There is never a point during the football season or in the offseason when we are not hearing about a college football team being under NCAA investigation. It has become a constant part of the game and the media coverage, and with good reason. With the ultra-competitive environment in college football, it is naïve to think that winning programs, or even building or re-building programs trying to get the slightest competitive advantage, are following every rule to a “T”. There are always going to be boosters, alumni, hangers-on, fans, students, and media (local and national) adding more pressure to an environment where the urgency and pressure to win is palpable.
There are infractions that I can look past because they are so nit-picky, like paying for a recruits’ five dollar lunch at McDonalds, or playing a pick-up basketball game with the recruit. Those I don’t really care about and they can happen even with the best of intentions. The infractions that I’m talking about, the ones that really chap my ass are the payouts to family, coaches (high school coaches that direct a player to a certain school because they are indirectly on the payroll in some way), cars, strippers, partying with big-wigs, agents hanging around the facility, and other undesirables being ever-present around the program.
There is no argument that anyone can make that can adequately explain these actions. Coaches are usually control freaks. They like to have a say about everything related to their program because it is their livelihood at stake. There is no way that you can convince me that people like Pete Carroll and Jim Tressell can’t control who is at their practices and in their locker rooms.
Of course, not all NCAA infractions are complete legal and ethical leaps, and some are just flat-out ridiculous. The NCAA has so many rules, and so many rules that contradict other rules, that there is no possible way that a coach, athletic director, player, or university administration is not guilty of violating some at any given time.
But, I’m not talking about nit-picking in this article; I’m talking about flat-out cheating with clear, visible intent. Allowing programs to get away with major infractions in exchange for a few negated wins and a couple of lost scholarships is like the principal letting Ferris Bueller slide with a warning after skipping school and changing his grades.
In the real world, there is a difference between a parking ticket and a DUI. Both are violations of the law, but there is obviously a difference in severity and intent. One is a five dollar fine, the other will follow the guilty party for the rest of their life. Why can’t college football be more like the real world?
In college football, the NCAA just seems to be adding more and more of the minor punishments for major infractions. You can’t just keep adding five-dollar tickets to punish crimes that put others in danger (metaphorically) and expect things to change. The NCAA will probably never hand down the “Death Penalty” like they did to SMU for the 1987 and 1988 season(s) again. The “Death Penalty” is almost universally viewed as being too harsh, even though SMU knowingly committed every violation it was cited for, was formally warned to stop repeatedly, and continued to commit those illegalities, business as usual.
So, what punishment(s) could the NCAA deliver that would stop the offending behavior, but not completely kill the program?
First, stop negating wins. Nobody cares if years later, a committee says that those wins don’t count. Negating those wins doesn’t magically erase the memories of all the players involved and the fans. Are those wins even wiped clean from the record book? Nope, they have an asterisk and a footnote that says “wins negated by the NCAA”. Did the Fab Five never exist because the NCAA said the wins don’t count? Of course not, they still kicked ass. Taking away the wins doesn’t change that.
I went to see about a dozen or so Purdue football games from 1997-2000. If the NCAA were to discover some major violations that were serious enough to negate the Boilermakers’ wins from that time period, does that lessen my experience of seeing Drew Brees play? No, I still had a great time, and will always remember the time I saw Purdue come back to win after trailing Michigan State 21-10 with two minutes left (Brees threw a pick on his only pass of the day, and was quickly yanked).
Besides, the school still made profits off of the teams that had vacated wins. The ineligible players still can use the vacated wins to make it in the pros. The only thing that changes when the NCAA vacates wins is the banners at the stadium or arena, so they should just stop doing it.
Step Two: In the real world, if a doctor or lawyer runs an unethical practice, their license is in jeopardy. If they get their license revoked in one state, they can’t just go to another state and practice, unfazed. Their record follows them. If someone has three DUI’s, they can’t just go to another state and get another driver’s license.
Why can’t the NCAA require a clause in coaches’ contracts that stipulates that whatever infractions they commit follows them to their next stop along with the penalty? Scholarships were taken away, so you resigned? Well then, whoever you sign with next has to bear those penalties as well. Probation was given to your old program? If the coach decided to skip town after that, whoever signs that coach next would have to deal with that probation, too. This won’t necessarily eradicate the offending behavior, but it will make athletic directors think twice before signing that coach who checks their ethics at the door.
Also, there has to be some kind of an agreement with the NFL saying something to the effect that punishments and sanctions follow the offenders. I loved it when Terrelle Pryor was suspended at the start of the 2011 season for his actions at Ohio State. Obviously, Pryor is not a blue-chipper as far as NFL quarterbacks go, and he still got paid, but the suspension is a step in the right direction. Pete Carroll on the other hand, fled to Seattle with absolutely no repercussions whatsoever. Wasn’t that the most convenient timing on earth? Carroll leaving at the height of his popularity, right about the same time as USC was being put under investigation for the recruitment and subsequent violations concerning Reggie Bush, and leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
Roger Goodell comes off to me as someone who at least tries to do the right thing, and that means a lot. He also doesn’t seem interested in opening his doors to people that are going to make the NFL look bad. Also, what are the chances that someone who breaks the rules to get ahead in college (player or coach) is going to clean up their act at the professional level? Those 180 degree turnarounds don’t happen often. If the players and coaches in question want to get away from the penalties and the sanctions, let them go to Canada. Have fun with that twelfth man, longer field, less downs, and the snow in October.
Step three: Revoking of scholarships. Last year, Ohio State self-enforced for the rings-for-tattoos scandal to the tune of five scholarships a year for three years. The only reason a school self-imposes a penalty is to show the NCAA that they have not lost control of their own program, but it was more than obvious that the administration and the athletic department had no control over what their scholarship athletes were doing. Five scholarships a year for a school like Ohio State is a joke. The NCAA allows FBS (formerly division 1-A) schools to issue eighty-five scholarships a year for football. Losing five out of eighty-five is nothing. The big scandals (money, drugs, gifts, cars, boosters-gone-wild, etc.) should result in big losses in scholarships. Twenty a year would be a good start.
Lastly, what falls short of the death penalty, but still hurts like a Ray Guy kick to the balls?
How’s this: Allow a program to keep playing just as before, but take away the privilege of home games. Think about it. They can keep playing, but their expense sheet just went way up. The athletic department has to reschedule all of the home games as away games, and has to prepare as such. All of those home conference games just turned into away conference games, effectively financially benefiting all of their conference foes. They may need to schedule only nine or ten games instead of twelve. Traveling is expensive, really expensive when it’s a couple of hundred people associated with the team that need accommodations. Add a few more travel dates to the schedule, and the money will start getting tight quickly.
Imagine Southern Cal, with their constant entourage in their facility, paying Reggie Bush’s family, having to reschedule their home games from a 93,000-seat stadium (LA Coliseum) to stadiums half their size. That’s a hell of a hit to the attendance figures.
Even better, think about if this punishment were to happen to any team that schedules a clearly over-matched opponent, like an Ohio State to Youngstown State. If the Buckeyes were to keep the date, they would have to go to YSU with a stadium capacity of just over twenty thousand, as opposed to staying at home and drawing over one hundred thousand people for a game that would be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage and an easy win. Ohio State would probably still win the glorified scrimmage fairly easily, but they would have to give up all that income that would be generated by attracting one hundred thousand people to the horseshoe. The embarrassment factor alone would cause a big program to never lose institutional control again.
All of these penalties and policies wouldn’t mean a thing if they were put on the books, but never implemented, or if they were not imposed on a top team that committed serious infractions. Let’s face it, if Eastern Michigan is put on probation, nobody cares. The only time anyone really takes notice is if a big nationally-recognized program gets whacked. Even when SMU received the death penalty, they were not a national program or a traditional powerhouse. They had a few good years, but were not winning national championships. If a school like USC, Texas, LSU, Michigan, or Nebraska (I’m just naming big-time programs here; I’m not implying that those schools are currently doing anything wrong) had these penalties imposed upon them, the country would take notice. I’m not saying that these schools should be targeted without provocation, but if they do have a serious lapse of ethics, they should get spanked. Allowing the big schools to make their own rules is like allowing the popular kid to run a high school.
As long as there is money and pride involved in athletics, there will be illegal and unethical practices in athletics. Money and pride cause people to abandon their principles (if they ever had any to begin with). Of course, these penalties will not eradicate illegal and unethical behavior, but something has to be done because it is obvious that what has been done so far is just not enough.