Category Archives: Violations

Howard University’s Suspension of Student-Athletes

Yesterday, the Washington City Paper reported that Howard University, a Division I school which competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, “. . . suspended all of its intercollegiate athletics teams for what appears to be a violation of the NCAA rules.”

The magnitude of this announcement surprised many, as the suspension of an entire athletic program seemed drastic.  When it was announced that the entire athletics program had been suspended, one Division I compliance official who spoke to BusinessofCollegeSports.com on the condition of anonymity said, “I would speculate that the potential problems are department-wide and not necessarily limited to specific teams.”  This person further explained that, “Schools are supposed to police themselves and hold out student-athletes who are believed to have been involved with NCAA violations.”

Given this, I contacted Howard’s communications Director, Kerry-Ann Hamilton.  Hamilton responded as follows:

“Howard University is conducting an internal investigation of possible NCAA rules-violations. As a result of this process, the University temporarily withheld a number of student-athletes from competition as a self-imposed action.  Most teams will compete as scheduled. We are working diligently to fully resolve this matter as quickly as a possible. In order to protect the integrity of this review, we are unable to share additional details at this time.”

Thus, contrary to the Washington City Paper’s initial report, Howard did not suspend its entire athletics program.  Rather, it appears that Howard’s actions in this matter run the typical route of NCAA compliance, which requires internal investigations and self-policing.

Later yesterday afternoon, the Washington City Paper reported that a bowling team member said that the investigation was the result of textbook vouchers given to student-athletes.  Given that Howard is unable to share additional details, this has not been confirmed by BusinessofCollegeSports.com.

NCAA Bylaw 15.2.3 provides, “A member institution may provide a student-athlete financial aid that covers the actual cost of required course-related books.”  Per NCAA Bylaw 15.2.3.1, “There is no dollar limit for books a student-athlete may receive, provided each book is required for a course in which the student-athlete is enrolled. The institution may provide the student-athlete with cash to purchase books, as long as the amount of cash provided is equal to the actual cost of the books purchased.”

Thus, a potential NCAA violation may arise, if a student-athlete who is given a voucher to purchase books for classes he or she enrolls in, drops one of the classes for which he or she obtained a book using that voucher and then returns the book and holds onto the cash received. 

If book vouchers are given to every student-athlete, this is a situation which could potentially cause a large majority of student-athletes to be in violation of the NCAA bylaws.  Hence, this may provide some insight as to why it was initially reported that Howard had suspended its entire athletics department.

Ultimately, it is to be seen what the investigation unearths.  If the investigation was the result of student-athletes obtaining money from selling books, expect there to be large public outcry against the NCAA, and also further pushes for student-athletes to receive a higher cost of living allowance.

 

Financial Impact of Death Penalty at Miami and an Alternative Solution

Photo by Flikr user Kristian Golding

Earlier this week, I explained the history of the death penalty in collegiate athletics and why Miami is unlikely to receive it. Today, I want to show you the financial implications of the death penalty if Miami were to receive it. I also want to suggest an alternative solution that inflicts severe punishment without devastating the program long-term in the way the death penalty decimated the SMU football program.

University of Miami is a private school and thus not subject to open records requests. To look at the financial impact of the death penalty on the football program, I’ve chosen to use fellow conference member Georgia Tech’s football program as an example. Here’s how the two schools compare financially in football when you look at the data each provided to the US Department of Education for the 2009-2010 school year:

Miami Football

Revenue: $24,631,029

Expenses: $17,863,218

Georgia Tech Football

Revenue: $24,870,064

Expenses: $15,519,206

Overall athletic department revenue and expenses are similar at the two schools as well, with Miami bringing in a total of $56 million and spending $51 million and Georgia Tech at $47 million on both accounts. Miami has 417 athletes and Georgia Tech 387. The cost of grants-in-aid is much higher at Miami because it is a private institution, but that doesn’t play into today’s comparison. Also, Miami leases Sun Life Stadium, whereas Georgia Tech owns a stadium on campus. Although Georgia Tech’s financial situation is not identical to Miami, it is close enough to give an idea of how the death penalty would impact the program.

Here’s a brief list of revenues that would be lost (at Georgia Tech) if the death penalty was instituted for one year, based on the Georgia Tech Athletic Department’s audited financial statement for fiscal year 2010: Read the rest of this entry

Will Miami Football Receive the Death Penalty?

Miami Football (via Flikr user @techyourpicture)

Since the Yahoo! report detailing improper benefits allegedly given to a number of University of Miami football and one basketball player, I’ve received a lot of questions about whether the NCAA would levy the death penalty against the football program. This week, NCAA President Mark Emmert made it clear that he’s willing to use the death penalty if the circumstances warrant the harsh penalty.

The death penalty is when the NCAA bans a school from participating in a sport for one or more years. The death penalty is mainly reserved for repeat violators who have a second major violation within five years of being on probation in the same or another sport. However, the NCAA has the power to levy the death penalty in instances where there is no repeat violation if the violation at issue is serious enough in nature, such as when the NCAA determines a program is a “willful violator.” The penalty can bar competition in the sport for one or two seasons.

The NCAA’s silver bullet has only been used five times, only three of which were in Division I: Kentucky (basketball; 1952-53 season), Southwestern Louisiana, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette (basketball; 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons), SMU (football; 1987 and 1988 seasons), Morehouse (men’s soccer; 2004 and 2005 seasons), and MacMurray (men’s tennis; 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons).

Kentucky

Kentucky’s death penalty arose from the arrest of three former Kentucky basketball players who were arrested for shaving points during the 1948-49 season. Another player, who was still enrolled and playing at Kentucky, was accused and investigated and eventually suspended from the University. In the end, the NCAA placed all sports at Kentucky on probation and banned each sport from post-season competition for the 1952-53 season. The NCAA then pressured all other schools into not scheduling Kentucky, effectively cancelling the season for every sport.

Southwestern Louisiana

Southwestern Louisiana’s basketball program was found to have a number of different violations following the 1972-73 season, which ranged from academic fraud to improper benefits to recruiting violations. Among the most serious violations were instances of academic fraud, including five players who were allowed to compete despite having GPAs below the NCAA’s requirement. In one case, an assistant coach forged the principal’s signature on a recruit’s high school transcript. The NCAA banned the basketball program from play for two seasons in 1973-74 and 1974-75.

SMU

The most famous death penalty case was when SMU lost two football seasons in the late 80s. Read the rest of this entry

How the NCAA’s Monetary Penalty Impacts Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech football players (by Flickr user hectorir)

Last week the NCAA leveled a number of penalties against Georgia Tech. The focus was impermissible benefits, but the NCAA also said Georgia Tech didn’t fully cooperate with their investigation.

The most interesting part of the announcement to me was the $100,000 fine against Georgia Tech. Earlier in the week on an appearance on College Football Playbook on Sirius/XM College Sports Nation I said we haven’t really seen the NCAA level arbitrary fines against football programs. While the NCAA has on occasion taken back March Madness money, they haven’t generally included monetary penalties in their rulings against football programs. In fact, when you search the NCAA’s database for major infractions, you’re given the option to search by penalty: television ban, postseason ban, probation, reduction in financial aid, recruiting limitations, show cause or vacation of record. Monetary penalty is not one of the options.

Maybe the NCAA heard me and decided it was time to start using their power to levy fines. Many have called for the NCAA to start hitting programs in the wallet where it really hurts. Last week I told you why they can’t take back bowl money, but they do have the power to fine programs. And they’ve done so against Georgia Tech.

The number one comment I’ve heard since this was announced is that $100,000 isn’t enough to hurt. I disagree.

Georgia Tech is not Florida or Ohio State, which I’ve shown you are self-sustaining in large part due to their football profits. Many fans think the line between the have and have nots is drawn at the divide between AQ conferences and non-AQ conferences. However, my research shows there is a line evident within the AQ conferences. Georgia Tech is not a have in the same sense that Florida or Ohio State is.

For example, Ohio State makes more than $42 million on football ticket sales. Florida makes north of $33 million when you include ticket sales, suites and luxury seating (and that’s not including contributions required to access some of that seating). Georgia Tech? Their audited financials show $9.3 million in revenue from football ticket sales. All of their sports combined bring in just $12 million in ticket revenue.

Georgia Tech isn’t bringing in booster contributions at levels anywhere near Florida or Ohio State either. Ohio State plans to pull $10.8 million from its booster club this year. Florida gets nearly $25 million from contributions for just the football program. Georgia Tech received just $1.8 million TOTAL in contributions for the 2010 fiscal year according to its audited financials.

Back to the $100,000 fine. Would it hurt a Florida or an Ohio State? No. Does it hurt Georgia Tech? Absolutely.

In fiscal year 2008, Georgia Tech posted a $3.4 million operating loss in the athletic department. In fiscal year 2009 and 2010, respectively, the athletic department saw profits of $306,508 and $284,117. That means they’re being fined roughly 1/3rd of their total operating profits. Consider if you were fined a third of your yearly salary.

Let me also point out that the small operating profits they’ve seen in recent years would be impossible without millions of dollars in support in the form of student fees and other direct institutional support. For the 2010 fiscal year, where the operating profits were $284,117, the athletic department took in $4.6 million in student fees and $1.5 in institutional support. Thus, the athletic department would be operating at a multi-million dollar loss without student fees (which they had to increase in 2009) and institutional support.

Georgia Tech isn’t Florida or Ohio State, or any of the other self-sustaining athletic department. A $100,000 fine hurts. Was it enough given what they were found to have done? I’m not passing judgment on that portion. I am telling you, however, that it’s a meaningful penalty in terms of their financial state.

I think it also sets important precedent. Although the NCAA looks at each case individually and is no way bound by its prior decisions and penalties, I still think it’s important that they’ve levied a monetary penalty against a football program. If they’re willing to do it once, maybe they’re willing to do it again. Maybe the mere possibility will become a deterrent. Although the NCAA can’t require a return of BCS money, here’s nothing to stop the NCAA from levying a fine against a program in an amount equal to what a team received from a bowl game or even from television during a season it’s now vacating. Maybe this is the beginning of a new era in the NCAA. (Maybe not. The NCAA walks a fine line when it comes to the big programs who could conceivably break free of the NCAA. But still, this is a new and interesting development.)

Why There Was No SEC Bylaws Violation in Cam Newton Situation

Twitter is all abuzz today with news that the NCAA is not finished with the Cam Newton investigation. I never believed it was over, but now it has been confirmed.

On a related note, Cam Newton was not found guilty of violating any SEC bylaws, and many of you don’t understand why. I’m going to try to put my lawyer hat on and try to make some sense of this situation.  First, let’s take a look at the bylaw everyone is pointing to in this situation:

If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student- athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.

Those highlighted words – “receives or agrees to receive” – are the key here, and I see why it’s confusing to some.  This is one of those times that my three years and mountain of law school debt actually pays off.

When I first heard that the SEC had declared there was no violation, but first thought was that they must be interpreting this provision in terms of contract law.  It’s logical to read “agrees to receive” and think, “Hey, Cam’s father told Mississippi State he would take x amount of money for Cam to go to school there; that’s agreeing to receive.”  Not in the world of contract law, however.

In contract law, Cecil Newton’s statements were merely an offer, or perhaps a solicitation for bids.  An offer is a manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain.  Basically, you’re saying to the other person, ”If you’re willing to do x, then y will happen.”

In order to have a completed contract, one party has to make an offer, the other has to accept (on the same terms proposed by the offer) and there must be consideration (the money actually changing hands would have been consideration).

Cecil Newton made an offer, which Mississippi State was free to accept (and create a contract), but did not.  Alternatively, you could say Cecil Newton was merely soliciting bids, which doesn’t even constitute an offer.  In that case, Mississippi State would have had to make the offer and then Cecil could have accepted.

I found this quote from SEC spokesman, Charles Bloom, in The Clarion-Ledger that confirms my suspicions about why there was no violation here:

SEC Bylaw 14.01.3.2 does not apply in this situation. It only applies when there is an actual payment of an improper benefit, or an agreement (such as a handshake agreement) to pay and receive an improper benefit. The facts in this case, as we understand them, are that the student-athlete’s father, without the knowledge of the student-athlete, solicited improper payments (which were rejected) from an institution the young man did not attend, and that the institution where the young man is enrolled was not involved.

Notice I highlighted “agreement” – they’re looking for a completed contract.  Could they have worded the bylaw better and made it a violation for a student-athlete or his parent to solicit an offer?  Of course, and I would imagine that’s what they’re planning to do now that they’re saying they’re going to revisit the provision. This is absolutely a loophole they need to close.

Could they have interpreted this bylaw differently and declared Cam Newton in violation because of his father’s actions?  Sure, but they would have opened themselves to a lawsuit by Cam and possibly Auburn.  The decision may defy logic for some, but it was absolutely the decision the SEC  had to make in order to protect itself. (That’s not to say revision isn’t in order.)

Impermissible Benefits: Focus Should Be On Pros, Not NCAA

Reggie Bush

When historians look back on college football today they’ll likely dub it the “Age of Impermissible Benefits”. It seems like every day there’s a new story about an athlete who is accused of receiving money, a trip or even a car.

When I turn on the radio or open Twitter, the chatter is about what the schools or the NCAA are doing wrong. The compliance office wasn’t paying attention. The coach should have known. The coach knew and didn’t tell anyone. The NCAA takes too long to investigate. Players are tempted because the NCAA doesn’t allow them to be paid. The list goes on and on.

The focus is on the NCAA when it should be on the professional leagues.

There are three ways to curb the problem of agents, runners and boosters providing impermissible benefits to college athletes: state law, NCAA regulations and professional league regulations. Only one of those can make a difference, and here’s why.

First, let’s consider state laws. All but seven states have adopted laws regulating athlete agents. These laws often require agents to register in order to do business within the state. They also proscribe penalties for a variety of violations, including furnishing anything of value prior to the athlete signing a contract with the agent.

There are a number of problems with relying on state laws to solve the problem. First, a report last year showed that more than half the states with these laws have never revoked or suspended a license. You can bet that means they’re not enforcing any criminal penalties either.

Generally, these regulations are enforced by the Secretary of State’s office. They handle everything from elections to formation and registration of corporate entities to licensing for a number of industries. They simply don’t have the manpower to investigate or enforce these violations.

To date, the most comprehensive investigation I know of is that being conducted by the Secretary of State in North Carolina. My understanding is that investigators who normally work on white-collar crime cases were being used to investigate the allegations against University of North Carolina. Don’t expect to see this in many other states.

Many state laws also give the school the ability to sue the athlete or agent or both in order to recover any financial damages incurred because of penalties. However, this isn’t a route we see schools taking.

Now that we’ve determined that regulation by the states isn’t going to solve the problem, we turn to option number two: the NCAA. Most of the commentary I see revolves around what the NCAA is or isn’t doing to alleviate the temptation of impermissible benefits. From there, the outcry is that investigations aren’t quick enough or impose penalties that do not deter future rule-breaking.

The problem with the NCAA attempting to handle the problem is that it is largely the schools who suffer. By the time penalties are enforced, many players are either already in the pros or, as we just saw in the case of Terrelle Pryor, are able to leave for the pros instead of sticking around to face the music. So, instead the program is left to suffer the consequences, with players who weren’t even around for the mischief left to carry out the sentence.

I’m not saying that some programs don’t deserve punishment in their own right, outside of whatever the player should bear. What I’m saying is that the NCAA is often unable to punish the real criminal – the player. That’s why they’re so willing to take their chances when an agent, runner or booster offers them a little cash. The odds of getting caught are incredibly low and so often they’re able to escape without ever suffering the penalty. Aside from some sort of public shame, which I’ve not seen effect someone like Reggie Bush, the real wrongdoer escapes unscathed, with a heavier wallet.

The bottom line is that there is absolutely nothing the NCAA can do about this part of the problem. Sure, maybe they could add more staff and investigate more quickly, but most of the players who accept these sorts of benefits are far along enough in their college career to escape to the pros as soon as they smell smoke.

That leaves us with the professional sports leagues. The place where these rule-breakers escape for asylum. The entity formerly known as the NFL Players Association had the authority to suspend the license of any agent who represents players in the NFL (although with the association decertifying this is no longer the case). However, they seem to only have done so in the most egregious cases. Josh Luchs’ license was revoked after he admitted to paying dozens of college athletes over the years. Gary Wichard was suspended for nine months following information about his involvement with Marvin Austin and money that changed hands from him to UNC assistant coach John Blake. The revocations and suspensions are much fewer and far between than the number of incidents the NCAA has investigated.

The NBA Players Association has similar power and, again, exercises its power now and again. Calvin Anderson was suspended for one year following his alleged connection to USC player OJ Mayo.

My humble opinion is that the professional leagues step in only when the misconduct is so blatant their hand is forced. Then they simply slap the agent’s wrist and hand them a minimal sentence. The suspension only covers the individual agent, not the entire agency. I’m unconvinced these suspensions are any kind of real deterrent, or even that they are meant to be. Not to mention it takes two to tango and they’re only punishing one half of the offending partnership. Players walk right out of the mess they’ve left behind at their school and begin lining their wallet in the NFL or NBA.

What I am convinced, however, is that only the professional leagues and their Players Associations have the power to attack this problem by enforcing sanctions at their level on both the players and agents involved in these scandals. If a college player thought his future career in the NFL – his lifelong dream – was at risk, he might think twice. The problem is the professional leagues have no motivation to be the disciplinarians here. They’re not going to deny the next Tom Brady or Adrian Peterson entry into their league because he failed to obey rules about impermissible benefits. They’re looking out for their product first and foremost.

The professional leagues, especially the NFL and NBA, use colleges as minor leagues they don’t have to back financially. They also don’t have to back them up in any other way, including enforcing the NCAA’s rules.

Which is why I’m afraid that in the end there is no solution. Unless colleges and the NCAA are able to catch more rule-breakers and enforce penalties before these guys can make the jump to the pros, the professional leagues have little reason to get their hands dirty. Until the product they are receiving is somehow diminished, they’ll continue to do as little as possible, despite the fact that they alone hold the key to real reform.

Will NCAA Show Consistency When Ruling on Ohio State’s Infractions?

If you read this site regularly or follow me on Twitter, you know that I am in Ireland from May 17-25th. While I’m away, I’m sharing with you the work of Patrick Rishe, my collegue at SportsMoney on Forbes.com.

By: Patrick Rishe

On June 10th, 2010, Yahoo Sports reported that the NCAA’s probe into USC’s athletics program resulted in:

• A postseason ban in football following the 2010 and 2011 seasons;

• A loss of 30 total football scholarships over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons;

• 4 years probation;

• A vacation of all football victories starting in December 2004 and running through the 2005 season, including the national championship win over Oklahoma in January 2005.

Many of these penalties were levied after the NCAA’s lengthy review of wrongdoing within the USC football program.  Specifically, wrongdoing by Reggie Bush and his family which included multiple cash payments from would-be sports marketing agents, a house for Bush’s parents, an automobile outfitted with rims and a stereo system, airfare, hotel stays, limousine service, meals, auto repairs, clothing, furniture, and appliances.

Now there is no question that these penalties were quite severe.  Partly because of the nature and the volume of infractions at hand (there were other infractions with USC’s men’s basketball and women’s tennis programs).  And partly because, in my opinion, the NCAA had additional venom because they felt the USC athletics department and the Bush family were less than accommodating during the investigation.

Prior to the penalties being levied during the investigation, I can recall friends of mine who did and still work within the NCAA using words like ‘arrogant’ and ‘elitist’ to describe former USC athletics director Mike Garrett.  An attitude that, at the time, permeated throughout the program.

An antagonistic, defiant attitude that showed little contrition or remorse over its actions.  And thus, garnered little sympathy or leniency when the NCAA handed down its punishment.

Conversely, at least prior to December 2010, I don’t think the average college football fan would use those same words and sentiments to describe Ohio State athletics.  I had the impression that NCAA Headquarters looked upon the Buckeye program rather favorably.

So that’s why the NCAA’s ruling and assessment of penalties for Ohio State on August 12th is so compelling.

Will they punish the Buckeyes more or less than they punished the Trojans?

Will that decision be based solely on a comparison of the infractions at hand, or will the NCAA show leniency towards Ohio State because (a) they proactively imposed self-penalties once the truth was discovered and (b) are better liked by NCAA administrators because the program is perceived more positively than USC’s program?

To review the Buckeyes’ mess:

– Coach Jim Tressel was notified in April 2010 via emails from a Buckeyes fan and former player that Ohio State players were trading signed jerseys and other memorabilia to a Columbus tattoo parlor owner for cash and reduced-price tattoos;

– Even though his contract and NCAA rules required him to notify athletic director Gene Smith, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee or the university’s compliance department about this information, Coach Tressel did not;

– It was not until more than 9 months passed—and five players including quarterback Terrelle Pryor had been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season—that Ohio State officials discovered the emails and confronted Coach Tressel. He finally admitted he knew of the players getting improper benefits;

– Coach Tressel was originally suspended for 2 games—later extended to the first 5 games this fall to match the punishment of the five players—and was fined $250,000, required to make a public apology, receive a public reprimand, and attend an NCAA compliance seminar which he will do June 6-10 in Tampa.

And just when you thought you heard the last of it, the Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday that the university is officially investigating used-car sales to at least eight football players and 11 players’ relatives from two Columbus, Ohio dealerships.

Now Ohio State, along with the rest of us, must sit back and await whether the NCAA chooses to impose further sanctions.  The ruling is set for August 12th.

So this begs the question: “What is equitable punishment for Ohio State when comparing their infractions to the infractions and penalties imposed upon USC?”

As it relates to athlete-specific violations, it seems that Reggie Bush’s infractions were more severe than Ohio State players selling their own memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos…though if fire follows the smoke from the afore-mentioned car sales report, that “severity gap” closes.  Especially if players and their relatives were getting discounted cars in exchange for Buckeye football tickets.

And I fear that ‘that’ fire might combust before summer’s end.

As it relates to the behavior of the coaches involved, at least former Trojans and current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had the good sense to get out of dodge before the mess landed on his front lawn.  Maybe he knew what Reggie Bush was up to, but it’s plausible that he didn’t.  Whether you think him corrupt, naive, goofy, aloof, or all of the above, there is no evidence to date that he knowingly lied to his superiors or NCAA investigators regarding Reggie Bush.

Conversely, Coach Tressel knowingly LIED.  He lied to his superiors at the university.  And his calculated deception allowed ineligible student-athletes to compete for Ohio State during the 2010 season.

Student-athletes have the luxury of falling back on the ”young and dumb” argument in the court of public opinion.  Coach Tressel does not have that luxury, especially since he and former players have had previous brushes with the NCAA both at Ohio State and his previous employer Youngstown State.

Just ask Tennessee and Bruce Pearl how the NCAA likes it when you lie to them.  Pearl lost his job because Tennessee wanted to save face with the NCAA, and we’ll find out in a few weeks when they go in front of the infractions committee whether this firing curried any favor.

So if a coach’s lies are seen as equally afoul of the rules as a player’s inappropriate receipt of money and gifts, then we should expect that Ohio State will receive further penalties come August.

Vacated wins?  Check.

Lost scholarships?  Check.

Bowl ban?  Check.

And, at the very least, a one-year suspension of Coach Tressel.  It still would not surprise me if Coach Tressel resigned in light of the continued heat he will face in the upcoming months.

Yet, there’s a small part of me that thinks the NCAA may not be as harsh with Ohio State as they were with USC.

I go back to the animosity that NCAA officials had with the USC program.  The NCAA went after USC the same way the federal government went after Barry Bonds.  They were unrelenting in their pursuit of justice, and they ultimately ‘got their man’.

At least Ohio State has shown a level of contrition which USC never did.

At least Ohio State was willing to impose penalties upon themselves which USC never did.

And because the athletic department has been proactive once the truth was revealed, this might be just enough to lessen the severity of the oncoming and added sanctions.

A fortune teller I’m not, but I can tell you that Coach Tressel and Ohio State football are about to lose a fortune’s worth of credibility and respect.

Only time will tell how severe the upcoming sanctions will be, and whether said sanctions will jeopardize the Buckeyes’ stranglehold on Big Ten football dominance.

But the NCAA is on trial as well, and there will be many interested observers ready to critique if the Buckeye sanctions are inequitably different from USC’s.

******************************************************************

Follow Patrick on Twitter @SportsDocRock or visit http://www.patrickrishe.net

Did Texas Tattle on Oregon for Suspicious Recruiting?

Thursday night, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports reported that University of Oregon expense records show money going to two men who are tied to “multiple recruits who signed letters of intent with the school.”

For those unfamiliar with how this aspect of recruiting works in college football, scouting services are run all over the country by people who are not affiliated directly with any one school, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.  They act as outside scouts for programs who can’t send their own recruiters to see the athlete in person. Often, they put together tapes and other information on recruits and provide it to colleges who might be interested in the player.

According to Oregon coach Chip Kelly, “Most programs purchase recruiting services.”  This in itself is not against NCAA regulations.

What is against NCAA regulations is paying someone to influence a player’s decision on where to play. These are the allegations now surrounding Oregon’s relationship with a man named Willie Lyles.

Oregon financial documents show a $25,000 payment to Lyles just days after highly-touted recruit Lache Seastrunk signed a letter of intent with the school. The payment was made for recruiting services, but far exceeds the $5,000 a handful of football coaches polled by ESPN yesterday say that recruiting services typically charge. In the previous two seasons, Oregon paid Lyles $16,500 or his recruiting services.

Perhaps most surprised by the news was Lache Seastrunk’s mother, Evelyn. She told ESPN, “Willie said he was a trainer. Now Oregon says he’s a scout? Is he on Oregon’s payroll? If Willie Lyles collected $25,000 off my son he needs to be held accountable. The NCAA must find out for me. I don’t know how to digest someone cashing in on my son.”

New information made available today on ChuckOliver.net from a source who used to be a business associate of Lyles suggests Lyles has a habit of preying on athletes with single  mothers, like Seastrunk.

Ingram Smith, author of the ChuckOliver.net story, makes an interesting point about the origin of the story. Last night the story broke on Yahoo! Sports, ESPN and Sports Illustrated, leaving Smith to wonder if the same source didn’t tip off all three media outlets.

Smith has sources who tell him that the University of Texas has been growing suspicious of Lyles for awhile. Says Smith, “Inside the Longhorn’s program there is tremendous suspicion regarding Lyles’ influence on some of the state’s top talent and how many of the state’s best players that were associated with Lyles, like Seastrunk, are leaving the state at an historically high rate and under fishy circumstances.”

There seems to be a growing number of instances where schools are rumored to be “tattling” on other schools. Remember that both Mississippi State and University of Florida were rumored to have pointed the finger at Cam Newton initially. Instead of being like a fraternity who protects its members at all costs, it appears college football is splintering as schools battle for top recruits and championships. Given the number of coaches and assistants who move around each and every year, taking with them inside knowledge of their former programs, look for this phenomenon to continue to grow.

This article offers the personal observations of Kristi Dosh, and does not represent the views of her law firm or its clients.  Any information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. Consult your own attorney for legal advice on these matters.

Why is Cam Newton Not Guilty of SEC Bylaws Violation?

After hearing multiple talk radio personalities declare that Cam Newton clearly violated an SEC bylaw, I thought I’d put my lawyer hat on and try to make some sense of this situation.  First, let’s take a look at the bylaw everyone is pointing to in this situation:

If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student- athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.

Those highlighted words – “receives or agrees to receive” – are the key here, and I see why it’s confusing to some.  This is one of those times that my three years and mountain of law school debt actually pays off.

When I first heard that the SEC had declared there was no violation, but first thought was that they must be interpreting this provision in terms of contract law.  It’s logical to read “agrees to receive” and think, “Hey, Cam’s father told Mississippi State he would take x amount of money for Cam to go to school there; that’s agreeing to receive.”  Not in the world of contract law, however.

In contract law, Cecil Newton’s statements were merely an offer, or perhaps a solicitation for bids.  An offer is a manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain.  Basically, you’re saying to the other person, ”If you’re willing to do x, then y will happen.”

In order to have a completed contract, one party has to make an offer, the other has to accept (on the same terms proposed by the offer) and there must be consideration (the money actually changing hands would have been consideration).

Cecil Newton made an offer, which Mississippi State was free to accept (and create a contract), but did not.  Alternatively, you could say Cecil Newton was merely soliciting bids, which doesn’t even constitute an offer.  In that case, Mississippi State would have had to make the offer and then Cecil could have accepted.

I found this quote from SEC spokesman, Charles Bloom, in The Clarion-Ledger that confirms my suspicions about why there was no violation here:

SEC Bylaw 14.01.3.2 does not apply in this situation. It only applies when there is an actual payment of an improper benefit, or an agreement (such as a handshake agreement) to pay and receive an improper benefit. The facts in this case, as we understand them, are that the student-athlete’s father, without the knowledge of the student-athlete, solicited improper payments (which were rejected) from an institution the young man did not attend, and that the institution where the young man is enrolled was not involved.

Notice I highlighted “agreement” – they’re looking for a completed contract.  Could they have worded the bylaw better and made it a violation for a student-athlete or his parent to solicit an offer?  Of course, and I would imagine that’s what they’re planning to do now that they’re saying they’re going to revisit the provision. This is absolutely a loophole they need to close.

Could they have interpreted this bylaw differently and declared Cam Newton in violation because of his father’s actions?  Sure, but they would have opened themselves to a lawsuit by Cam and possibly Auburn.  The decision may defy logic for some, but it was absolutely the decision the SEC  had to make in order to protect itself.

The New Trojan War

The first Trojan War was an epic tale of Greek Mythology.  This Trojan War is every bit reality, even though it resembles a nightmare for the University of Southern California.

It’s official now, via a news conference by the NCAA at 3 p.m. EST.  The USC Trojans are banned from postseason bowl games for two years.  Moreover, they will lose thirty scholarships over the next three years and all wins from December 2004 through the 2005 season have been vacated.  The sanctions are in response to an investigation of former USC football phenom, Reggie Bush.  Gary Klein and Mike Hiserman have done a great job of reconstructing the timeline of events here if you’re interested in the details.

In terms of Reggie Bush, most expect the committee that awards the Heisman Trophy to strip him of that honor.  The crux of the NCAA’s decision rests on the fact that Bush was found to be ineligible at the time, which would make him ineligible for the Heisman Trophy.  The BCS is also expected to strip USC of their national championship from the 2004 season.

The war isn’t over yet, however.  USC may still appeal the decision to the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee.  This committee can modify or overturn a ruling only if one of the following has occured: 1) the ruling by the Committee on Infractions was contrary to the evidence, 2) no rules were actually broken by the player or school at issue, 3) there was a procedural error by the Committee on Infractions that caused the result, or 4) the penalty is found to be excessive or an abuse of discretion.  The ruling by the Infractions Appeals Committee would be the final word on this subject from the NCAA.

So what happens if the USC Trojans repeat history and lose this new Trojan War?  Well, it could certainly have some long-term effects on USC football.  Jesse Palmer spoke of ESPN’s Sports Center today about this issue and compared USC’s current situation to the University of Miami faced in the mid-90s.  Much like USC, Miami had been a perennial contender at the time.  In 1995, Miami faced sanctions for multiple violations and was banned for one year from postseason play and had scholarships reduced by 24 over a three-year period.  Miami did not appear in a National Championship game again until 2002.

The effects from these sanctions could linger for years at USC.  Most certainly, their recruiting will be negatively impacted because of their postseason ban and reduction in scholarships.  Also some have speculated that in the written report the NCAA may allow those players with two or less years of eligibility to transfer to other schools without having to wait a year to meet the residency requirement normally applicable to transfers.

College football will certainly look different this fall with USC absent from postseason play and the conference realignment that is currently in flux.  Now we wait with baited breath for how the BCS will respond.

This article offers the personal observations of Kristi Dosh, and does not represent the views of her law firm or its clients. Any information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. Consult your own attorney for legal advice on these matters.