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NCAA Misses the Mark With Ohio State Sanctions

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A little over a year ago a story broke that a “top-5” college football program would be facing potentially damning allegations. At the time it was generally assumed that the report meantOregon; a team fully embroiled in controversies relating to questionable recruiting practices. However, just mere days after theOregonstory broke; Yahoo Sports and The Columbus Dispatch dropped a bombshell onOhioStatewith the details of a bizarre scandal now known as “TattooGate”.

High profile college football players receiving benefits from boosters and the community certainly isn’t rare… in fact I would say it’s the norm. Unfortunately for Buckeye fans theOhioStatesituation was complicated by the fact that they were caught as part of a federal investigation on the tattoo parlor. It’s extremely tough to wriggle of the NCAA’s hook when the Feds are involved.


Detail by detail continued to leak and eventually lead to the suspensions of the “Buckeye Five:” Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, & Solomon Thomas. As the NCAA was continuing their investigation, former coach Jim Tressel admitted negligence in reporting what he knew not once, but four times. Regardless of if he was just trying to protect his players, he was wrong and was punished for his inaction. He received a “show-cause” penalty of five years, effectively ending his college coaching career. I don’t necessarily think the sanctions were absurd, but what I do find embarrassing for the NCAA is that former USC coach Pete Carroll received no such penalty in the wake of much more serious sanctions against the Trojans.

That not withstanding, the real killer for the Buckeyes again revolved around DeVier Posey and Dan Herron, who along with Marcus Hall and Melvin Fellows were found to have taken more money than they were allowed for work that they did for Independence Excavating owner Bobby DiGeronimo. The problem with the case is that it was not cut and dry… and had it gone to court, the players would have won. Since the NCAA is judge, jury, and executioner it made no difference. The reason for the many ins, outs, and what-have-yous is related to the NCAA rule that players cannot be paid more than $15 per hour… however federal union labor laws require workers to be paid a higher amount depending on the work that is done. DiGeronimo didn’t have a choice as to what wages to pay them regardless of the NCAA rules.OhioStatedropped the ball by knowing that they players were working for DiGeronimo and failing to understand how labor laws played into the earnings.OhioStateadmitted that they could’ve done a better job in monitoring the situation, but the NCAA used it as a reason to treat the Buckeyes as a “repeat offender” and levy over-the-top sanctions against the program.

In addition to the Tressel sanctions (and a 5 year disassociation from former QB Terrelle Pryor), the Buckeyes also received a 9 (total) scholarship reduction over the next 3 seasons, 3 years probation, and a 1-year bowl ban (effective for the 2012 season)… the first such ban for a school that was not found to have “lack of institutional control”. The NCAA didn’t much care that from the beginning of the investigation through today Ohio State fully cooperated with them and did everything they asked, including demanding the resignation of Jim Tressel. What’s even more bizarre is that the NCAA had a hand in the “self-imposed” sanctions thatOhioStategave themselves (which is part of the reason thatOhioStatedidn’t impose a bowl ban on themselves following this 6-6 season). Still, like a movie villain who demands money and claims they will spare your life, only to shoot you after collecting, the NCAA added to the punishment that they helped create.

Truthfully, the punishment won’t do much to hinder the success of one of college football’s premier programs. They probably weren’t going to win a National Championship next year anyway, especially with a first year head coach and mostly new coaching staff. It won’t hurt recruiting much either. Urban Meyer will pull 4- and 5-star recruits on name and success alone; add to that he is a master of the living room and these sanctions will be a minor blip on the radar of the proud program. One thing that it does do though, is punish players that had nothing to do with the situation. Think about it this way, DeVier Posey, a young man who made the wrong decision on multiple occasions will be playing in his 4th bowl game on January 2nd whereas the incoming freshmen class and returning underclassmen, who have acted in accordance with the rules, will only have a chance to play in three. Seems pretty fair, eh?

I guess that is really at the crux of my point. I think that bowl bans are the wrong way to punish a program. Many schools, when factoring in travel expenses and the fact that they have to purchase any of their allotted tickets that go unsold, actually lose money going to bowl games.OhioStateisn’t one of those schools, but losing a couple hundred thousand in income is a drop in the bucket for a program with the revenue generating ability of the Buckeyes. Besides, why punish people for the transgressions of others that came before you? Can you imagine if that happened in other sports: Ryan Braun was just suspended for 50 games for taking a performance enhancing drug. He’s fighting the charge, but for the sake of this argument, let’s say the suspension is upheld. Giving Ohio State, USC, or whomever (I’m looking at you Miami) a bowl ban would be comparable to Major League Baseball, in the wake of the Braun suspension, banning the Milwaukee Brewers from 2012 postseason play. How does that make sense? Should the other players on the team, fanbase, and community be punished for the actions of a player who acted with only his own best interest in mind? According to the NCAA, the answer is yes.

How do I think the NCAA should handle player infractions? In situations where the university isn’t actively promoting rule-breaking, I think the NCAA should institute a zero-tolerance policy for major violations and a two-strike rule for minor ones. In cases where players blatantly acted in violation of the rules (ie. Tattoogate) they would immediately lose their amateur status and not allowed to participate in their sport on the NCAA level from that day forward. In the case of violations where they may not have known what they were doing was wrong (ie. Text message timing and issues where they took due care to ensure they weren’t in violation, but were mistaken) the players would receive a three-game suspension and remain on probation for the remainder of their college careers. Any further violations would make them a major offender and strip them of their amateur status. The ultimate buy-in would be from the NFL. Restricting major violators from entrance into the draft for a period of one year would really go a long way in cleaning up the college game, but anything like that would almost certainly be challenged in court and the NFL would more than likely be found in violation. Roger Goodell could get around it by suspending the player for a year (as he did with upholding Terrelle Pryor’s five-game ban), but again, that would be met with resistance and litigation.

The Ohio State sanctions prove that NCAA President Mark Emmert is very serious in his adherence to rules policies. Still, I think his crosshairs are pointed in the wrong direction… punish those that commit crimes, not the workplace. In Posey’s case, the world will get to watch him go out on his terms, in a bowl game with his next stop the NFL, while the punishment for his sins will be felt by 85 players, hundreds of staff members, and hundreds of thousands of fans.


2 Responses to “NCAA Misses the Mark With Ohio State Sanctions”

  1. Nice use of the “Over The Top” phrase…clearly, Lincoln Hawk was on your mind…but although I do not necessarily think further penalties were warranted for the crimes, to call them “over the top” sounds a bit ridiculous. The punishments seem fair enough. OSU complied all along, so they didn’t get as bad as USC (who, may have had lesser crime but chose to lie and fight with the NCAA during the investigation).

    The other thing to consider here (and it may be wrong, but may be true), is that OSU is receiving punishment for the crimes that have been stated, but also the perception of players breaking other rules over the last 8 years (tied only to the many Rumors).
    As you said, NCAA is Judge, Jury, and Executioner, so they don’t necessarily HAVE to base punishment off a guideline (such as you mentioned torwards the end of your article). If they don’t like the cut of your gib (MISTER GENE SMITH) and the way you’ve presented the case to the media (I’m talking the repeated air of aarogance) and the NCAA, then you will feel it. Knowing they can’t go too far back for penalties (officially), this might be their chance to slap the school’s face.
    I’m not agreeing with them if that’s what they are doing, but whose to say it didn’t have a great influence on these sanctions?

    Summer of George.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | January 4, 2012, 10:00 am
    • USC actually had a more serious crime in that they were hit with “lack of institutional control.” Which is the same thing that SMU was hit with before they got the death penalty. OSU was charged with “failure to monitor.”

      You are probably right in that OSU is being punished for rumors. This is the same thing that Jeff Bagwell is facing right now in his hall of fame candidacy. People are not voting Bagwell in the hall of fame because they “think” he did steroids. Nevermind that there has never been anything that has linked him to steroids; no tests, no reports, no clubhouse managers.

      A system without checks and balances is never good, but it seems that’s what we have in both cases… especially in the case of the NCAA who has the first, only, and final say on judgments.

      Posted by Jason Marlo | January 4, 2012, 11:20 am

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