LSU Sanctions Teach An Important Lesson

Written July 20th, 2011 by MaliBuckeye
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Around noon on Tuesday, the college football world was informed that Louisiana State University was sanctioned for numerous violations of NCAA regulations during the 2009 season.

LSU and the NCAA? Yeah, we were just as surprised as you were. And it wasn’t for the thing that we were expecting.

Seems the Bayou Bengals had self disclosed some issues regarding their football program to the NCAA, had self imposed sanctions, had received a Notice of Allegations and gone before the Committee on Infractions without much fanfare from the national press.

I’m sure it was simply an oversight on behalf of the two national networks that have exclusive relationships with the Southeastern Conference. Particularly the one that has indicated that it’s really interested in investigative journalism over the past few months.

To be fair, though, ESPN has the story on their front page… although it took about an hour or so to get it up there.

If you’re interested in the specifics of the Notice of Allegations, you can give it a read here. As you can guess, this means Eric will be updating The Naughty List again in the near future; but until then, here are the allegations in play:

  • Improper benefits and preferential treatment in the form of housing and transportation for a potential student athlete
  • Over 3,669 phone calls to recruits that were deemed “improper”, either due to their timing (dead or quiet periods) or because the amount. It should be noted that the NCAA was less than happy with the assistant coach in question’s decision to use a non-registered cell phone in order to get around LSU and NCAA compliance requirements. (Read that last part again, “Tressel should have a separate email” people.)
  • A 10.1 violation (Ethical conduct) by the student athlete during the investigation- he was less than truthful
  • A 10.1 violation by the assistant coach in question

Again, LSU discovered and self reported these issues, and disassociated themselves with the coach and the student athlete in question. They also recommended a two scholarship reduction for the 2010-11 academic year as well as other restrictions on recruiting (visits, phone calls, etc.).

To this the NCAA added an additional two scholarships for 2011-12 and one year probation, as well as a one year “show cause” penalty for the former coach.  For many this seemed like an extremely light punishment for the “major” transgressions- for comparison, basketball coach Kelvin Sampson was guilty of committing thousands fewer improper calls at Oklahoma and Indiana, and received a five year show cause classification from the NCAA (although, that didn’t keep him from getting a job in the NBA). Selfishly, I was hoping for some vacated wins.

Of course, there was another perspective on the loss of scholarships, from our friends at Oversigning.com.

What might we learn about the NCAA from this decision? Well, something everyone should have probably learned a long time ago.

To fully appreciate the LSU sanctions, you have to also look at the other case that the mainstream media recently missed and have since ignored- the NCAA’s response to issues at Georgia Tech.

In that case, the “violations” were significantly less- improper benefits in the form of a little over three hundred dollars. The problem came when the Yellow Jackets attempted, in the eyes of the Committee on Infractions, to tamper with the investigation by “prepping” athletes and coaches prior to their conversation with the NCAA’s investigators.

Coach Paul Johnson has firmly stated that this “tampering” was not an issue, yet the NCAA’s report contained the following damning comments-

…this case provides a cautionary tale of conduct that member institutions should avoid while under investigation for violations of NCAA rules.

In doing so, the institution compounded the seriousness of this case, by adding onto what was originally an isolated instance of impermissible benefits and preferential treatment, extremely serious allegations that it failed to protect the integrity of the enforcement staff’s investigation, violated the cooperative principle and failed to meet the conditions and obligations of the membership.

Their penalties include lengthy probation, a forfeiture of their ACC Championship Season, and a $100,000.00 fine.

In looking at the NCAA’s response to LSU, the significant difference should be obvious-

The committee determined that the cooperation exhibited by the institution met its obligation under Bylaws 19.01.3.3 and 32.1.4 and that the institution’s compliance office should be commended for its pursuit of the truth regarding prospect 1′s summer living arrangement.

The committee lauds the institution’s compliance office for its efforts to investigate and uncover the violations… Because the compliance office was proactive, fully investigated and cooperated with the enforcement staff to uncover the full range of the violations, the institution is entitled to relief as set forth in Penalty C-2 below. Further, the committee imposed no additional penalties on the institution.

In fact, the chairman for the NCAA’s COI had this to say-

Yet he stressed that punishment could have been more severe if not for the efforts of LSU’s compliance department to discover and report the violations and to cooperate with subsequent NCAA inquiries.

“The committee really felt that the LSU compliance staff and institution did an excellent job and that they assisted the (NCAA) enforcement staff in the investigation regarding these violations,” Thomas said.

Which brings us to the lesson from our childhood… Brought to you today by the letter “C”

While it may be easy for Ohio State fans to draw some overly simple comparisons from the LSU situation (10.1 violations, improper benefits, coach and player involved no longer with the team due in part to institutional decisions), the bigger story is to look at the lengths that LSU went to to cooperate with the NCAA throughout this process. Therein, I believe, lies the similarity.

As you remember, Ohio State immediately reported the initial issues once they were discovered in December. Additionally, even the Yahoo! story that ran regarding Coach Tressel’s cover up was actually a revelation that Ohio State had discovered this and had involved the NCAA without hesitation. While I would hate to have been the person who was doing the email search that uncovered Tressel’s decision, I admire their ability to do their job knowing the magnitude of their decision to do so.

Granted, there are some differences between the two situations- LSU’s involved an assistant coach who was fired, while Ohio State waited a while to ask their head coach to resign/retire; LSU’s compliance office trusted their “spidey sense” which led to the discovery of the improper benefits situation, while OSU’s compliance office has seemingly been one step behind (particularly regarding automobiles). Nonetheless, I’m optimistic that Ohio State will hear similar language to LSU’s once the August 12 hearing is concluded and the NCAA makes it’s decision.

As an aside- there are those who criticize AD Gene Smith for the handling of this entire matter, and many of these concerns are justified. But should Ohio State be “commended” for their participation with the investigation and their willingness to be proactive in the process, then you’ve got to think that Smith’s relationship with and understanding of the NCAA’s investigative body is responsible for that response.

For the record, “cooperating with the NCAA” does not automatically mean lessened sanctions. Southern Cal was also commended for their willingness to assist in the process, yet received a harsh response.  Again, the magnitude of items in the Notice of Allegations were different between the situations in LA and Columbus, and the NCAA has been historically difficult to figure out in regards to rhyme and reason.

Yet there’s reason to think that major sanctions in the form of post-season bans may not be in play as the Buckeyes prepare to go to the meetings in Indianapolis. Additional years of probation? Probably. Lost scholarships? Possibly, although that would deprive deserving walk-ons of the opportunity to earn this honor as per the University’s practices. Show cause penalty? Most likely… although irrelevant, given the retirement.

But because Ohio State has attempted to work closely with the NCAA (in spite of what some May tell you), it may be that some outside of the program will have their hopes and dreams somewhat dampened.

Update- For those who still have a Muppet hankering… here:

4 Comments

  1. OKBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    July 20th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Totally agree. The main stream media is about to throw the world’s largest and most public hissy fit.

    [Reply]

    NorCal BuckeyeNo Gravatar
    July 20th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    You mean “lame-stream media”? :)

    [Reply]

    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    July 20th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Well, except for that bald fella at Fox Sports. He’s no slouch.

    [Reply]

  2. KenNo Gravatar
    July 22nd, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Interesting write-up Mali, nice work. I needed some Muppet action today, as well. Thanks.

    [Reply]

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