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NCAA Rules: What The Tennessee Penalties Mean For Ohio State

Now that the NCAA has handed down penalties for the Tennessee Volunteers in there NCAA infractions case, I think we can make a couple of projections about what might happen to the Ohio St. Buckeyes when it's their turn in the barrel.  You can never really be sure, of course -- this is the NCAA we are talking about.

The way I see it, the Tennessee case was by far the most egregious of the two when it came to the actions of the coach.  Both coaches lied on their annual reports that say they neither knew of nor participated in NCAA violations, but here are some major differences:

  • Ohio St. actually discovered and self-reported the Tressel violations, whereas Tennessee did not know or suspect Pearl until NCAA investigators showed up with the infamous picture of Pearl with a recruit who was not supposed to be there at his home.
  • Tressel's failure was a lie of omission, Pearl's was a lie of commission -- Tressel had several opportunities to report the NCAA violations caused by his players selling of memorabilia, but failed to do so.  When confronted with proof of his misconduct, Tressel did not lie.  Pearl, even when presented with proof, lied right to the face of the NCAA investigators.
  • Tressel did not try to cover up the violations further after discovery by the school, but Pearl did try to cover up his lie after it was discovered by calling recruit's father with the apparent attempt to enlist him in the deception.

Comparing the two cases isn't all that difficult, even though the facts are different.  Pearl's actions were clearly, and by a significant margin, worse in scope and magnitude than Tressel's.  That doesn't suggest that Tressel should get off, he won't, but it is highly unlikely he will suffer a show-cause penalty of three years.  More likely, his penalty will be for a much shorter time, probably only one year.  But I have no doubt the NCAA will impose a show-cause on Tressel, and it should.  Lying to the NCAA is their ultimate evil.

As to the Buckeyes themselves, I expect the NCAA to accept their proposed penalties and offer no additional punishment.  Those penalties amount to:

  • 2 years probation;
  • Vacate all the 2010 season and Sugar Bowl;
  • Suspend the memorabilia-selling athletes for between 1 and 5 games;

That's about all you should expect.  There were no recruiting violations, and Tressel's staff, as far as I know, was not implicated in the affair.  There will be the usual additional reporting and compliance requirements that go along with major sanctions, but I don't expect anything more than that.

Some, particularly foes of Ohio St. and those who are sure that that they cheat all the time in Columbus, as well as the hyperbolic do-gooders and overreachers of the world will howl and complain that the penalties are insufficient.  For some, nothing short of shutting down the program would do for either UT or OSU, but that's just the way things are.

What I found interesting in Tennessee's case is that the NCAA apparently gave no weight at all to the fact that UT tried to retain Pearl despite clear evidence of his cheating, lying, and lawless practices.  Likewise, I expect them not to consider how long it took OSU to send Tressel packing.  I personally found both cases of clinging disturbing, but the NCAA evidently doesn't.

The NCAA seems to be focusing more on punishing the offenders than the schools if the schools demonstrate a desire to be forthcoming and an honest effort toward compliance, and I think that's a healthy trend. Both UT and OSU seem to have shown a desire to cooperate as well as a desire and efforts to comply, although I consider Tennessee's compliance department badly flawed compared to Ohio State (mainly due to the illegal phone calls), which to me seemed to do a very respectable job.  Neither is perfect, and OSU's should have been able to sniff out the memorabilia-selling sooner, so my perception might be different than the NCAA's as to their competence.

I do think the NCAA needs to get more teeth in their penalties for scofflaw coaches, as coach Pearl's 3-year show-cause, to me, is arguably too light considering the deliberate and completely lawless nature of his actions.