Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NCAA delenda est

I must paraphrase the ancient Roman senator Cato to describe the travesty of an NCAA Report on Ohio State.

"Travesty" might be too nice a word to describe this piece of garbage that looks and sounds more like it came from the Iranian mullahs' Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) than any legitimate investigation.  If you want an example of arbitrary and capricious, this is it.

Let's get a few things straight about what happened:

1. A bunch of Ohio State players traded in their own legitimately acquired property for tattoos. Agreed that that is a rules violation.  A stupid rule, but a rules violation nonetheless.

2. Jim Tressel allegedly lied to cover it up. Bad, if true, but some mitigating circumstances inasmuch as there was an ongoing federal investigation and there was concern over the players' safety.  I'm not convinced Tressel should have been fired, but the move is defensible.  (And I do like trading him for Urban Meyer.)

I say "allegedly" because I do not trust the NCAA's findings of fact any more than I would trust Joe Isuzu.  Many in Buckeye Nation believe Tressel did, in fact, tell Athletic Director Gene Smith about the problem and Smith lied to cover it up, letting Tressel take the fall.

3. Three players received $200 for attending a charity event in Cleveland.  Except the event they attended had been one attended by Ohio State players in the past with no problem.  The issue here was that the players did not complete the required paperwork. 

4. Players were paid too much for working at a construction site run by an Ohio State booster, Bobby DiGeronimo. Nine football players received a total of -- get this -- $2,405.  The NCAA says the pay was too much and they documentation of the work performed was "shoddy."  

This is probably the most stupefying part of the report.  The lawyer for the players involved in that particular part of the scandal, Larry James, disputes that vehemently, and says the NCAA made up its mind long ago.  From back in October:  
The lawyer for several suspended Ohio State football players is charging the NCAA with ignoring documentation which he says exonerates or reduces the culpability of his clients.
"From their (the NCAA's) accusations, the inference is that they had their minds made up and nobody was going to change it," Columbus attorney Larry James said Sunday.
He said the players did nothing wrong and should not be penalized.
"This is total innocence," he said.
The NCAA denies James' charges. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday, but previously called similar allegations by James "patently false."
"You read the NCAA statement (of allegations) and it says the NCAA was not provided with documentation — now that's patently false," James said at his law firm's office in a downtown high-rise. "You can take the NCAA and me out of it. What does the paper trail say?"
James made records available to the Associated Press that he believes the NCAA did not consider when suspending receiver DeVier Posey for five games for accepting too much pay from a summer job. Last year's leading rusher, Daniel Herron, along with offensive lineman Marcus Hall and defensive lineman Melvin Fellows were held out of only the Buckeyes' 34-27 loss Saturday at Nebraska.
Those three return this week for the game at No. 15 Illinois. Posey, who along with Herron was also suspended for the first five games of the season for accepting improper benefits from a tattoo-parlor owner, cannot play until the Nov. 19 game against Penn State— leaving him two games in his senior season.
The NCAA determined that Posey was overpaid $728, Herron and Fellows both accepted approximately $290 in excess pay and Hall received $230 in overpayment from an Independence, Ohio, businessman, Bobby DiGeronimo. Ohio State has banned DiGeronimo, a longtime booster, friend of the program and of players and coaches, from any further contact with Buckeyes athletes and staffers.
James produced detailed records of work hours for each of the players involved, at one point correlating Posey's phone records with his work record, saying they showed that Posey was indeed on the job site and not collecting money without even appearing for work as alleged by the NCAA.
James is being retained by Ohio State with nonpublic funds to represent several players. He said the NCAA apparently ignored material he has sent them throughout the summer and fall to back up the players' contention that they were not overpaid.
"Everything — bank, phone and work records — all came from me to the NCAA," James said. "Wouldn't it have been nice if they had just told me, 'Save your paper'? Instead, I'm saying, 'What else do you need?' "
They do not care.  The NCAA had already decided to screw Ohio State in every way possible.  That is the only conclusion you can reach about this case.  Consider this from Eleven Warriors:

Many in the media allowed their dislike for Ohio State and Tressel to cloud their reporting: CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd referred to Tressel's $52,000 final paycheck a golden parachute. That final check amounted to just 1.5% of what would have been his guaranteed salary for 2011 and .033% (one third of one percent) of what Tressel would have made through his now-cancelled contract.
Only after the salacious and systemic Miami scandal and the Jerry Sandusky tragedy at Penn State unfolded did public opinion at large begin to gain perspective.
Tressel deliberately failed to report players selling their own belongings for cash. It was a far cry from the rampant academic fraud at North Carolina, the systemic LOIC at Boise State across multiple sports, the openly permissible attitude at the University of Miami toward having Nevin Shapiro as the athletic department's Caligula for several years and the wholesale administrative coverup of Sandusky's serial child rape at Penn State.
And what has the NCAA done about those other scandals, all of which are far worse than Ohio State? Nothing.
The message the NCAA is sending: tattoos bad, prostitution good.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg.  What about Oregon and is use of agents?  Nothing.  Cam Newton's pay for play? Nothing.  Whatever it is that Wisconsin is doing? Nothing.  South Carolina? Nothing.

Another message the NCAA is sending: tattoos bad, selling your son to the highest bidder good.

How is this not arbitrary and capricious?

Just by looking at the timeline you can tell the NCAA had it in for Ohio State and was sandbagging Smith the entire time. DeVier Posey was suspended five games for Tattoogate.  Just before his suspension was to end, the NCAA suspended him again for another five games.

Now, just after the bowl invitations are sent, after the NCAA has already destroyed two seasons of Ohio State football, they now inform us of the bowl ban.  They could have done this a month ago, but, no, they wanted to screw Ohio State as much as possible.

The NCAA is a complete disgrace.  The organization should be stripped of its sanctioning powers and shut down.  it has abused its authority, both here and elsewhere.  If you want more sickening stories about how this corrupt, Mafia-style organization works, read the article, "The Shame of College Sports" by Taylor Branch in The Atlantic.

Right now, one particular section from that article comes to mind:
The NCAA body charged with identifying violations of any of the Division I league rules, the Committee on Infractions, operates in the shadows. Josephine Potuto, a professor of law at the University of Nebraska and a longtime committee member who was then serving as its vice chair, told Congress in 2004 that one reason her group worked in secret was that it hoped to avoid a “media circus.” The committee preferred to deliberate in private, she said, guiding member schools to punish themselves. “The enforcement process is cooperative, not adversarial,” Potuto testified. The committee consisted of an elite coterie of judges, athletic directors, and authors of legal treatises. “The committee also is savvy about intercollegiate athletics,” she added. “They cannot be conned.”

In 2009, a series of unlikely circumstances peeled back the veil of secrecy to reveal NCAA procedures so contorted that even victims marveled at their comical wonder. The saga began in March of 2007, shortly after the Florida State Seminoles basketball team was knocked out of the NIT basketball tournament, which each spring invites the best teams not selected for the March Madness tournament. At an athletic-department study hall, Al Thornton, a star forward for the team, completed a sports-psychology quiz but then abandoned it without posting his written answers electronically by computer. Brenda Monk, an academic tutor for the Seminoles, says she noticed the error and asked a teammate to finish entering Thornton’s answers onscreen and hit “submit,” as required for credit. The teammate complied, steaming silently, and then complained at the athletic office about getting stuck with clean-up chores for the superstar Thornton (who was soon to be selected by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA draft). Monk promptly resigned when questioned by FSU officials, saying her fatigue at the time could not excuse her asking the teammate to submit the answers to another student’s completed test.

Monk’s act of guileless responsibility set off a chain reaction. First, FSU had to give the NCAA preliminary notice of a confessed academic fraud. Second, because this would be its seventh major infraction case since 1968, FSU mounted a vigorous self-investigation to demonstrate compliance with NCAA academic rules. Third, interviews with 129 Seminoles athletes unleashed a nightmare of matter-of-fact replies about absentee professors who allowed group consultations and unlimited retakes of open-computer assignments and tests. Fourth, FSU suspended 61 of its athletes in 10 sports. Fifth, the infractions committee applied the byzantine NCAA bylaws to FSU’s violations. Sixth, one of the penalties announced in March of 2009 caused a howl of protest across the sports universe.

Twenty-seven news organizations filed a lawsuit in hopes of finding out how and why the NCAA proposed to invalidate 14 prior victories in FSU football. Such a penalty, if upheld, would doom coach Bobby Bowden’s chance of overtaking Joe Paterno of Penn State for the most football wins in Division I history. This was sacrosanct territory. Sports reporters followed the litigation for six months, reporting that 25 of the 61 suspended FSU athletes were football players, some of whom were ruled ineligible retroactively from the time they had heard or yelled out answers to online test questions in, of all things, a music-appreciation course.

When reporters sought access to the transcript of the infractions committee’s hearing in Indianapolis, NCAA lawyers said the 695-page document was private. (The NCAA claimed it was entitled to keep all such records secret because of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that it had won in 1988, in NCAA v. Tarkanian, which exempted the organization from any due-process obligations because it was not a government organization.) Media outlets pressed the judge to let Florida State share its own copy of the hearing transcript, whereupon NCAA lawyers objected that the school had never actually “possessed” the document; it had only seen the transcript via a defendant’s guest access to the carefully restricted NCAA Web site. This claim, in turn, prompted intercession on the side of the media by Florida’s attorney general, arguing that letting the NCAA use a technical loophole like this would undermine the state’s sunshine law mandating open public records. After tumultuous appeals, the Florida courts agreed and ordered the NCAA transcript released in October of 2009.

News interest quickly evaporated when the sports media found nothing in the record about Coach Bowden or the canceled football victories. But the transcript revealed plenty about the NCAA. On page 37, T. K. Wetherell, the bewildered Florida State president, lamented that his university had hurt itself by cooperating with the investigation. “We self-reported this case,” he said during the hearing, and he later complained that the most ingenuous athletes—those who asked “What’s the big deal, this happens all the time?”—received the harshest suspensions, while those who clammed up on the advice of lawyers went free. The music-appreciation professor was apparently never questioned. Brenda Monk, the only instructor who consistently cooperated with the investigation, appeared voluntarily to explain her work with learning-disabled athletes, only to be grilled about her credentials by Potuto in a pettifogging inquisition of remarkable stamina. (emphasis mine)
With that, let's turn to Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith for a minute.  In an earlier post on this subject, I made my opinion of Smith apparent:
On ye olde blog I laid into Mike Garrett, the former athletic director at USC (not South Carolina, the real USC) for his rather arrogant, obnoxious and incompetent tenure.  Nowhere was this more evident than his handling of the NCAA investigations of the Trojan football and basketball programs.   He was defiant -- too defiant, some would say -- in the face of heavy evidence of not only serious NCAA violations but of mens rea for those violations.  I believe Garrett made things worse for USC by overdoing the self-righteous anger, but the self-righteous anger itself was not misplaced, which brings me to Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith and former head coach Jim Tressel.

Gene Smith's tenure as AD has been an unmitigated disaster, so bad that many comment, only half-jokingly, that Cleveland-native-but-Notre Dame-alum Smith is an Irish plant sent to destroy Ohio State football.  So far, he has done a good job.  He has managed to screw alumni out of their football tickets, alienate major donors and drive out tailgaters.  As chair of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee he screwed Buckeye mens basketball by placing it in the toughest NCAA bracket.  Smith's consent to being broken up from Michigan in the Big Ten's new 2-division alignment while being placed with an ethically very questionable Wisconsin program that has given us fits over the years for both football and other reasons is inexcusable.  As I understand it, donations are down and ticket sales are down.  Smith is ruthlessly squeezing every nickel he can out of alimni while at the same time reducing their access to football.  Even before this scandal broke, most in the know fear armageddon was coming between the alumni and Smith's athletic department.

At least based on people I have talked to, Smith is widely viewed as an opportunistic snake, and his handling of this scandal is under considerable suspicion.  It is accepted that Jim Tressel knew about the tattoo issue before the 2010 season -- there are e-mails to prove it -- yet allowed the five players to play anyway, while not telling his superiors in the athletic department about it.  That is why he was fired.  Or so we are told.  The belief among alumni both close to the football program and outside it is that Tressel may actually have told Smith about the problem, and that Smith, who used to be on NCAA Management Council, the NCAA committee on Infractions and the NCAA Football Rules Committee, responded by telling Tressel that because it was penny-ante stuff (which it acually is) and not to worry about it.

That may explain Smith's rather curious behavior on this entire investigation. First, Tressel was fired not after any major NCAA revelations or any confession by Tressel, but the night before a Sports Illustrated article was supposed to come out that would allege even more violations in the program.   As it turned out, the article contained little that was not already know, with several items that were inaccurate and have been debunked.

Additionally, Smith has shown absolutely no inclination to defend the Ohio State football program.  The French Army in World War II put up more of a fight than Smith has. Fot that matter, so did the Polish Army, and even the Danish Army.  Smith on his own initiative vacated the 2010 season, 2010 Big Ten Championship and the 2011 Sugar Bowl.  That has generated considerable resentment among alumni, to whom those records were very important.  Make the NCAA do that, they say.  And I agree.  This is like surrendering Paris before the Germans have even crossed the Ardennes.  Or even the Rhine.

Even worse has been his handling of the allegation involving DiGeronimo.  Those allegations center around a charity event (at which Ohio State players were given either gift bags, which were given to all attendees, or travel money, depending on the news report) and employment of Ohio State players at his company.


The rules on when and if players can work and for how much are byzantine, to say the least, but the gist of James' position is that DiGeronimo's company was a union outfit and is required to pay the workers according to union rules. The players were paid according to those rules.

That's a very big hole in the NCAA's case.  Another one, which strikes at the "failure to monitor charge" is that Ohio State did, in fact, monitor DiGeronimo extensively.  Yet Smith does not appear to have presented that or any other defense, just curled up into a ball in the corner.
You cooperated with the NCAA, Smith.  You, Mr. NCAA Insider.  How'd that work out for ya? Maybe you should have talked to the president of Florida State first.


I dearly love Ohio State, but its athletic department has never been known for bravery.  More often than not, they are just a bunch of ancient fuddy-duddies.

Here is what an athletic department with backbone would do:

First, Gene Smith would be fired.  Right now.

Next, we would pull out of the Gator Bowl, with the excuse there is no reason the bowl ban should be extended into next year simply because the NCAA could not issue its report in a timely manner.

Finally, we would sue the NCAA for anti-trust, deprivation of procedural and substantive due process (yes, I know those rights just apply to government; work with me here) and illegality in terms of “restitution rule” (NCAA Bylaw 19.7), which is intended to and does nullify the jurisdiction of US courts.

It is time for the NCAA to answer for its crimes.  Its caprice.  Its malice.

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