It seems that the days of playoff suspensions and severe reductions in scholarships to punish schools who violate NCAA rules are slowing down.
Memphis was put on probation for three years in the last week, accompanied by a public reprimand as well as a fine for NCAA violations relating to the brief time in college of James Wiseman, who is set to begin in his 3rd season for the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also concluded an investigation into Air Force football for violating the COVID-19 quiet recruiting period.
There were no postseason bans, or reductions in scholarship funds in either instance. In both cases, the Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s apex body for enforcement, has stated that in its ruling on the Memphis case that it didn’t want to penalize current athletes.
The sentiment is all over the world of college sports even as millions of dollars being paid to athletes by various sources to endorse their famous athletes in the wake of concerns about improper incentives. In reality, it’s nearing being codified. In the last week, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three plans to modify the procedure for infractions.
The board also pledged in “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”
The task of predicting what those alternatives could be is difficult however, if the objective is to prevent harm to athletes and other people who weren’t involved in the incident, the possibilities are restricted.
“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years as a member of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto said. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”
Since January, 2020 There were at minimum 45 major cases of infraction that were decided in the NCAA. Of those more than 15 cases involved levels I accusations, which are the most serious, and with the highest penalties. Six cases ended in a postseason suspension, and four of them being self-imposed.
The Memphis incident was referred to the IARP which was established in response to FBI’s investigation into college basketball fraud, but has been halted. The IARP’s demise was one of the many recommendations made by NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year, and recently approved by the board.
As college sports move towards less centralized governance through the NCAA and general deregulation it is hoped to streamline the enforcement.
If justice is quick it is thought that it’s more likely to be applied with fairness.
“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips who is a member of the committee to transform. “I believe that everybody in the conference and within the business recognizes this. If (an investigation) has the length of time it takes in the present and you begin to punish youngsters and women who were in high school but were they were not middle school age (when the offense was committed) this isn’t an effective procedure.”
The IARP continues to handle cases arising from the FBI investigation involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. These cases are on the NCAA enforcement pipeline for several years. A similar case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP. The Cowboys ended up getting an out-of-season ban.
David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools stated that even if the IARP was a failure, NCAA enforcement would be most effective if managed by an independent agency.
“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” said the official.
The Memphis instance, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017, when Hardaway was a coach at the local high school. Hardaway was appointed as Memphis the coach in March of 2018, and Wiseman signed with his fellow Tigers in November of 2018.
The NCAA claimed that Memphis of four levels of I as well as two level II infractions that included a the lack of control by institutions as well as head coach accountability and inability to supervise. In the past these kind of accusations might have struck the fear of athletic directors, however, fines and probation seem more likely to occur today, instead of the broad punishments for scholarship, lost wins and postseason bans that Southern California received in 2010 in an Reggie Bush improper benefits case. The penalties put USC football back several years.
In the final analysis the IARP effectively decreased accusations against Memphis and released Hardaway of any wrongdoing.
Although the NCAA has lost influence following the previous year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power shifting over to the conferences it has members, it is also clear that schools want the NCAA to oversee the enforcement.
What exactly is applied?
Athletes are now paid for endorsements and sponsorship deals . However, colleges are in the process of awaiting assistance from the federal government to regulate the use of names, images and likeness payment.
In addition, as the revenues skyrocket for the schools that are that are at the top of college sports as well, the NCAA is headed towards removing limitations on the types of financial benefits that are offered to athletes.
“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the law school for sports at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”
Yet, punishments for the schools (fines) or coaches (suspensions) may become more severe and last longer, Feldman said.
Potuto explained that with all the money going to the top of college athletics, it’s not likely that fines are enough to serve as a real dissuader. While she appreciates the need to avoid having current athletes be held accountable for the mistakes of the past, loosening transfer rules could limit the risk of harm.
“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto stated.