Lessons From the UCF Infractions Case

Lessons From the UCF Infractions Case

Image from WV Gazette

Because of the Penn State scandal, we seem to have forgotten about some of the other cases working their way through the normal NCAA channels. The University of Miami is still being investigated. North Carolina might be back in front of the Committee on Infractions as a possible academic fraud scandal gets deeper and deeper by the week. Oregon’s recruiting service violation has not been heard from in quite a while, but also has not gone away.

Then there was Central Florida. What UCF was accused of was, on its face, one of the worst packages of NCAA violations in recent memory. Not only were both of its revenue sports using a runner (among others) to help recruit athletes and that runner was providing benefits to student-athletes, but all of this was with the knowledge, encouragement, and even active participation of the athletic director.

For all that, UCF got off relatively light. Twin postseason bans, scholarship losses and major recruiting restrictions are not a slap on the wrist. But considering the conduct, it could and should have been much worse. The NCAA would have been justified in laying to waste both of UCF’s most prominent sports for the rest of the decade. Instead, UCF had significant but manageable sanctions for the next few years. We can also glean a little more from the case.

1. The Committee on Infractions is Sort of Going Through the Motions

After the USC case, everyone expected the worst for UNC, UCF, and Miami. For two of the three schools, that has not materialized. Despite scandals that were all but inarguably worse, both UCF and UNC escaped with lighter penalties. Add in Ohio State and a pattern starts to emerge: schools are getting a headline-grabbing postseason ban, notable but not crippling scholarship penalties, and the individuals involved are getting lengthy show-cause orders. At this point, despite the sheer length and money involved with the Miami scandal, I would expect something similar.

I suspect that the Committee on Infractions is, like all of us, waiting for the new enforcement structure. Essentially we are about a year from pressing the reset button on major infractions cases, so these cases, as bad as they are, will not be have much meaning after August 1, 2013. Hence the motive to dispose of them without the pressure of pointing the NCAA in a direction it might have to follow for the next decade. The result: a relatively standard package of penalties that looks imposing on paper but which smart programs will be able to recover from fairly rapidly.

Speaking of USC…

2. There is No Longer a Good Theory for the USC Case

There are certainly plenty of conspiracy theories about why USC received one of the stiffest set of sanctions ever handed down in Division I. Chief among them is after years of not being able to get enough evidence to bring the case against the Trojans, the enforcement staff and the Committee on Infractions had to send a message that they were not going to let USC get away with it. But even if we assume this is true, there still needs to be a more appropriate explanation.

The best reasoning had been that ultimately USC was a recruiting case, not an amateurism case. By creating an environment that allowed Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo to receive thousands of dollars of extra benefits, USC got a huge recruiting boost. The message was “come here, you don’t need to worry about those pesky NCAA rules, we don’t mind.”

If that was the core of the USC case, UCF should have gotten the death penalty. Not only was that the culture created at UCF, but the athletic director was involved as an integral part of creating that culture. Southern California might have had a laissez-faire attitude about who was in the locker room or around recruits, but the evidence that the school was actively promoting the violations was tenuous. No such problem at UCF.

The only plausible explanation now is that the USC case did not just involve a high profile athlete at a high profile program. Rather, it involved the highest profile athlete at the highest profile program. But that’s not much to explain these differences. More and more, USC looks like an aberration, a one-time case not to be repeated.

3. Show-cause Orders Are Still More Art than Science

The show-cause orders issued to former athletic director Keith Tribble and to head basketball coach Donnie Jones look impressive because they are three years long. Most people who watch NCAA enforcement see that as a three-year long ban on getting another job, if not a career-ender.

But show-cause orders should be judged just as much by the restrictions in them as their length. We cannot point to a lack of morals or poor culture in college athletics and then expect a scarlet letter to work. A show-cause order should be measured on how well it prevents someone from doing their job, not how bad it might look to hire them.

Tribble is only prevented from having contact with recruits during the period of his show-cause order. Jones is only prohibited from recruiting off-campus during the July 2013 recruiting periods. Having prospects meet with the athletic director is a nice touch on visits, but not a core part of his job. And by this time next year, there are no restrictions on Jones’ at all.

That means the effectiveness of those show-cause orders is a bet that no one will hire Tribble or Jones not because they will be hampered in doing their jobs, but because it would be bad PR. Culture cannot be something that needs to be changed and the weight behind a penalty at the same time. Show-cause orders need to be about the restrictions first, and the length second.

What do you think is a fair penalty for the programs currently under NCAA review?  Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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9 Responses to “Lessons From the UCF Infractions Case”

  1. What amazed me about the USC case was how willing the writers and the fans were to assume the NCAA sanctions were appropriate, despite tenuous evidence. All anyone had to do was read the file, but the important facts, or lack thereof, never made the heAdlines. Anyone who read the case and the facts knew the NCAA had no rationAl basis for the sanctions. USC fans are rightfully upset with the NCAA’s marsupial jurisprudence, but USC should be more upset with the Pac10 and the writers that failed to say a word about a process gone awry.

    Now some writers are seeing this other far more egregious cases resulting in lighter sanctions and scratching their heads. Better late than never, I guess.

    What angers me more than anything is that the COI has some attorneys. They had a responsibility beyond the scope of their role on the COI to at least attempt to be just – they didn’t do it and insidious f failed to satisfy their ethical obligations as officers of the court.

    The NCAA, conferences, press and the lawyers all failed to do their jobs adequately and only now are peoe starting to realize it.

  2. Kitchenator

    One can only assume the COI was making rules up as they went along when the USC case came up, and had only the most tenuous grasp of fairness and jurisprudence. I suspect there were hidden grudges in there somewhere, since the penalties were so out of line compared to the others. I hoped for the death penalty for PSU, but what they got was pretty bad anyway. As for Miami, they’d better get a very large book thrown at them – those violations were pretty egregious. (Far worse than USC’s)

  3. The UCF case is indeed a head-scratcher, but I’ve long ago learned not to read anything into the COI’s actions. It’s politics, not jurisprudence. Maybe I’m naive, but I read the actions of Southern Cal to be that of a potential defendant who believes he’s done nothing wrong. “I’ll have my day in court and I’ll prevail.” The arrogance of the innocent. As I understand it, their charges didn’t even deal with folks who were “in the locker room or around recruits” but rather what the family of a third year student were brokering far from the ivy-covered halls.
    If the Southern Cal deal has taught us anything it’s that whether a school believes charges brought against it are right or wrong, it needs to lay down, admit guit, and self-punish before the COI can get their hands on it. Look for more schools to hop over to Enforcement’s side of the table and draft a quick Finding of Violations rather than allowing the process to go to the COI.

  4. Appreciate the intellectual honesty regarding USC. The MSM pandered to the masses rather than reporting the facts in our case. USC got railroaded. Why this isn’t a huge NCAA scandal is beyond me. I do hope that more on this case becomes publicly available from the Todd McNair vs NCAA lawsuit in LA County.

  5. The NCAA continues to be wildly inconsistent with regard to sanctions and the reasoning behind them. USC’s football program was slammed for the actions of one player and his family who were dealing with would-be marketers based in San Diego, and for that player’s internship with another marketer/agent. The COI claimed that USC “should have known” what was occurring but provided tenuous evidence at best for that argument. The program received a two-year bowl ban, two years of “free agency” for their juniors and seniors, probation, and the 15/75 scholarship restrictions for three years. An assistant coach who denied knowledge or involvement was given a show cause penalty based on the testimony of one of those would-be marketers – a convicted felon – whose testimony was often inconsistent.

    Additionally, the NCAA denied any need to follow precedent when ruling on USC’s appeal, yet stated precedent when reducing Boise State’s sanctions. They also referenced the 2003 University of Michigan case – precedent again – in the UCF ruling.

    The NCAA is a bloated organization that needs a severe overhaul. I hold out little hope for any effective change coming from Indianapolis any time soon.

  6. Anyone who has parsed even a few pieces of USC’s appeal and Todd McNair’s appeal understands how outrageously the NCAA behaved in the USC case. This is indisputable. They deserve no cover for what happened and have only served to undermine what little moral authority remained to their infractions process. What is expressed above unfortunately gives further cover to the outrageous conduct even while straining to acknowledge small pieces of the gapingly large problem with the USC case.

  7. psujanitor

    For 8 years ESPN withheld evidence of child molestation that “may have” occurred within the Syracuse basketball program. Since this fact became public knowledge the NCAA has allowed multi million $ contract after multi million $ contract to be completed between confs. and ESPN. I guess that the NCAA’s disdain for child abuse has $pecial limitation$..

  8. Voice_of_Reason

    John – This is a pretty incredible admission regarding USC; something that I think many of us who have spent any time reviewing the COI’s report in respect to USC have felt all along. Given your affiliation with the NCAA, I appreciate your candor.
    In my opinion, the COI acted in an abritrary manner. It is very telling that immediately after the USC ruling, the NCAA publicly announced that it was not bound by precedent. This fact leads me to believe, unfortunately, that the USC was not some sort of “innocent” mistake that the COI just got wrong. Rather, the COI’s actions were deliberate and not intended to ever be replicated. This was a COI that was given so much latitude and allowed to abuse its power. Why none of the sanctions were lessened by the appeals committee is beyond me, but it is also very telling that members of the COI met with the appeals committee PRIOR to issuing the COI report – in other words, the appeals committee worked with the COI in handing out these unprecedented penalties. And, thus, the appeals process was a farse. As a trained lawyer, I know you understand the concept of due process and its importance to ensure the integrity of a governing body. USC was denied due process.
    Unfortunately, I’m not satisfied with an admission that the USE situation was a “one-time case.” I think it is interest to look at those who served on the COI (some of whom were affiliated with USC’s rival). Paul Dee, who headed up the COI with respect to USC, was the AD of Miami – one of the most egregious repeat violators of NCAA rules (think 90s and again in 2000s). Immediately following the Yahoo story on Miami’s most recent violations, Paul Dee’s response was “I had no idea.” This is the same guy who chatised USC and crucified its football program on the premise of high profile athletes require high profile compliance – a trumped up standard that Mr. Dee apparently does not believe applies to Miami.
    Nevertheless, given the outcome of the USC case and the utter lack of due process, my belief is that the the NCAA and the COI have to be either abolished or incredibly revamped. No longer should an AD affiliated with a school (or anyone intimately affiliated with any school) be allowed to serve on the COI. Such a situation is frought with conflicts of interests – allowing someone with little integrity, such as Pual Dee, to abuse such power.
    Again, I appreciate your admission regarding USC. This goes along way for us USC fans who know our school was railroaded and who constantly here other fans act as though the punishment was just. We’ll ultimately see how this pans out with Todd McNair. If the NCAA settles, I hope you revisit this issue and point out the complete injustice of the matter – the very fact that the NCAA is not willing to go to court to stand by its handling of USC will just be another fact showing how much of a railroad job this was.

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