Friday, May 27, 2011

The righteously indignant Pete Fiutak gets it wrong

Dear Mr. Fiutak:

Reinstatement decisions are NOT enforcement investigations.

image In a column posted yesterday, Fox Sports’ Pete Fiutak takes the NCAA to task for what he sees as a glaring inconsistency in upholding the sanctions that hammer Southern Cal for the Reggie Bush case. He makes the mistake of comparing the Bush enforcement improper benefits case to the reinstatement decisions made by a completely different arm of the NCAA.

I probably shouldn’t single out Fiutak because honestly, he’s not the only one who gets it wrong. The sentiments he express are found in columns on sports pages across the country. They’re on websites, blogs and internet message boards. Very few of’em get it.

While Mr. Fiutak will get no argument from me that the NCAA’s “every case is different” approach to both enforcement and reinstatement matters is a recipe for chaos and confusion, his column contributes absolutely nothing to resolving the national confusion over the difference between the results of investigations conducted by the league’s enforcement arm and decisions rendered by a reinstatement staff with no investigatory powers whatsoever.

People want to compare the USC case to the other two highest profile cases of blatant violation of amateurism rules—the Cam Newton case at Auburn and the Tressel, Pryor et al case at Ohio State. In doing so, they try to make the case that Southern Cal is being made to pay a heavy price while Auburn and Ohio State get away scot free.

Here’s the key difference: The Bush case—after a half-decade of media and NCAA background investigation, a notice of inquiry, the formal enforcement investigation, a notice of allegations, a Committee on Infractions hearing, a decision, an appeal and a decision on the appeal—was a thorough, full-fisted anal exam conducted by people with no connection to the Trojan program. Meanwhile, the reinstatement processes that resulted in the eligibility decisions at Auburn and Ohio State were the result of dog-and-pony shows written, produced and directed by the schools themselves.

Repeat after me: Reinstatement decisions are NOT enforcement investigations.  Lather, rinse and for God’s sake repeat this to every college sports fan you encounter.

The Infractions Committee relied on information produced by the NCAA enforcement staff and that information was the closest to the truth that anyone could ever hope for. The reinstatement decisions were based on information provided by the schools, and that information was prepared in a manner that puts the best light on the school that anyone could hope for. It’s a huge difference and it seems to be completely lost on people who should know better.

I am the first to admit that while I know more about NCAA rules and procedures than I ever wanted to, I still have a great deal to learn. It would be helpful if Pete Fiutak and all the other master blasters in the national sports media would slow down, understand the processes involved and at least try to grasp this key distinction between enforcement and reinstatement matters. By not doing so, they’re not helping the public get their own arms around the concepts.

I’ll bet there’s one thing on which Fiutak and I can agree. That would be a standardized set of penalties with mandatory minimum sentences for major violations. This idea was posited by MrSEC. Such a system would end the “every case is different” approach currently in place in both the enforcement and reinstatement offices of the NCAA. To be certain, some unintended victims will suffer under such a cut-and-dried system. But if everyone understands what the penalties are—that all drug dealers, murderers and rapists go to prison, no matter what—there will be fewer people weighing the risk reward ratio and making the wrong decision.

We need that and if this week’s news is any indication, we might soon get it.

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