Cheating in Recruiting: Is the System Flawed, and Does Everybody Really Do It?
"If you're not cheating, you're not trying."
It's a cliché, but in recent years, we've seen several of college football's top teams become embroiled in various levels of cheating scandals.
Miami has been battling with the NCAA over the Nevin Shapiro case for about two years now, Oregon has been playing with the Willie Lyles cloud hanging over its head for two seasons, and Auburn's 2010 national title team has had claims of improprieties swirling over its crystal football since November of 2010 when the Cam Newton recruiting scandal story broke.
That old adage is correct.
If you're looking for a team that is squeaky clean, you'll be looking for quite some time.
Whether it's a $100 handshake, inappropriate contact or violations that occur on official visits, they happen. Lorenzo Carter, the nation's No. 5 overall prospect in the 2014 247Sports.com composite index, even joked about which programs "pay more" in a video posted Monday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (0:55 mark).
"Schools will do whatever they can to get you there," he said. "It has to be your decision."
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that only 17 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs have never been found guilty of a major violation. Of those that were, 55 percent of those major violations cases involved football programs. One of those that hadn't been found guilty at the time was Penn State, which was punished severely in 2012, although it wasn't related to recruiting.
But it isn't just the major issues that prevail through college athletics.
With a seemingly never-ending NCAA rule book (actually, it's close to 500 pages), secondary recruiting violations are commonplace in major college football. Secondary violations range from willful disregard of contact periods, purposefully stretching the rules (like Nick Saban's abuse of the "bump rule") to downright silly accidents that are impossible to manage.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was taken off the recruiting trail for a month last September because he got a prospect into an $8 tennis match for free according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer broke the rules when he said "good luck" to a prospect during an athletic event according to ESPN.com, and an Alabama coach accepted a Facebook friend request from a prospect before the proper time according to the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News.
Whether violations are a result of intentional actions, unintentional actions, willful ignorance or lack of knowledge, they happen.
With college football becoming a bigger business by the day, the arms race isn't going to slow down.
So let's fix the system. After all, it's clearly flawed.
One problem is that the NCAA's enforcement staff isn't exactly striking fear in the hearts of athletic directors these days.
The botched Miami case has further scarred the perception of the NCAA, which has lost several key members of its enforcement staff either voluntarily or involuntarily over the last year. But president Mark Emmert told USA Today in April that his enforcement staff was at an all-time high of 59 staffers.
How do we fix it?
Beef up the enforcement staff if you wish, but a total overhaul of the process would be more effective.
Schools are required to conduct their own internal investigations through their compliance department when rules could possibly have been broken. They then present the report to the NCAA, which decides whether it's comprehensive enough and what further action is needed.
Laugh if you will, but that is a productive process. Schools have incentive to tell the truth because the hammer will come down if the NCAA discovers that they are lying (that is, of course, assuming the NCAA doesn't hire a lawyer to cross-examine a witness during a bankruptcy case like it did with the Miami case).
The process, though, is reactive. The NCAA needs to be proactive.
Whether it's through a staff hired by the NCAA or outsourced to a third-party, more boots on the ground seeking out potential rule-breakers should be the NCAA's top priority.
Will a 59-person staff cut it? Nope.
That's like paying the minimum balance due on a $50,000 credit card bill every month. It's spinning your wheels, but accomplishing nothing.
Don't confuse motion with action.
In order to cut down on cheating, the enforcement arm—whether it's run by the NCAA or a third-party—needs to be proactive.
How prevalent are major recruiting violations in college football?
Sure, that takes money. Lots of money. But let's be honest, while the NCAA is a tax-exempt organization, everything about high-profile college athletics screams "for profit" these days.
One way to limit cheating is to embrace the idea that college football is big business. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive have been on the forefront of the modern-day push to provide a $2,000-per-year stipend to bridge the gap between what an athletic scholarship covers and the full cost of attendance.
Slive has gone so far as to say that a divisional split could be an option if the measure—which has been overridden due in large part to the opposition of financial have nots (according to AL.com)—isn't passed through.
If it eventually does, that stipend could serve as a deterrent to players receiving extra benefits. In addition to the value of a scholarship—which is $35,000 per year or more depending on the institution—players will get basic spending money, top-tier athletic training and could conceivably still be eligible for Pell Grants and other forms of legal compensation.
Rules are made to be broken, and no matter what happens, cheating will happen. If the NCAA really wants to stop it, a total overhaul is needed. We've already seen signs of that happening, and that's a good start.
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