Bumped - This an awesome read from our Friend Pete Holiday from SBN's Roll 'Bama Roll. Thanks Pete! P
Understandably, much of USC-centric writing over the past few weeks has been focused on this week's meeting of the NCAA Committee on Infractions in which they will attempt to determine what sanctions, if any, the Trojans should receive for the alleged improprieties. There has also been talk of various other major infractions over the past decade and their punishments. Alabama (my Alma Mater) has been stared at long and hard by the NCAA as well, and since comparisons have been made to the most recent set of infractions as well as those from 2002, I thought I'd add a little bit of background from those as fodder for the discussion.
I'm going to attempt to avoid direct comparisons or predictions, partially because I haven't been following the case very closely, but also because it is almost impossible for an outsider to get a good read on what the NCAA has heard and is going to hear until they release their findings. That disclaimer out of the way . . . onward:
The Textbook Fiasco
The first thing you should do as a USC fan hoping to read the tea leaves of past sanctions is to pay absolutely zero attention to the Alabama Textbook infractions case. Yes, it had to do with "benefits", but there are a few under-reported facts which really take the wind out of this as a serious violation.
First and foremost, while the violations were widespread, even the NCAA conceded that the vast majority of the violators did so unknowingly. The NCAA does not allow universities to supply "recommended" materials to scholarship athletes and most of the infractions were the result of bookstore staff not following that rule. Finally, understand that the "extra benefit" received by the athletes in this case was minor: they got to borrow more textbooks for a few months than they should have been able to. At the end of the semester, they were required to return all of the textbooks they borrowed or pay for them out of pocket. No players sold their textbooks.
There was no willful violation of NCAA rules and, the moment the issue was noticed, a full-scale investigation was kicked off to determine the scope of the problem.
It is also unlikely that the COI would base it's USC ruling on Alabama's textbook case for another very important reason: the case is still under appeal and, as such, is not yet final. If you want to read about the case and appeal in excruciating detail, these three posts at SB Nation sister site RollBamaRoll should be helpful.
The Albert Means Case
This is the one that should send a chill down the spine of USC supporters. In 2002 Alabama was hammered by the NCAA COI because a booster payed $100,000 to a high school coach for that coach to steer heavily recruited player to Alabama. The Tide lost a number of scholarships and was placed on a 2 year post-season ban. It took the better part of a decade to recover.
Why should this case be cause for concern? Three reasons.
First, the NCAA found that the booster acted of his own volition. He was not directed by or reporting to anyone at the university. In fact, a defamation law suit twisted its way through the courts because of the NCAA's description of a few individuals as "rogue boosters" .
A common theme I've seen in comments around Conquest Chronicles has been the feeling that if USC didn't know what was going on, the NCAA can't punish them. This case is proof that that assertion is patently false. The NCAA, in the very report that it handed down the sanctions, stated that there was nothing the University could have done to have learned about or prevented the transaction from taking place. This wasn't even a situation of the NCAA saying "You didn't know, but you should have..." What the NCAA actually said was "You couldn't have known this was going on, and we don't care. We have to punish someone for this, and the only one we have any power over is the University."
This seems unfair, and maybe it is, but remember that the NCAA doesn't have subpoena power and it lacks jurisdiction over a huge number of folks involved with college football. The only way they can punish a booster is by hurting his or her school.
Second, it is an example of the NCAA giving a very harsh penalty to a cash-cow school in order to send a message. It is my belief that the NCAA will never again give out a "death penalty" on account of the impact it has had on SMU, but it is clear that the NCAA is not opposed to post-season bans. Alabama's return to the national title discussion less than five years after the completion of the bowl ban is all the evidence that the NCAA needs that post-season bans are intimidating and harmful, but that a program can recover from them relatively quickly.
Third, some would argue that it demonstrates that while the NCAA cares a little bit about things like academic fraud, it is evidence that they care very much for the money of third parties being thrown around for student athletes. It is difficult -- if not impossible -- to know what goes on in the heads of the individuals on the Committee on Infractions, but it often seems, at least from the outside, that the NCAA doesn't truly care about anything but keeping money out of the hands of student athletes.
I'm certainly not trying to play Nostradamus or Chicken Little here, but this is a very serious situation for USC. While the NCAA might appear to be inconsistent, keep in mind that there are relatively few infractions cases every year, so it is difficult to synthesize from them bias or inconsistency (small sample size to derive trends from). Still, the NCAA has a great deal of power, and they wield it in occasionally baffling ways.