Just two days after becoming bowl eligible, Miami self-imposed a second consecutive postseason ban. Self-imposed postseason bans longer than a year are more or less unprecedented. But the way Miami did it might be unique in the history of NCAA enforcement. Rather than impose a two-year postseason ban straight away, or decide on a penalty before the start of each season, Miami imposed both penalties midseason.
This reveals a flaw in the NCAA’s principle of institutional control and how it relates to self-imposed penalties. Self-imposed penalties are used to ward off even stronger action from the Committee on Infractions. It is roughly the equivalent of a celebrity checking him- or herself into rehab so the judge will not impose a jail sentence. If Miami is imposing a second postseason ban, chances are the school believes it faces at least a three-year postseason ban from the COI.
There is a hard balancing act between harsh enough penalties that the Committee on Infractions shows leniency and penalties not as harsh as the ones the COI would actually impose. Combine that challenge with the complexity of the Miami investigation and what happened to Ohio State and Miami’s decision is understandable.
The trend will increasingly be for postseason ban decisions to be made as late as possible, lest an investigation fall apart or a team lose a shot at a national title. The better system would be for the Committee on Infractions to not take into account self-imposed penalty. They should operate as time served; an opportunity for schools to decide when penalties occur, not influence whether harsher penalties are handed down.
The impact of Miami’s decisions has landed mostly on the student-athletes. Had Miami self-imposed comprehensive penalties before the 2011 season, its seniors and juniors could have transferred and perhaps the bulk of the penalties from now going forward would be minimal. Instead, two classes have been denied a postseason opportunity they earned on the field, plus Miami could still face significant scholarship and recruiting restrictions that could hamper the team in the coming years.