By Michael Felder
Yesterday Ohio State got handed down their punishment for the world to see. The expected and almost "required" idiocy ensued. Obviously "this punishment was far, far too severe." Or "duh, this punishment was not even close to enough". Both of those answers are acceptable depending on which team you root for in the college football world. Oh, we also cannot forget the quite popular "the NCAA is not fair" that works for all the sides involved in the discussion.
Personally, when I saw the sanctions come across the line; one year probation, nine scholarships lost over three seasons, a one year post-season ban and a five year show-cause for Jim Tressel, I didn't really bat an eye. No it isn't too severe. Yeah, it is plenty severe enough to me. No the NCAA is not fair, but why does that surprise you when it has been their entire MO for years?
To nip the USC stuff in the bud here's a short point on them. Can we all just agree that the Trojans got screwed? They did. The NCAA made an example out of a defiant athletic director and a school that had some key players stall the investigation. They came down way too hard. The Trojans and the Reggie Bush situation are the far end of the NCAA butt hurt spectrum. They're hanging out with Dez Bryant on the "over punished" scale of things. Their punishments were not the norm and absolutely should not become the "standard" by which people want to see punishment enforced.
So, no. No. No. No. No the NCAA was not fair to Southern Cal. That absolutely does suck. However, I'm not in the "two wrongs, make a right" or the "because they got this wrong, they need to get everyone else equally by overpunishing them" camp. That's just not how it is supposed to work. When something as wrong as USC occurs; the NCAA gets a hard-on for a school and bangs on them hard, I'm not hoping everyone else gets the hot poker up their ass to make those folks who got screwed feel better about the equity of it all.
Back to the Buckeyes. Overall these penalties really shouldn't shop the train that Urban Meyer has got rolling in Columbus from a recruiting standpoint. Taking 22 kids over three year, 66 in total instead of 25 over three and 75 in total is damaging but not soul crushing from an overall depth standpoint.
Honestly the post-season ban sucks the most for the seniors next season and whatever post-season date the Buckeyes would have ended up in. Those guys won't get to cap off their season with a trip to a warm location. They won't get all the free swag that is absolutely fantastic. They won't get to play for a Big Ten Championship. That does stink. It stinks for this year's USC Trojan seniors as well.
It also sucks for the Big Ten Championship and whichever bowl out there got Ohio State. The Buckeyes travel damn well. Believe they would have sold out the B1G Title game and then swarmed to Urban's first bowl. Not only the events themselves are losing but those host cities are losing out on hotel and entertainment cash.
The biggest punishment here is the five year show-cause for Jim Tressel. The 59 year old coach is now tasked with convincing someone he is worth possible sanctions to hire, if he wants a job in NCAA football. Basically if a school has interest in him the school faces scholarship losses, recruiting restrictions or a post-season ban for hiring Tressel. Risk vs reward. Cost-Benefit analysis.
No one has really tested this before and honestly, to me, it doesn't make sense to try. If you're a good school why hamstring a guy that can put you over the top when there are so many other quality coaches out there? If you're an awful school how does bringing in a heavy hitter, then tying a hand behind his back, help lift your programs already under-talented squad?
Now for some general sanctions commentary starting with one that I absolutely abhor, scholarship reductions. I'm not a fan of them in the slightest. The post-season ban I understand because while they are a phenomenal experience for the participants they are also hold a tremendous promotional and money making role in the universities never ending quest to get paid. Show-cause I actually like because it does punish the people in charge. Suspensions I like because, even though I do not enjoy agree with the rules, they do actively punish the "offenders" of the NCAA's regulations.
Scholarship reductions do two things. In theory they limit a universities ability to be successful on the field and, to be fair, time and again this has proven to be true. Alabama, Miami and others can speak to what a wide scale reduction can do to a program for a period of time. USC is proving that success can be had while operating at a loss; especially if your conference decides to absolutely wet the bed by virtue of being a collective failure as the non-Oregon/Stanford Pac-12 was this season.
However, the second thing scholarship reductions do is take away the opportunity for a kid who was totally not involved in the transgression. Not having the chance to play for a title for a season or go to a bowl is one thing. 30 kids or 9 kids or 15 kids not getting to play college football is another beast.
"Oh but those kids can go somewhere else!"
That's the common response and there are two answers to that. One, what if the kid wanted to play there. Plenty of kids don't care where they end up playing but there are a lot of young men who want to play, dream of playing, at a certain school. With scholarship reductions that 23rd, 24th or 25th kid who was a safe bet doesn't get that opportunity. Which leads us to the "they can go elsewhere" portion of things.
Sure they can. They can go from a USC commit to a UCLA or an Arizona State. The final three can go from Ohio State to Wisconsin or Michigan. That means those final kids at those respective schools end up elsewhere as well. The way recruiting works folks is you have a board. Not unlike an NFL big board for the draft. Players that USC and Ohio State target are tops on not just their board but everyone's board. When they can't sign a kid he gets snatched up.
The less than elite recruiting schools dump a player who is lower on their board for the better player. This goes on through the BCS ranks, into the non-BCS ranks and trickles down to FCS. Ultimately someone ain't getting a scholarship. It isn't the upper tier players who miss out, it is the guy who is on the FCS school's board who loses a full scholarship when they split one between the last guys on their board to take a kid they didn't think they could get.
If you don't buy that, it's fine, I'm not really trying to convince you. But definitely check out kids who get their offers pulled during this recruiting cycle and how they end up going elsewhere and what schools do to accomodate getting a kid they were not expecting to have.
Ultimately I just am not, and cannot, be a fan of taking away the shot to play for a kid. If he doesn't get an offer because of his own merits or a school decides to pass on him that's one thing but the trickle down of it all coupled with a kid not getting to go to a school he really wants to be at all thanks to reductions just bothers me.
Enter my support of financial penalties. We just saw Georgia Tech absorb a hefty $100,000 fine to go along with vacating their 2009 ACC Championship but 0 in the way of scholarship reductions. When players are found guilty of receiving extra benefits they are forced to repay the money in addition to their suspension. With all the talk about college sports revolving around money, cash being the driving factor and the NCAA "catering" to their cash cows why not hit the area that is the central theme in all of this, the wallet.
Now in regards to monetary punishment my colleague at Crystal Ball Run Allen Kenney has taken up the other side, explaining reasons why the financial punishments don't work. Basically the argument for his side centers around the equity of it all for the schools involved, what could happen and the extra cost of increasing compliance.
For starters I don't really care about equity in that regard. If you're going to have players get involved in the extra benefits and the overall violations game then you're playing on the same playing field as everyone else. I'm far less concerned with the financial equity of the parties involved than I am with the equity of the offenses. If the same or similar offenses are made; receipt of extra benefits, participation of an ineligible player and the like, then a similar punishment should be levied.
To me that means fines. Penalties. Make them fork over some of the cash. Instead of taking scholarships pay some of the money back. This is where Allen's argument starts with how "fair" it is to smaller schools who can't afford the same penalties as a larger cash cow.
Does it suck for them? Yeah. It sucks for everyone. Instead of losing the scholarships you pay the fine and keep the opportunities open. Multiple football players involved in a scandal like Ohio State, instead of kids missing out for the next three seasons you get the Buckeyes forking over a hefty sum in addition to the post-season ban, the probation and the Jim Tressel show-cause. Money talks and when you're forking over money that should be slotted for other areas, schools will take notice.
Enter Allen's argument in regard to schools deciding to opt out of their non-revenue sports because of the fear of possible sanctions. Obviously the most recent findings at Boise State and their women's tennis program came up. Well first of all I'm surprised that the Broncos got off as easy as they did; 3 year probation, 1 year post-season ban, loss of three grant-in-aids over two years, 2 less hours weekly of in-season practice, 2 less hours weekly of off-season practice, no international recruiting, $5,000 penalty and vacating the 2008-2009 season.
For what the program did the death penalty was most assuredly on the table. Hell if this happened in football; a team flew players in, put them up for months at a time, give them cash gifts, allow ineligible players to participate in practice and in games, paid for transportation, lied to compliance, told students to lie and lied to the NCAA, the house would be called for by folks from all over.
If the penalties for Boise State were monetary would this push other schools to dump their programs? Perhaps. I think that is a tough call to make. For starters I think designing the punishment to focus on the outliers, like Boise State women's tennis, doesn't serve to address the actual issue that people have, big time college athletics.
I fall into the camp that it would make schools take compliance seriously. Make coaches take compliance more seriously. Make everyone involved; knowing the money is what the NCAA is going after, be more cautious and vigilant in their dealings.
The fact is it isn't okay to let things go whether it means scholarships or vacated wins or post-season bans or recruiting limitations or fines. Fines would force a more thorough approach because the financial security of the university's athletic department is at stake. Whether it is $25,000 or $100,000 people aren't in a rush to give their revenue up. Spend more in compliance on the front end, save on the backend.
There is no perfect system to punish schools or offenders. Personally, I'd rather the universities absorb the cost along with the athletes who are suspended or ruled ineligible than the future prospects being penalized. I understand that (and this is an arbitrary number) $50,000 in Columbus is not the same as $50,000 in Chapel Hill is not the same as $50,000 in Miami but in the end the ability to pay is not where you're drawing the parallels.
After all when Billy Joe parks his rusted out Datsun in the red he'll get the same fine as when Richie Rich parked his G-wagon their the day before. If you can't afford to pay don't screw up.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.