severe consequences for the Bush fiasco, but would understand the penalties were not much different from what Alabama received under the Means case. It’d still hurt like hell, but no one could say that they were treated too harshly. Conversely, set the minimum at somewhere north of what Cal-Berkeley received. Alabama, USC and Kentucky would still have felt pain, but again, they could look at the Cal case and say, “fair is fair.”
Beef up the Enforcement Division. Do away with the vast discretion enjoyed by the Committee on Infractions. Make a penalty hurt, make it standard, and make the cheaters out there finally and completely understand the damage they’d cause if they decide to gamble on getting caught.