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Fixing the NCAA's Punishment Problem

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NCAA President Mark Emmert address the media during a press conference in Washington D.C. The NCAA needs to finally rethink its punishment system. Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.
NCAA President Mark Emmert address the media during a press conference in Washington D.C. The NCAA needs to finally rethink its punishment system. Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.

Yesterday we spent some time uncovering the NCAA’s ineffective policing of major college football for 60 years (If you missed it, click here).  

Today, we’ve moved on from the finger pointing and will hopefully provide some solutions. 

Remember: The point isn’t to simply punish schools that break the rules. The current strategy of post-season bans and scholarship reductions already does this. The goal now is to curb the underhanded activities, teach the offending schools a lesson they’ll actually remember and hopefully scare some the other schools straight.

Step 1: Scrap The Bowl Bans

This is an old argument, but it’s worth revisiting. 

Since we haven’t invented the crime predicting machine from “Minority Report quite yet, it’s hard for the NCAA to discover wrongdoing, investigate it, and punish the offenders before they move beyond the NCAA’s jurisdiction. 

As a result, when the NCAA hands down a bowl ban, players — and sometimes coaches — that had nothing to do with the infractions have to deal with the consequences of other people’s actions. Matt Barkley had to deal with what Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush did at USC. Ditto for Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller at Ohio State

Since it isn’t fair to punish people that didn’t commit the crime, and it’s also unreasonable to ask the NCAA to always sniff out infractions while they’re happening, can’t we just agree to get rid of the stupid bowl ban thing?

Step 2: Stop The Money To The Football Team

Time to throw some credit in the direction of the NCAA. It’s possible they’re starting to get the hint when it comes to the money-generating powers of its member organizations.

The sanctions levied against Penn State in light of the Jerry Sandusky atrocities involved the old “probation, bowl ban and scholarship reduction” routine, but they went one step further. They fined the bejeezus out of the school ($60 million if bejeezus isn’t precise enough for you).

The fine also shows the NCAA can act with precision. It kept the football team on the field and generating money to keep the non-revenue generating sports afloat. It also allowed the local economy around Happy Valley to keep chugging along since football season is where most of the local businesses make their nut. In short, the punishment kept collateral damage to a minimum.

We can only hope that this becomes precedent and not an outlier. The only way to truly punish an institution that allows a caustic and illegal culture to prosper is to hit them in the wallet, not the trophy case. 

Clearly, not every violation will require a fine, and not every finable violation will take away an entire year of football revenue. Let the punishment fit the crime. Get creative with it. Force a team to cover the seats behind one end zone with a tarp that reads “These seats will not generate revenue this season because we do not know how to follow the rules.” 

Step 3: Put A Cap On The Boosters

There are boosters like Phil Knight who build libraries, law centers and remodel sports facilities at Oregon. It doesn’t hurt that he gets his sporting goods company, Nike, to drum up some of the coolest uniforms in the sports world, either. 

Then, there are “friends of the university” like Sherwood Blount Jr. who took his money and put it into a slush fund that paid players at SMU. Sherwood’s pay for play scheme helped prompt the NCAA to cancel the Mustangs’ 1987 season completely. 

When boosters behave, they can help propel a program into the stratosphere. When left unchecked, they can make seasons disappear.

Asking the NCAA to govern donors is rather foolish since they have a hard time governing the schools they are supposed to oversee, but placing a hard cap on booster donations would at least help reign in the insanity. It would keep cash cows like Bobby Lowder from donating more than $20 million to Auburn and then demanding a say in how the athletic department is run.

As for the shady boosters that give $1,000 handshakes away from the field? Good luck eliminating that.

Step 4: Increase Accountability For Coaches 

It’s well known that coaches often will attempt to recruit a player and their family by using the “father figure” sales pitch. This approach consists of the head coach, and by extension his entire staff, promising to provide parental guidance to a player both on and off the field. 

Time to back it up.

When the cloud of potential NCAA sanctions comes up, coaches tend to jump ship. They either hop to another school before the investigation is complete, or if they’re lucky, they leave for the NFL where they can’t be touched.

Just because a coach leaves a program doesn’t mean he should be absolved of responsibility for his actions. Have every coach sign an agreement that states violations involving improper benefits through boosters, agents or any other unsavory character will cost a coach a game check on the first offense. Second offense will be 50 percent of his salary for the entire season, regardless of where he is coaching when the violations are uncovered.

If half of a coach's paycheck is on the line, watch how fast the father figure starts to make sure his kids are home safe before the streetlights come on.

Step 5: Exercise Some Common Sense

By all means, be very liberal with the use of the “say it out loud test.” If it sounds ridiculous when it comes out of your mouth, it’s normally a bad idea. 

If you still feel strong in your convictions about fining a female golfer $20 for washing her car on campus after having said it out loud a few times, there’s one final step:

Step 6: Seek New Employment