Is the NCAA Capable of Fair Treatment of Infractions or Sanctions?

Bill N@@Bill_N1Correspondent IJuly 2, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Head coach Lane Kiffin addresses the team following the  USC Trojans spring game on  May 1, 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The answer is a resounding “NO”!  This is based on:

  • Recent USC football sanctions - mistakes and unprecedented findings
  • Appeals rarely upheld (1 of last 11)
  • The NCAA cannot subpoena witnesses and assumes the worst
  • The NCAA burden of proof standard is too low
  • Infraction Committee members conflict of interest
  • Inconsistent application of sanctions for similar infractions
  • Archaic NCAA rules on amateurism (unlike the Olympics) designed to profit at the expense of athletes

Much has been written recently about the harshness of the USC football sanctions, and the mistakes and unprecedented findings used to justify them.

Below is a list of some of them with links to the articles for details – they show that several of the NCAA findings were not valid including the only one that linked USC to the Bush family violations.

Dan Weber and Bryan Fisher have published several articles that detail the NCAA mistakes and faulty finding about the connection between Todd McNair, Lloyd Lake, and Reggie Bush.  These include:

Other reporters have reported similar problems with the NCAA:

Some of the above articles document the fact that the NCAA took the unprecedented action to publically state that “The NCAA will not comment on the content of confidential documents …” and then proceeds to attempt (very poorly) to cover-up the mistakes and convoluted logic used to make its finding against McNair.

Even if the NCAA were correct, the violation of their policy foretells the unfair treatment of USC’s appeal.

The NCAA has only upheld one of the 11 appeals since January 2008 when the NCAA changed their rules to make appeals more difficult to be successful (see “USC faces an uphill battle in appeal” by Baxter Holmes, LA Times).  The offended party must now show "the penalty is excessive such that it constitutes an abuse of discretion" by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.”

But, this is extremely subjective and the NCAA appeals committee can merely conclude that they don’t feel there was an abuse of discretion.

Appeals are heard by a NCAA appeals committee including representatives that are peers of the Infractions Committee with existing relationships.  Naturally they don’t want to offend the representatives on the Infractions Committee.

There is no objective third party organization involved to decide an appeal.

The Jerry Tarkanian battle with the NCAA is very revealing (see “Tarkanian and the NCAA”).  The Supreme Court decided that the NCAA didn’t use due process to discipline its member schools, and the NCAA changed its rules so that hearsay evidence was no longer admissible.

However, the above articles about the McNair finding show many examples of hearsay being applied so the NCAA is up to its old tricks.

The NCAA cannot subpoena witnesses.  The USC case demonstrated that when a potential witness does not testify or submit evidence, e.g., the Bush family, then the NCAA assumes that any other party testimony and evidence is valid even if from a convicted felon who the NCAA found lied in at least some of his testimony.

The NCAA even accepted his statement that illegal taped conversations supported his testimony about McNair without listening to them!  Turns out none of them had anything to do with McNair.

Colleges are also powerless to get these witnesses to testify but they suffer the consequences of the NCAA assumptions.

It appears that the NCAA burden of proof standard is either non-existent or so low that it is meaningless.

For example, in the USC case McNair was found to know about the Bush family relationship with felon Lloyd Lake based on a single 2.5 minute phone call at 1:34am with no proof of what was said, a modified photograph that proved nothing even if it was valid, and the illegal tapes that were not reviewed.

The NCAA report said, “[McNair] knew or should have known that [Bush] and [New Era Sports marketing agents] were engaged in violations that negatively affected [Bush’s] amateur status.”  It is interesting that the NCAA appears to admit that they didn’t have proof that McNair actually knew about the Bush-Lake relationship.

The NCAA also made the unprecedented finding that Bush’s $8-an-hour internship with sports marketer Michael Ornstein, which was approved by the NCAA at the time, constituted illegal benefits and erroneously classified Ornstein as a booster.

USC was never told that the NCAA considered Ornstein a booster until the NCAA findings were issued.

The NCAA Infractions Committee has a conflict of interest.  The committee was headed by a representative from Miami; other members included representatives from USC’s annual rival Notre Dame and also Nebraska.  All of these colleges are competitors for national championships, which require the best recruiting.

USC has played Notre Dame annually since 1926 and Notre Dame has lost the last 8 games costing their coach his job.

Giving USC harsh sanctions by taking away 30 scholarships means that these colleges all benefit by having a better chance to get these athletes while USC will be at a disadvantage for many years.

An article on July 1 by Ted Miller (ESPN) stated, “Report: Henderson [number 1 recruit in the nation who signed with USC] might spurn USC for Miami” Yes, that is Miami, the college with retired athletic director (15 years) Paul Dee who led the NCAA Infractions Committee.

This same type of conflict of interest is likely with other NCAA infraction cases.

I attempted some humor in a comment to an article by the Sports Comedian “USC to Leave Pac-10 …” by stating, “More breaking news ... UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero appointed head of NCAA Appeals Committee to decide USC Appeal. Quick decision expected.”

 A reply stated “We’re screwed.  Look who they had on the infractions committee and now on the appeals committee.  Most are people involved with universities USC has manhandled the last nine years.”

The fact that my humor failed was only possible because the NCAA’s mistakes and obvious bias made it possible to believe anything.

Of course, I am assuming that the NCAA wouldn’t do something this stupid, but …

The football sanctions given to USC were more severe than other colleges who gave money to their athletes to either convince them to attend or keep them at the college.

USC or its boosters were not involved in any payments to Bush’s family.  Bush did not attend USC due to any payments.  In fact, the payments by outside parties were designed to get Bush to leave USC, which he did a year earlier than required.

The Bush related violations were to USC’s disadvantage!

Other colleges have received less severe sanctions than USC, and they all have one thing in common. Either the college or their boosters gave money to their athletes to their advantage.

The article “USC faces an uphill battle in appeal” states, “Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney and private investigator who has worked on NCAA cases, agreed that "most of the penalties" would be upheld. However, he said the loss of 10 scholarships a year "might be excessive," noting that the NCAA usually reduces scholarships at the rate of two for every one ineligible player.”

USC had one ineligible football player according to the NCAA.

Recent articles about the harshness of the NCAA sanctions to USC include:

The real problem is the hypocrisy of the NCAA to keep the athletes from getting their fair share of the billions of dollars generated each year by college football and basketball, and using the obsolete “Principle of Amateurism” to accomplish this objective.

The Olympics fixed this problem years ago.

The NCAA has conspired with the NFL and NBA to make slaves of football and basketball college athletes by establishing arbitrary restrictions on them turning pro because their sports bring in almost all the television revenue. This doesn’t apply to other sports without the big $.

My recent article, “Analyzing NCAA Hypocrisy – Root Cause and Solutions”, details the problems with the NCAA and presents solutions to avoid most major infractions in the future.

Since the NCAA is not capable of issuing fair findings and sanctions, it would be much better for the NCAA and its member colleges to make positive changes to help the athletes and avoid NCAA infraction cases.

After all, aren’t college sports about the athletes who compete?

 "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." – Edmund Burke


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