Cheaters In The NCAA
By Steve Pipps
Big 12 media days are over, but some of the comments are still fresh on our minds. Something about Bryce Petty and Dairy Queen. Charlie Weis was talking about piles of crap and his team in the same sentence.
The Big 12 commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, made some very interesting statements about cheating in the NCAA.
It was these remarks that particularly piqued my interest in a broader sense than the standard “Big 12 focus” that media days usually provides.
The conversation started on a community post by our own Joe Jenkins. There were some good thoughts and debate. Beyond just the percent of teams that cheat the questions still remain, how much does the cheating actually impact the game? Will it ever change?
To catch you up if you haven’t heard Bowlsby’s remarks, he states, “Enforcement is broken. The infractions committee hasn't had a hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.”
His remarks can be broken down to help prove that what he is saying is true. From there we can make our own assessment as to how much cheating impacts the game and whether or not it will change.
Concerning the broken enforcement and the infractions committee, Bowlsby isn’t wrong. According to chair of the committee, Britton Banowsky, the committee hasn’t met since June 2013. They were discussing a University of Miami scandal that broke in 2011, which included coaches and players receiving improper benefits from a booster.
The infractions committee can’t even figure out how to handle Miami, let alone tackle nation-wide cheating. Can we be so naive as to believe that not a single infraction worth convening over has occurred since June 2013? The league didn’t clean itself up over night.
If players are being scrutinized for eating too much pasta at Oklahoma, Bowlsby is obviously not wrong about broken enforcement. One way to start to fix this is by giving the Big 5 Conferences autonomy to make their own bylaws. This is going up for vote in August.
The countless bylaws within the NCAA are covering more important bylaws in clutter. By giving autonomy to the Big 5, the NCAA can hopefully begin to wade through the BS and get to the root of issues instead of skimming the top with pasta infractions to veil their ineptitude.
If enforcement is broken and the NCAA’s eyes are covered, what makes cheating not worth it? There is no arguing that cheating pays. If you have to take a test that you haven’t studied for and there is a guarantee of zero consequences, why wouldn’t you take all the answers in with you? A moral compass you might say, but not everyone in the world is as moral as you are.
There is no guarantee that cheaters won’t be caught, but there is pretty good evidence that coaches won’t face the brunt of a clampdown. Jim Tressel, who resigned from Ohio State amid scandal, is the most recent coach to face such scrutiny from the NCAA.
In 2013 Oregon football was put on probation for recruiting infractions by former coach Chip Kelly. Kelley would probably have faced some sort of punishment, but he is now in the NFL and Oregon is left with a slap on the wrist for such major recruiting infractions. Other schools as a whole, such as USC, have faced penalties but coaches find a way to avoid the limelight.
Bowlsby’s last point is that if you do bend the rules right now, you probably will get away with it, which is where the crux of the problem lies in college football. Many coaches, including Mike Gundy, believe that coaches are cheating. Gundy said, “I am convinced there are teams that are cheating; that are saying, 'Catch me if you can.'" They just don't know definitevely if it's happening.
If he is so convinced that teams are cheating it is surprising we don’t have more cases of it. The phrase plausible deniability has something to do with that. An in-depth article from SBNation takes at look at bag men in the SEC. Bag men ensure that recruits and current players get their incentives while the coaching staff has no knowledge of what is going on. If the coaches don’t know, how can they be punished?
This puts the cheating in, as the article calls them, the “shadow booster’s” hands. Players understand the ramifications, if they blow the whistle the money and benefits stop rolling in. When a player slips up via twitter or some other social media outlet the bag men have covered their tracks by using burner phones or setting up legitimate receipts for gifts such as cars.
This article looks just at the SEC and as Bowlsby mentioned, he didn’t believe cheating was rampant or currently happening in his conference. It does, however, leave the argument open ended. Mike Gundy also mentioned, "If I see a coach blatantly cheating they know they'll be dismissed." Lets focus on the word blatantly. Defined as: in an unsubtle unashamed manner. So is Gundy mincing his words or does he truly mean out of sight out of mind and he doesn’t care about it as long as it isn’t in front of him. We have already seen this week how one word can completely change the scope of your point.
I don’t think there is any doubt that cheating is currently happening in college football. College football has become too big of a business for it not to be throughout the country. I have no doubt that coaches such as Art Briles, Mike Gundy and Bob Stoops, to name just a few, are clean and they try to do right as Stoops proved with Ryan Broyles. But again, if they don’t know it is occurring how can they take action to stop it?
Assuming that cheating does happen nation-wide, how is it impacting the game? If everyone cheats they all have the same advantage. I don’t think every team is cheating but possibly a vast majority. And since they all work under the NCAA they all have the same opportunity to cheat while the NCAA plays heads-up-seven-up and is only looking at the shoes walking by.
I don’t think it negatively impacts the game overall. Teams can bring in the five-star recruits and still not play to that level. As we saw in Mack Brown’s final years he had the players but his win total didn’t reflect it. Although great players do help the cause, there are other factors that help make a great team.
As for will it ever change, I would say at the current juncture, no it won’t. If the autonomy vote passes and we see the Big 5 Conferences governing themselves, it is possible for cheating scandals to at least see daylight in an Infraction Committee meeting. However, this autonomy could also make things worse by making it easier for said conferences to get away with cheating.
How do you fix cheating in college football? I think it might already be too far gone to fix. A possible stepping-stone might be paying players but that opens up a Pandora’s box of other issues.