|Would Pete Carroll have gotten a show-cause penalty under the new NCAA penalty structure? (Getty Images)|
USC would have had a three-year bowl ban.
That's what USC athletic director Pat Haden told me a few months ago. We were chatting about the NCAA's new penalty structure that became reality on Tuesday. The new structure calls for enhanced penalties, more blame on coaches and Mark Emmert's risk-reward needle pointing more toward the risk part of the dial.
And had it been in place in 2010, USC would have been in the crosshairs. As it stands, the football program is recovering from a two-year bowl ban and is digging out from severe scholarship restrictions. Former assistant Todd McNair is suing the NCAA over a one-year show-cause penalty that he says caused irreparable damage to his career. It was found that basically Pete Carroll should have known about Reggie Bush going rogue inside his program.
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So, it could be worse? Yes, in a parallel universe. Since we have nothing to compare it to in real time, all we know about the new penalty structure is how it would have been applied in the past. Whatever penalties are applied in the future will be under the new sentencing guidelines.
This is where it gets sticky for Emmert, the NCAA president. Will risk finally outweigh reward for cheaters? This structure suggests yes. Coaches no longer will even be given the benefit of the doubt. If an assistant is caught cheating, the coach will be subject to suspension. It is now up to the coach to be proactive, shifting some of the burden off compliance and more on the guy who oversees the football program.
And, in some places, the climate at the entire school.
It will be on the coach to issue written materials and educate his coaches. It also looks like a lot more work for the likes of Mike Glazier and Chuck Smrt. Those are two of the top NCAA troubleshooters hired by schools. I see the word “mitigating” twice in the NCAA press release, suggesting there is still a way for violators to plead down.
And by plead down, I mean that the schools with the most lawyers will be able to mitigate the best. Get used to a lot of Texas Southerns and Sacramento States getting the NCAA hammer. Expect the next major program on the hot seat to worm its way into lessened penalties because of a six-figure tab paid to some law firm.
Fifteen years or so ago we got the repeat violator rule. Any school caught cheating twice within a five-year period was subject to the death penalty. There have been plenty of repeat violators, a miniscule amount of death penalties. None in major sports.
In other words, the NCAA will have to show me. Big-time basketball has become a recruiting stew of wrongdoing. Football is headed there as sleazy sources have found a way to monetize 7-on-7. One source in southern California told me that runners are showing up at middle school 7-on-7 games. How does the NCAA deal with that?
The guy they hired to head a football task force, Bill Benjamin, mysteriously left a few months ago. An investigator already has been reportedly let go during the Miami investigation.
If I read this release right, Oregon and Miami already have hope of escaping the new penalties. If their cases aren't processed by Aug. 1, they will be subject to the more lenient -- basically the current -- penalties. That's fair. Wrongdoing that occurred in Oregon's case in 2009 and 2010 shouldn't be subject to this.
Official response from an NCAA source: “It depends.”
But what about the future? Would Carroll have been handed a show-cause penalty much the way that Jim Tressel was at Ohio State? The point is moot for Carroll because he went to the NFL. But we're talking about suspending coaches from 10 percent of the games to an entire season.
"The coaches are going to be in a bull's-eye," said a source who deals with schools on NCAA investigations.
That's good, in theory. What I suspect will happen is schools will do everything in their power -- lawyering up -- to keep those coaches from getting suspended.
It's time that risk outweighed reward, not just rewarded lawyers to mitigate the penalties.
A couple of reactions from the outside world ...
Dave Ridpath, academic reformer and professor at Ohio University:
"We had a saying in the military -- “it briefs well as a plan but we will never know until it is enacted or put to the test.” It is hard for me to stand up and cheer this thing but reluctantly I do see it as a step in the right direction since it does really take some of the headache out of the petty violations and how those are handled.
"For far too long people in compliance were bogged down with petty stuff and it became increasingly difficult to manage the big stuff. This in itself is an accomplishment and should free up the department to focus on the large issues.
"Where I see problems is the reluctance to punish big time coaches by the institutions and the NCAA along with the fundamental flaws and inconsistencies of the process that still will exist in major violations — specifically the lack of transparency and due process — not to mention the flawed decision making ...
"If a big time coach like Calipari, Saban, etc. gets suspended or punished, then I might believe it, but coaches and others can still enact much pressure to make it look like they covered their butts and the more reward-less risk culture will continue. It looks good, but until you take the girl to the dance and get to know her, the reality may be far different."
Chuck Smrt, NCAA troubleshooter and president of The Compliance Group, Overland Park, Kan.:
“Penalties are going to be greater. I think penalties have been greater for about a year now because these things have been in the works for a year.
"Penalties should be greater on coaches. A lot has been bubbling up from [the American Football Coaches Association] saying penalties should be greater on the head coach …
"The bottom line: more coaches are going to get penalized. Schools are going to get penalized more ... My hope is this will be a deterrent. We'll see."