Thursday, July 14, 2011

Georgia Tech case shows need to eliminate NCAA discretion

image Earlier today, the public learned for the first time that Georgia Tech had been under the scrutiny of the NCAA for potential major violations of league by-laws, stemming from events that occurred in 2008 and 2009. Georgia Tech successfully accomplished something that few (if any) schools have been able to pull off—keeping the existence and progress of a full-fledged investigation completely under wraps, through the Committee on Infractions meeting, right up until the Committee issued its public report.

Bravo, I guess.

This was Georgia Tech’s third appearance before the Committee since the magic cut-off date of the 1987 Pony Express Death Penalty case against SMU. There had been previous violations connected with the football program in 1989 and again in 2005.

In today’s report, the Committee outlines violations including improper benefits, failure to cooperate, failure to meet conditions & obligations of NCAA membership and impermissible basketball tryouts. But for the middle two violations, Georgia Tech would likely have faced minor sanctions for what appear to be secondary violations. But instead of cooperating with NCAA enforcement staff, the Committee decided that the institution conspired to prevent being charged with violations that would have rendered student-athletes ineligible to play for either the ACC Championship (which it won) and the program’s appearance in the 2010 Orange Bowl (which it lost).

Specifically, Georgia Tech officials disobeyed explicit instructions from the enforcement staff to protect the integrity of the investigation. The institution compromised the investigation when it shared with a student-athlete information relating to potential violations about which he was to be questioned by the enforcement staff in a future interview. The institution later compounded the problem by allowing a student-athlete to compete despite the fact that his eligibility was in question. These are deadly serious violations because they go to the heart of the need for integrity, cooperation and the spirit of promoting amateurism in college sports.

For its transgressions, Georgia Tech received the following penalties:

  1. Public reprimand and censure.
  2. Four years probation beginning July 14, 2011.
  3. Fine of $100,000.
  4. “Slap on the wrist” recruiting sanctions for Men’s Basketball.
  5. Vacation of one Football win—the ACC Championship Game.
  6. Head Football Coach and Athletic Director must attend an NCAA Regional Rules Seminar in 2012.

No scholarship reductions in either sport. No reductions in the number of Football scholarship athletes below the league limit of 85. No postseason ban. Georgia Tech is a repeat offender and received penalties commensurate with a program caught forcing athletes to play patty-cakes beyond permissible practice and coach supervision periods.

During the press conference held by the NCAA and institution today, a member of the media asked the Committee on Infractions Chair Dennis Thomas why the Committee didn’t feel the need to ‘set an example’ given the broad landscape of current NCAA violations cases. ESPN’s Heather Dinich notes his response:

”The committee is not in the business of setting examples. The committee is in the business of reviewing the information that is presented at the hearings and rendering a decision based upon the information that is presented. I want to be very lucid about what you indicated about an example. That does not factor into the process. The process is simply making decisions based on the information that is presented in a fair and objective manner.”

There you have it, folks. The most recent example yet why the NCAA membership needs sweeping reform of the enforcement process. IT needs reform that imposes a set of mandatory minimum penalties for major rules violations and removes the discretion enjoyed by the Committee on Infractions. A repeat violator, facing two major violations, should have some mandatory percentage of its scholarships reduced in each sport. Say 10% for the first, 5% for the second, and add one scholarship to each for being a recidivist. For Football that would have been 16 scholarships over the four year probationary period. Those are stiff penalties, they would hurt significantly, and they would set a fine example for what might happen to other schools considering or participating in the same unethical behavior Georgia Tech did.

And always, always, always impose a post-season ban.

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