Sometimes, in the heat of an angry moment, it’s best to step back, take a deep breath and think things through before lashing out at the source of your frustration. That’s what the NCAA should have done last Friday following the appearance of USA Today Sports Analyst Danny Sheridan’s with Paul Finebaum on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.
Sheridan was on the show to discuss comments he’d made during earlier appearances on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network, in which he said that sources “inside the NCAA” had given him the name of the person they believed was responsible for payment to Cecil Newton during Auburn’s recruitment of the eventual Heisman Trophy and National Championship winning Quarterback, Cam Newton.
Those statements led to the NCAA enforcement staff requesting an interview with Sheridan last week, an interview that both Sheridan and the NCAA have confirmed. But in the heat of anger, the NCAA released the following statement a few hours after the OTL segment ended. I’ll explain later why I believe that move was a mistake, but here’s the statement again:
Danny Sheridan continues to make vague, unsubstantiated claims without backing them up with proof. Contrary to his claims of having an inside source with details on the Auburn investigation, the NCAA has not provided information to Sheridan or anyone else. As a matter of due diligence, the NCAA spoke with Sheridan this week to determine if he had any facts pertaining to the investigation. Sheridan, however, did not provide any information to the enforcement staff and certainly did not provide a name. Instead, he unsuccessfully attempted to gather information for his own use.
Sheridan’s detractors seized on the statement as a crushing blow to Sheridan’s credibility. No one’s mind will be changed by what I write here about Sheridan’s credibility and there don’t seem to be any fence sitters on that matter.
The Mobile Press-Register’s Randy Kennedy then reported on Sheridan’s response to the NCAA statement with an equally terse retort:
"The NCAA statement about me is total propaganda and an absolute misrepresentation of the facts. For the record, I do have sources at the NCAA and that's why the organization has chosen to shoot the messenger.
"The NCAA called me through my attorney and requested an interview. I spoke with two NCAA investigators last Wednesday for almost an hour. I was consistent with them as I have been with the media and the public in refusing to divulge my sources.
"I also politely declined to share the name of the individual I have been told gave money to Cecil Newton. For the NCAA to claim I did anything else is specious, deceitful, disingenuous and completely false. I will be happy to take a polygraph test on these specific issues and challenge them to do so as well."
No one’s mind will be changed by what I write here about the NCAA’s credibility and there don’t seem to be any fence sitters on that matter, either. But if you’re keeping score, right now it stands Sheridan 1, NCAA 0.
The NCAA statement is the league’s first on-the-record acknowledgement that there is an active and ongoing enforcement investigation of Auburn University. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The statement doesn’t mention any other schools and it doesn’t limit the scope of the NCAA’s probe of the school to just the Newton case. Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News notes today that there are at least two other matters being probed by the league, and sourced media reports described an additional matter being looked into down in South Florida as late as June. IBCR has confirmed at least one other matter that was being looked into in Montgomery just last month.
So why was it a mistake for the NCAA to issue that statement? Anyone who’s familiar with the anatomy of an enforcement investigation knows that the league does not publicly comment on ongoing investigations as a matter of NCAA policy. The statement itself—including the key phrase “Auburn investigation”—is a violation of that policy and it has opened the door to a response from the Auburn Defense Team. The school can now publicly demand that the league either issue a Notice of Inquiry or drop the matter, because it is the league—not the school—that has violated a policy intended to protect the integrity of the investigation.
For all intents and purposes, the six-month clock between official notification of an investigation and delivery of a Notice of Allegations (or termination letter) started Friday afternoon. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether the school and its legal team forces this to a head, but it sure seems like an opportunity to push the issue.
The question is, would the school get the outcome it wants?
Exit Question (and answer): Why score it Sheridan 1, NCAA 0? Because Sheridan has forced the hand of the league. He got someone in a position of high authority in the NCAA to lose their cool and step beyond the bounds of the league’s longstanding veil of silence policy.
Whether you believe him or not, you must give him credit for moving the chains on a story that has been closely followed by fans and media in the state, the region and the country for the last 10 months. The story is far from over and the outcome remains in doubt. It’s sure been a source of free blogging here at IBCR.