It is all part of a much larger issue - using colleges as semi-professional developmental programs for the NFL, NBA, etc. The huge money and interest involved changed the entire landscape of college sports. Meanwhile the NCAA piecemealed their rules and continued as if it was all still being done the old way. I just want them to drop the façade and fix it, which they claim to be doing. But how can the same people that muddled it up so badly now be given the authority to fix it? That is borderline insane IMO. Zero credibility. Zero.
There was an autograph scandal involving last year’s Heisman Trophy-winner. Going after Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel could have opened the door for a lot of skeletons to come rattling out onto the floor.
There was a report of agent-runner-player monetary transactions in the SEC. Four past players and one current player were shown to have received extra benefits by way of a runner. Alabama (two players), Tennessee (two players), and Mississippi State (one player) could all eventually be stripped of wins for playing ineligible players (should the NCAA take the stance it usually takes in these type situations).
The Ed O’Bannon lawsuit is still on the horizon. Major schools are calling for major reforms that would allow the richest of the rich to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships for their student-athletes. The NCAA recently walked back its heavy-handed penalties against Penn State… penalties that never should have been assessed in the first place.
And through it all the NCAA’s investigation into the University of Miami program just dragged on and on and on. That terrible tale even included the NCAA calling out some members of its very own investigative team for crossing too many lines in their efforts to get the dirt on the Hurricanes. When it comes to black eyes, the Miami investigation might be the biggest shiner to date for Mark Emmert and his organization that everyone loves to hate.
So couldn’t the bungled two-year investigation into Miami — and all the negative press college sports’ governing body has received because of it — be the real reason that most of those being investigated at Miami were given light sanctions?
Miami will not be forced to miss any more bowl games. Yes, the school will be docked an additional nine football scholarships but how many Cane fans would have gladly signed up for that when Yahoo! Sports first broke the news of booster Nevin Shapiro’s wrongdoings? “Nine schollys? No problem!”
Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith — who came out of the investigation looking pretty darned bad — was given a five-game suspension. That’s it. Five games. No show-cause penalty for misleading investigators. No three-year de facto ban from the sidelines like the one Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl received.
Since the NCAA handed down the less than Draconian penalties, there’s been much head-scratching. How could the NCAA not drop the hammer on Miami as it once had Southern Cal? How could the NCAA not freeze out Haith the way it once had put Pearl’s career on ice? And Jim Tressel’s?
First, as we told you yesterday, it’s impossible to try and draw direct comparisons between NCAA cases. You’ll drive yourself nuts making the attempt. Each case is different and the closest you can get to A-to-B comparisons are broad generalizations.
That said, did we mention that it’s not been a banner year for the NCAA?
That’s right, people. We believe timing played a big, big role in the NCAA’s decision to tell the U and Coach Haith, “Go and sin no more.”
Check the above examples. With all the stuff that’s hit Emmert’s fan in recent months, the NCAA seems to be meting out penalties that are easier on both the guilty parties and on the NCAA itself.
In Manziel’s case, the NCAA decided to give the high-profile star a slap on the wrist for not trying to stop other people from profiting off of his name. Yeah, that’s one way of looking at a player’s decision to spend several hours signing thousands of autographs that would later be sold.
But if the NCAA had gotten serious on the matter and delivered a tougher blow than a suspension for one half of one game, the governing body would have been forced to look long and hard into every other player whose signature is now available online. In a word: Nightmare. So the NCAA took the easy way out. Manziel was hit with a one-half ban and the precedent for others had been set. Remember that as soon as the NCAA’s investigation into Manziel came to light, fans began to toss allegations at rival schools’ players. Thanks to the NCAA’s ruling on Johnny Football, any other player alleged to have sold autographs can now be handed the same, one-size-fits-all penalty. “Sit for one half of one game.” Simple. Fewer headaches for all involved.
And what of the agent-runner-player case? Have you noticed the complete silence coming out of Indianapolis on that front? The NCAA has in recent years erased victories from the record books at Alabama and Florida State — to name a couple — because those schools had played ineligible players. Those ineligible players had taken part in academic scandals. In the current case, the players in question from Bama, Tennessee and MSU would be viewed as ineligible because they accepted cash, the grand no-no of the NCAA rule book. Gotta throw said rule book at those schools, right?
Maybe not. Again, there’s been nary a peep on those investigations to date. And seeing as the how the NCAA has been getting so much negative press in recent months it might be in Emmert’s best interest to rule that since the schools didn’t know about the illegal benefits, they would be let off with a stern warning. Hey, if Tennessee and Mississippi State had to hand back victories from the past two years, most folks outside of Dixie wouldn’t care. But if Alabama had to hand back the last two BCS trophies? Yeah, that could cause a bit bigger stink for all involved. A give-up-the-victories punishment for the Crimson Tide would put a massive stain on the both the NCAA and college football.
The NCAA’s been a big bad meanie before, of course. Pearl got a show cause. Ohio State’s Tressel, too. Southern Cal was stripped of a national title. Heisman-winner Reggie Bush was slapped around. All in recent years.
But that was then and this is now.
Then the NCAA ship wasn’t taking on quite so much water. Now the NCAA’s bulkheads have been breached and Emmert’s trying to navigate a sea of oncoming icebergs.
If you’re one of the thousands of people trying to figure out how Miami and Haith got off relatively lightly while others before them had the proverbial book thrown at them, think timing. It really could be just as simple as that.
The NCAA might simply want to put out as many fires as possible as quickly as possible. The Miami case has been the greatest embarrassment for the organization in a time when embarrassments have become commonplace. So if the NCAA wanted the Miami saga off the front page, the best thing to do would be to hand down penalties so light that neither of the main parties being penalized — Miami and Haith — would have enough motivation to even risk an appeal. Appeals could keep the story in the national spotlight. Appeals could further expose just how butchered the NCAA’s investigation really was.
Best guess? The NCAA is Gerald Ford and Miami/Haith are Richard Nixon. Ford took a lot of grief for pardoning his predecessor back in 1974. But had Nixon been forced to stand trial it would have ground the US government to a halt, created bigger political rifts, and potentially exposed a helluva lot more dirt. Ford took the easy way out — and probably the smarter way out — with his decision to pardon Nixon.
The NCAA has likely decided to end its own long, national nightmare by giving the Hurricanes and Haith lighter-than-expected penalties. We suspect timing is the reason. And this ruling should — though we wouldn’t bet on it — leave Bama, Tennessee, and State fans feeling better about their agent-runner-player issues. If the NCAA is looking for the easiest means of stomping out fires, it’s likely those three schools won’t have to sacrifice past wins.
And all the while Pearl, Tressel, Bush, Southern Cal and others will be left to think, “Boy, did we pick the wrong time to get into trouble.”