Ohio State Should Vacate 2010 Season
Yahoo Sports is becoming quite the investigative work-horse for NCAA news junkies. Yesterday they ran a piece alleging that Ohio State’s Jim Tressel knew about an NCAA infraction prior to the 2010 season but did not report it. Today, Ohio State acknowledged that as fact1. OSU has decided that a two-game suspension, a $250,000 fine, and attending a rules seminar should be sufficient.
The infractions that Tressel turned a blind eye toward were relatively minor, but it’s the unethical conduct and dishonesty which are the real issues here. The NCAA lacks the enforcement budget and subpoena power of state and federal governments, as a result, they rely to a great degree on self-policing to enforce the rules. It’s important that attempts to circumvent this system be punished severely — the costs of getting caught trying to not get caught should be orders of magnitude larger than owning up to the decision.
To their credit, the Buckeyes did self-report both the original infractions and Tressel’s dishonesty, but only after the institution had gained a competitive advantage by ignoring it. The most reasonable course here is for the NCAA to vacate OSU’s 2010 season.
The decision to suspend OSU’s players for their receipt of impermissible benefits was expected. What surprised many was the reinstatement committee’s decision to allow those suspensions to begin at the start of the 2011 football season, rather than forcing some of Tressel’s most prominent players (including Terrelle Pryor) to miss the Sugar Bowl. At the time, this decision did make sense. The procedure called for for those specific types of infractions means that when the infraction is discovered can dramatically change the severity of the punishment for the very same action.
An infraction that happens in April which is discovered and reported in the off-season could lead to a five game suspension to start the season. Though not always, this is typically where a school will play the weakest part of its schedule. That same infraction taking place in April but being discovered at the end of October has the potential to place key players out for the most important games of the year.
It seems merciful that an infraction discovered before the terminal — and potentially the most important — game of the season could have the penalty postponed because you presume that the institution brought the infraction to the attention of the NCAA at such an inconvenient time out of a sense of obligation and fair-play, despite it potentially costing an important game.
When it comes to light some months later that the institution actually knew2 all along and only reported the violation because their hand was forced, it takes a lot of wind out of the argument that the suspension should have been delayed as it was out of a sense of fairness.
The NCAA Bylaw in question here is 10.1, which John Infante (of Bylaw Blog fame) tells us “the most important rule in the NCAA.” It prohibits a wide range of unethical conduct not limited to the examples provided in the text. Among those examples are many including providing false information to the NCAA or withholding evidence from them in an investigation.
As Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel writes: “[H]e broke a rule. End of story. The ‘extenuating circumstances’ Ohio State is trotting out in his defense are simply not believable.”
Certainly Tressel himself deserves some specific punishment — the coaching suspension and fine are good examples of that — but as he is the most visible and public face of OSU, the institution itself bears responsibility too. I’m not clear on if there would actually be grounds to rule the players retroactively ineligible based on the lack of action taken by a coach, but at the very least Ohio State — by way of their head coach — knew or should have known that there were players on the team who had received improper benefits.
Whether or not it comes to pass is another issue, but the the 2010 Ohio State season needs to be wiped off of the record books — in addition to more harsh personal sanctions for Tressel — to send a message to coaches that ignoring infractions won’t make them go away.
- Another interesting tidbit from that document: The Department of Justice apparently notifies schools of possible infractions. I wonder how long that’s been going on. [↩]
- If we can’t say the institution knows something when the head football coach — the school’s most highly paid employee — knows something, when can we? [↩]