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Posted on: January 7, 2011 2:29 pm

Saban chat with Sanders Jr. an NCAA violation?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Hey, remember when class of 2012 recruit Barry Sanders Jr. (yes, that Barry Sanders) told the world that Mark Ingram would be declaring publicly for the draft this week because Nick Saban had told him so? And then Ingram officially declared today and he was right? That was pretty cool, huh?

Maybe a little less cool for Alabama, since according to the same website that broke the original Ingram-to-turn-pro story, that conversation qualifies as an NCAA violation :
Such an extended conversation between Saban and Sanders [still a high school junior--ed.] is a potential violation of NCAA Bylaw, which states “Off-campus recruiting contacts shall not be made with an individual (or his or her relatives or legal guardians) before July 1 following the completion of his or her junior year in high school."

NCAA Bylaw 13.02.4 defines contact as “any face-to-face encounter between a prospective student-athlete … during which any dialogue occurs in excess of an exchange of a greeting. Any such face-to-face encounter that is prearranged or that takes place on the grounds of the prospective student-athlete’s institution … shall be considered a contact.”
This is the well-known "bump rule," which Saban has already been accused of stretching to its breaking point in the past. Though obviously the NCAA will take its time ruling on the incident one way or the other, the case would appear to be pretty cut-and-dried; the link above includes a photograph of Saban and Sanders having their conversation, and Sanders' comments about Ingram make it clear that, to quote the bylaw, "dialogue occurred in excess of an exchange of a greeting." That compliance officials at both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were willing to go on the record as saying they would want the Tide's compliance department to examine the incident is a strong indication they believe a violation occurred.

Then again, nothing in the murky world of recruiting and recruiting bylaws is official until the NCAA says it is, and Saban has already publicly denied exchanging anything more than a greeting. Even if found guilty, Saban would only have committed a single secondary violation, at worst. Punishments are likely to be minimal regardless.

But if Saban is found guilty, he could be subject to the NCAA's recent decision to make suspensions available as a punitive measure for coaches committing secondary violations, and his reputation as a coach willing to ignore the exact rule he appears to be flaunting here might make him too juicy an example to pass on. (The NCAA could also impose limits on Alabam's recruitment of Sanders Jr., though it's highly debatable how much of an impact those would have in any case.) Don't expect anything to come of this other than a quietly self-reported violation on Alabama's part and the proverbial wrist-slap, if that, but it'll be a story worth following all the same.

Posted on: December 30, 2010 8:16 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2010 8:19 pm

End of Pinstripe Bowl a disgrace to the sport

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Ask any defender of the bowl system why college football shouldn't ditch bowl games for a playoff and one of their reasons will be that the bowl games are a reward for the players who work so hard during the season.  They're right, too.  The bowl games are a reward for the players.  A vacation to enjoy themselves and have some fun before the year comes to an end.

Just as long as they don't have any of that fun on the field, apparently.

What was a very entertaining first edition of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium was marred on Thursday evening when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on Kansas State wide receiver Adrian Hilburn for what was deemed a celebration after scoring a touchdown in the final minutes.  That celebration was a military-style salute to the crowd after scoring the touchdown that brought his team to within two points and gave Kansas State a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion.

Instead the Wildcats were backed up 15 yards and forced to go for two from the 18-yard line.  An incomplete pass later, and Syracuse left the Bronx with a 36-34 win.

It was a terrible call, and at possibly the worst time it could have been made.  Kansas State fans, and college football fans have every right to be angry with the official who made the call, and reportedly told Hilburn "wrong choice, buddy" as he threw the flag.  Still, we can all be as angry with the official as we want to be, but I worry that we might be shooting the messenger here.

Yes, it was a terrible call, but the penalty wasn't what's truly terrible about all of this.  The fact that a player celebrating a touchdown is illegal in the first place is what's truly terrible.

These are kids out there on the playing field, are they not?  Maybe the NCAA and the schools forget that from time to time because they're so busy counting the money that these kids make for them.  It's because of this stupid rule that a kid goes from the elation he was feeling for possibly saving the day for his teammates to wanting to crawl under a rock knowing that he just cost those teammates the game.

Is this the lesson that the NCAA is trying to teach its student-athletes?  

I mean, I know that college football is big business.  Hell, listen to any coach leading up to a bowl game and he'll tell you that his team is taking the approach that the bowl game is a "business trip."  It's just I fear we've reached the point where we've forgotten that football is a game, and that college football is a game being played by college kids.  For our entertainment.

If the NCAA wants its student-athletes to start behaving like professionals, then maybe the NCAA should start paying them like they're professionals.
Posted on: December 29, 2010 2:50 pm

The NCAA does not appreciate being mocked, y'all

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As they did in the wake of their ruling that Cam Newton was eligible -- and the media firestorm that accompanied it -- the NCAA has again issued a statement outlining a recent decision , this time the Ohio State suspensions, and this time they are angry . Or at least, they're as angry as a near-faceless all-encompassing bureacracy can be:

Several media and others recently concluded that very different situations involving student-athlete eligibility should be considered independent of their unique circumstances or interpreted with a "one size fits all" approach.

In particular, they are comparing recent decisions involving The Ohio State University and Auburn University (and others). Some have even suggested the NCAA plays favorites in these types of situations based in part or in whole on financial considerations.

Nothing could be farther from the truth ...

[T]he notion that the NCAA is selective with its eligibility decisions and rules enforcement is another myth with no basis in fact. Money is not a motivator or factor as to why one school would get a particular decision versus another. Any insinuation that revenue from bowl games in particular would influence NCAA decisions is absurd.

The NCAA throwing around words like "absurd" is the equivalent of your standard columnist or blogger typing out an expletive-laced ALL-CAPS rant. They are, to understate things for effect, not entirely happy.

And though he is well in the minority, this blogger for one doesn't blame them a bit. The criticism of the NCAA's Ohio State ruling seems to simultaneously accuse the organization of being too strict ("Why can Cecil Newton get away with asking for $180,000 while the Buckeyes get punished for a few underpriced tattoos and for selling their own possessions?" ) and, somehow, too lenient ("Why do the Buckeyes get to play in the bowl game when they're suspended?" ). As the saying goes, a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy, and from here it looks like handing down a five-game suspension but allowing the accused Buckeyes to play the biggest game of their current season looks like it fits that bill. (As for the Sugar Bowl's lobbying, please note that it was in the direction of Ohio State and Jim Tressel to keep them from sitting the players themselves, not the NCAA.)

The NCAA is also correct that comparisons between the Newton case and Ohio State's -- not to mention Reggie Bush's, Renardo Sidney's , and the like -- don't entirely fly when the NCAA has no evidence (as of yet) the Newtons received any benefits and plenty of evidence the Buckeyes did. As has been pointed out elsewhere , those accusing the NCAA of inconsistency miss that their response to accepted benefits has been very consistent indeed.

This isn't to say the NCAA hasn't earned its reputation for capriciousness over the years (and then some). There's solid arguments to be made that the Buckeyes should be sitting the Sugar Bowl, that their bylaws should have more clearly anticipated a situation like the Newtons', that the bylaws ought to be looser where relatively minor benefits are concerned (particulary considering how much money the athletes in question are earning for the programs they represent).

But the NCAA is right -- this time -- that just causally tossing out a comparison between the Newtons and the Buckeyes alongside words like "inconsistent" and "biased" isn't a fair method of criticism.

Posted on: December 27, 2010 12:42 pm

OSU seniors consider benching suspended players

Posted by Tom Fornelli

There's been a bit of confusion and anger over the NCAA's decision to suspend six Ohio State players for five games next season for selling memorabilia and accepting discounted tattoos, but not to suspend them for the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.  Well, it seems there's still a chance that none of the suspended players will play in the Sugar Bowl, though it's not the NCAA's decision.

The team met for the first time since the suspension was announced on Sunday, and according to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the suspended players apologized to their teammates at the meeting.  According to the same report, the Ohio State seniors also got together to discuss whether or not they wanted the players suspended by the team for the bowl game as well.
According to sources, the suspended players are scheduled to travel with the team to New Orleans, but the final decision on what happens to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams, backup defensive end Solomon Thomas and backup linebacker Jordan Whiting obviously lies with Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. One source said one scenario could include the sanctioned Buckeyes playing in the Sugar Bowl, but perhaps not starting.

If I had to guess, I don't think Tressel will sit any of the players for the Sugar Bowl.  If anything, he'll choose the option to not start them, though I don't even expect that to be the case.  Personally, while I understand why people are angry that none of the players were suspended for the bowl game, I tend to feel that suspending them for five games next season hurts Ohio State more than forcing them to sit out the Sugar Bowl would.

Let's be real, here, while the Sugar Bowl is a big deal, it doesn't actually mean anything in the big picture.  It's not like the winner of the game has a chance to be the national champion.  The only thing on the line in the game is Ohio State's pride as they face another SEC team in a BCS bowl game.

Suspending the players for next season, however, likely costs the Buckeyes a shot at a national title in 2011 and possibly a Big Ten title as well.  Even if players like Terrelle Pryor decide to leave school early rather than sit out nearly half the season, that still means the Buckeyes won't have them next year, which will have an impact on the team's performance.

Though, had the NCAA just decided to suspend the players for six games, including the bowl game, that would have kept everybody off its back, but since when does the NCAA ever do anything in which it doesn't leave itself open to criticism?
Posted on: December 13, 2010 6:45 pm

Secondary violations can earn coaches suspensions

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Just go ahead and call it the Lane Kiffin Rule: coaches who commit NCAA secondary violations in the name of recruiting can now face suspensions of up to two games . The days of head coaches willingly pushing the proverbial envelope and collecting slaps on the wrist like so many Pokemon sound like they may be over:

"This is our request: Anything that has to do with recruiting, if there's a proven violation, we want the ability for the NCAA to say this will cost you a week or a maximum of two weeks," [American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant] Teaff said."We as an association asked for that, and they granted that.

"We think that's a major step forward."

The NCAA does make clear that being found guilty of a secondary violation doesn't trigger an automatic suspension, and that "punishment could depend on the circumstances"; the coach or program who slips up somewhere once probably won't get anything more than the usual reprimand.

But some coaches -- like Kiffin during his abbreviated stay at Tennessee -- have seemed to treat the secondary violation as more bureaucratic annoyance than legitimate deterrent. This change is likely aimed at curbing those kinds of serial offenders, or the more obvious, flagrant violations, like recruits-running-out-of-the-tunnel gameday simulations.

NCAA punishments have often sounded imposing on paper and been toothless in practice; waivers for BCS schools running afoul of the annual APR requirements have been so rampant they may as well be automatic. But more than one coach complained anonymously in the media after incidents like Auburn's 2009 impromptu recruiting pep rally , and Teaff at least sounds serious. (The NCAA might even have an immediate test case at Arkansas after this photograph surfaced this week. Does dressing recruits up in Hog jerseys and letting them visit personalized lockers in the Hog locker room count as a gameday situation?) The rank-and-file in the AFCA may be tired of seeing the Kiffins of the world benefit while those that toe the line lose out.

So whether this will actually be a brave new world for recruiting violations and punishments remains to be seen. But there's little doubt it will be a development worth watching as Signing Day approaches.

Posted on: December 1, 2010 12:58 pm

NCAA declares Cam Newton eligible

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Here's some bad news for TCU or any other school or fan base out there hoping that the hammer was going to come down on Cam Newton.  The NCAA declared Newton eligible on Wednesday.

On Monday the NCAA that a violation of amateurism rules took place, and Auburn declared Newton ineligible on Tuesday as they're required to do.  Still, using the evidence it had, the NCAA found that while Cecil Newton along with Kenny Rogers did in fact try to solicit money for his son, Cam Newton was unaware of it and the NCAA decided to reinstate his eligibility.  Though according to the agreement between the NCAA and Auburn, Cecil Newton's access to the Auburn athletic department has been limited.

The relationship between Kenny Rogers and Mississippi State has been dissolved.

“Our members have established rules for a fair and equal recruitment of student-athletes, as well as to promote integrity in the recruiting process,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility, we must consider the young person’s responsibility. Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement. From a student-athlete reinstatement perspective, Auburn University met its obligation under NCAA bylaw 14.11.1. Under this threshold, the student-athlete has not participated while ineligible.” 

All of which is a fancy way of saying that every single win that Auburn had with Cam Newton as its quarterback will stand, and that any win from here on out will also stand.  Which means that if Auburn beats South Carolina on Saturday, it will be playing for a national title, and if it wins that game, it won't be stripped of it any time in the future.

Which, obviously, is fantastic news for Auburn, Cam Newton, and Auburn fans everywhere.
Posted on: November 22, 2010 12:05 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2010 1:50 pm

USC asks for Baxter back after golf cart ride

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Let it not be said that USC hasn't learned from their past history with Reggie Bush ; when details surfaced that freshman running back Dillon Baxter had taken a golf cart ride with a USC student attempting to kickstart a fledgling career as an agent (a student already warned by the Trojan compliance department to stay away from USC's players), the Trojans wasted no time in declaring Baxter ineligible  and holding him out of Saturday's 36-7 loss to Oregon State .

With that game and the investigation (such as it must have been) behind them, however, the Trojans are ready for the NCAA to sign off on Baxter returning to the fold for this week's game against Notre Dame :

USC self-reported the infraction and also filed an official request with the NCAA for Baxter's reinstatement. As part of the request, USC put a nominal value on the golf cart ride that Baxter would have to repay, likely to a charity, USC vice president for athletic compliance David Roberts said.

"We're hoping that that this is going to be the end of it and the NCAA will understand that we acted proactively and quickly," Roberts said. "Obviously we'll take further action in this coming week to make sure that there are no other contacts between these people and our players."

Depending on how much value USC placed on that golf cart ride, maybe Teague Egan -- the agent-to-be in question, who said he offers "15-20" golf cart rides a day to his fellow USC students -- should simply start a campus golf cart taxi service instead. But assuming the NCAA finds no other malfeasance, that USC responded as quickly as they did in the face of such a seemingly minor violation would indicate that the days of Bush-style lawlessness are behind them.

(It's at this point that many college football fans would ask why Baxter was held out for something so piddly while Cam Newton has continued to play after serious allegations that his father solicited up to $200,000 for his services. There's no clear answer to that question, though your perspective likely alters how you'd expect that answer to arrive; the media consensus appears to be that Auburn is simply thumbing its nose at the usual sit-first-ask-for-reinstatement-aft
er process and daring the NCAA to act, though Auburn fans will tell youthat Newton's continued appearances indicate just how un serious the threat to his eligibility really is. It seems we'll all find out when the NCAA says we'll find out, unfortunately.)

Posted on: November 10, 2010 5:42 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2010 5:43 pm

MSU: University contacted SEC in January

Posted by Chip Patterson

The latest news from the ongoing Cam Newton saga comes from Starkville, but it hard to consider any of it "breaking."  On Wednesday afternoon, Mississippi State released a statement regarding their contact with the SEC offices on the topic of Cam Newton.  The release does very little to reveal any new information, but instead to confirm the reports that questions around Cam Newton's recruitment have been on the conference's radar for almost a year now.
Mississippi State University acknowledges that it contacted the Southeastern Conference office in January of 2010 regarding an issue relating to its recruitment of Cam Newton.

Shortly after the initial call, the SEC office requested specific information to include interviews with involved staff from MSU.

Due to MSU dealing with ongoing and time-consuming eligibility issues involving non-football matters in the winter and spring of 2010, the specific SEC request went unfulfilled. Some additional information was provided to the SEC during July of 2010. Once the NCAA enforcement staff became involved, Mississippi State University cooperated fully with its investigation. MSU is confident the SEC office has managed this process consistent with its established procedures and the university is committed to the conference’s ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with SEC and NCAA rules.
See?  Nothing really to see here.  This is Mississippi State's way of clearing the university's name of any further social or institutional responsibility in the eyes of the public.  The SEC and the NCAA did not need MSU to come out with this kind of statement, and it was likely crafted to try and head off questions which the progam does not want to (and likely is not allowed to by the NCAA) answer.
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