NCAA's Bark as Weak as Its Bite
Next, she would have handed you a document that described the NCAA hearing procedures. While you were quickly reviewing the document, she would have explained to you that nobody would discuss the specific allegations that were part of the hearing taking place behind the closed doors.
Welcome to due process, NCAA-style. The particulars of the Southern California case have been marinating in the media for years now, but no one beyond those closed doors knows for certain the extent of USC' culpability. That in itself is a crime.
In fact, even the witness list is a matter of privacy. Last Wednesday, for instance, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tweeted, "Coming back to Socal this weekend for @ABetterLA's Will Ferrell comedy event! Who else is gonna be there??" Naturally, the erstwhile Trojan football coach neglected to tweet that he'd be making a detour to Arizona beforehand.
The primary allegations against USC's football program stem from questions of whether Reggie Bush accepted gifts for himself and/or his family while he was on scholarship at USC. If Bush had accepted the alleged gifts, then he would have been an ineligible under NCAA rules, which means that USC might have to forfeit all of the games that Bush played while ineligible. The NCAA's hearing before the Committee on Infractions will have no effect on Bush himself. He is beyond the jurisdiction of the NCAA, having already moved on to a Super Bowl ring and a reality TV star girlfriend.
The shortcomings in the NCAA's judicial process are two-fold: first, the aforementioned lack of disclosure; and second, punitive measures that, short of an SMU-style death penalty or a serious reduction in scholarships, do little to prevent future recurrences.
Last August the NCAA punished Memphis' basketball program in part by compelling the school to vacate all 38 of its wins from the 2007-2008 season. As if they didn't happen, or as if they were all just a dream. Like "Newhart."
Am I supposed to forget that I was seated behind the Memphis bench inside the Alamodome when Mario Chalmers buried that three? Should someone tell the folks in Lawrence that the 20-foot tall frosted glass photo on display at Phog Allen Fieldhouse of Chalmers' shot did not legally happen?
And, by the way, what if Chalmers had missed that shot? Would we be asked to forget that Memphis did win the NCAA championship?
The Memphis coach at the time, John Calipari, is now the coach at No. 2 ranked Kentucky. He is likely headed to his second Final Four in the past three years. For the third consecutive year, by the way, Calipari has the nation's top freshman guard who will likely be taken among the top five picks in the draft (certainly, just a coincidence).
Calipari and Derrick Rose, the frosh phenom who led the Tigers to the NCAA championship game, have moved on. Both are wealthier men for having skirted the NCAA laws and neither has been punished. Rose's questionable academic eligibility, in fact, is primarily responsible for the vacating of those 38 wins -- as if he or Calipari cares in the slightest.
Calipari and Rose each received (even greater) seven-figure annual incomes deals for their transgression. Their former school received a serious wag of the finger from the NCAA while we college basketball fans received a finger of an entirely different nature.
What should the punishment be? There isn't much that you can do to sanction a Bush or a Rose (thorns, ironically, in the side of fair play), but the NCAA can punish carpet-bagging coaches such as Calipari. Or Carroll, who curiously beat a hasty exodus to the NFL last month?
Why not punish a coach whose program has been found to have committed primary violations by suspending him for five years from college athletics? A subsequent violation would merit a lifetime ban.
Next, hit a school where it hurts. First, allow any student-athlete currently at a program that is put on probation to transfer immediately without having to sit out one season unless that player was directly involved in any of the malfeasance.
Then issue a seven-figure fine. Then, ban that school's program from appearing on television and in the postseason for a minimum of one year. Finally, take away at least 10 percent of the scholarships for one year.
With so much money at stake, and so many parasites attempting to latch onto a future NFL or NBA star, it is more difficult than ever for any big-time program to comply with NCAA regulations. How can a school protect itself? Begin by offering scholarships to players based on more than simply their shuttle-run times or points-per-game average.
When Lane Kiffin accepted the USC job in January, he declared that it was of primary importance for USC "to bring in playmakers". When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame one month earlier, he stressed that he wanted to recruit, "RKGs: The Right Kind of Guy".
USC has beaten Notre Dame eight times in a row. Why should they stop recruiting players, or hiring coaches, who blithely disregard NCAA rules? The NCAA, simply by protecting the accused with closed hearings, demonstrates that it is less concerned with policing big-time athletics than it is with negotiating big-time television contracts.
In the meantime, enjoy tomorrow night's game between South Carolina and Kentucky on ESPN2. It will be, by my count, the 18th time that the Wildcats have appeared on national television this season.
Because everyone loves to watch a winner. And nobody gets to watch an NCAA Infractions Hearing. And that is something every athletic director knows, which is why you haven't not seen your last NCAA infractions hearing. Not by a long shot.
--Special reporting by Michael DePaoli in Tempe, Ariz.