After 27 drawn-out months, Oregon on Wednesday learned its football fate from the NCAA: no bowl ban, three scholarships lost, three years of probation and an 18-month show-cause penalty for the team’s former coach, who is firmly sitting atop a pile of fresh NFL money.
Although the headline says slap on the wrist, it's more like a gentle pat on the rear end, a gift bag and a “thank you for your patience.” So, why exactly did this take two years?
This isn't an Oregon problem, which likely got the punishment it deserved, but rather another example of the NCAA seemingly making it up as it goes.
The case was centered around the use of "recruiting services,” more specifically, the services of the now infamous Willie Lyles. The Texas-based recruiter (and really, the term “street agent” feels more appropriate) was paid $25,000 by the school to influence top-tier talent to come to Eugene.
The uncharted waters of recruiting services made this a difficult case for the NCAA enforcement staff. Add in the NCAA’s seemingly arbitrary and inconsistent approach on recent cases, and the sanctions handed (or not handed) down should come as no surprise.
The most noticeable of these sanctions shouldn't impact the school whatsoever. Chip Kelly was hit with the dreaded show-cause penalty for the next two seasons after being hit with “failure to monitor.” If another school wants to hire Kelly before the penalty expires, it must go before the NCAA committee on infractions to argue its case.
Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is smack-dab in the middle of a five-year show-cause penalty that will expire in 2016 because of his involvement in the Buckeyes' NCAA ruckus.
For Kelly, however, the penalty will undoubtedly be meaningless. His first training camp as the Eagles' head coach will be underway shortly, and his short-term college future was a moot point before the NCAA intervened. If the NFL doesn’t work out, he’ll be able to take his up-tempo offense—and the more than $30 million on his contract—back to the college world after a brief hiatus.
Beyond the show-cause, scholarship cuts, probation and “public reprimand,” Oregon’s official visits will be cut dramatically over the next few seasons. The Ducks have also been banned from subscribing to recruiting services, a strange but somehow fitting bit of minutia.
Overall, however, Oregon should be elated with the news. A team with legitimate BCS National Championship hopes in 2013 will be allowed to compete in postseason play.
The outcome is also ideal because a) the Ducks can finally put this behind them, something Miami is surely envious of, and b) the sanctions—which don't even feel like sanctions—are a blip on the radar for Nike’s football factory.
Lyles, the man at the center of it all, has already chimed in on the punishments while speaking to Yahoo! Sports:
Will Lyles to Y!Sports: "I agree with the NCAA's penalties against Oregon because the wrong people, namely the players, won't suffer."— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) June 26, 2013
And so Oregon will proceed with business as usual, and the NCAA will continue to make things appear much more difficult than they have to be. It’s not the specific ruling for the Ducks that is most concerning. What exactly would a year of postseason ineligibility add?
In this instance, the punishment could well match the infractions, although at this point it’s difficult to gauge what type of punishments are to be expected. With Oregon, the NCAA has chosen to focus on the guilty parties, mainly the team’s former coach, leaving the future of the program largely unaffected.
This, in a lot of ways, is what many have demanded. Over time, however, the NCAA has not taken the same approach, lacking consistency throughout. The exaggerated timelines and sheer lack of guidelines have made each case feel as if it were setting some sort of dramatic precedent.
Until the next case. And then the next one.
The building narrative of the NCAA’s incompetence also puts each decision under increased scrutiny. Some will argue that Oregon got off easy, others—especially those situated in the Northwest—likely received the news they were anticipating. The NCAA can no longer do right, even if the punishment is executed to perfection. It has lost the benefit of the doubt, with the botched Miami investigation adding even more fuel to the critics' fire.
It’s clear that enforcement is in need of a dramatic overhaul, talk of which has been churning for some time. This was apparent long before the Oregon ruling came down, and USC, Ohio State and Penn State will happily lead this charge.
Understaffed and overwhelmed, the NCAA's confidence has been lost. The Oregon ruling is no worse than any of the others before it, but it still lacks reason. Fair or not, the perception is that the NCAA is simply writing the book as it goes.
Although the end hope is that the NCAA gets these decisions correct, it should be able to do so in fewer than 27 months. It has to be able to do so, especially when the impact in the end is minimal.
Miami, whose wait goes well beyond Oregon's, is officially on deck.