I'm starting to get the feeling that the NCAA compliance and investigatory departments have been watching a little too much of the Godfather. Less than a week after the NCAA stripped Georgia Tech of its 2009 ACC championship for "what amounted to $312" the NCAA's hitmen perforated LSU as it stopped at a toll booth. The NCAA announced yesterday that LSU was officially getting dinged for a year of probation, stripped of 2 scholarships, as well as docked a 10 percent reduction in official visits and reductions in recruiting calls. (which, to be fair, LSU was already self-serving these penalties due to self-imposition when the violations were uncovered).
The investigation found that ex-assistant coach D.J. McCarthy improperly arranged for transportation and housing for former defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, then later tried to cover up those actions.
LSU was also found that three noncoaching staff members either made to or received over a whopping 3,600 improper calls to or from high school coaches and administrators, prospects and family members of prospective students.
Dealing with the calls first, LSU claimed those calls were made because of a misinterpretation of NCAA rules, which, given the sheer number of calls seems to make sense. I know the number jumps out at people, but the report focuses on McCarthy and Hicks not the calls. And the punishment metted out seems to fit this. The report isn't happy about the infractions but doesn't go out of its way to hammer the school for them. The majority of the NCAA review doesn't focus on the calls. It focuses on McCarthy, Hicks, and how LSU's compliance office saved LSU's ass. From ESPN:
NCAA Committee on Infractions chairman Dennis Thomas said LSU's violations were considered major. He stressed that punishment could have been more severe if not for the efforts of LSU's compliance department.
He pointed specifically to senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar, who became suspicious of Hicks' living arrangements from the time he arrived in Baton Rouge. According to an earlier LSU report on the matter, Segar spent weeks pressing for answers and made the decision to bar Hicks from traveling to LSU's 2009 season-opening game at Washington because she was unsatisfied with the information she had received.
"That was critical," said Thomas, who is also the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. "If that had not been done, the institution could have really been under more severe and serious penalties as well."
Wow. Imagine. A compliance office that actually looks at a situation, finds it unacceptable, and then, you know, actually does it's job. Amazing. The result was LSU getting smacked with the major violations tag, but thanks to their prior reporting and self-imposed penalties, they escaped from what should've been a messy situation fairly cleanly. LSU's compliance department even has this (HT: ATVS):
In this case, the official adjective "major" richly deserves the quotations marks — not only because of the slap on the wrist in response to a series of not-very-shocking allegations, but also because the NCAA actually commendedLSU's compliance department for its efforts to verify Hicks' living arrangements before it uncovered the violations.
more after the jump....
Then there was this from Luke Zimmerman who's filling in at EDSBS:
In spite of Ohio State's athletic leaderships' collective incompetence, if anything, their respective compliance department has been brown nosing the NCAA with the best of them as each violation came to light and in general has a strong reputation for being amongst the leaders in noncore self reporting.
Personally and from my own jaundiced viewpoint, I think the NCAA is sending a very, very clear message to Ohio State. And it's not a good one. As you know I've been following the story of OSU's investigation and opined in the past that Ohio State is going to get hammered far worse than their own self imposed sanctions. The LSU punishment only strengthens that belief.
Anyone suggesting that LSU got off light because of cooperation is missing the following paragraph:
The committee lauds the institution's compliance office for its efforts to investigate and uncover the violations. The compliance office, and particularly the senior associate director of athletics, continued to ask questions regarding prospect 1's living arrangements throughout the summer of 2009 and into the fall. It refused to certify prospect 1's eligibility and allow him to depart for an away contest on September 3, 2009, because those questions had not yet been answered. Had prospect 1 been allowed to travel and compete before the investigation into his pre-enrollment activities was complete, the institution would likely have committed further serious violations. Because the compliance office was proactive, fully investigated and cooperated with the enforcement staff to uncover the full range of the violations, the institution is entitled to relief as set forth in Penalty C-2 below. Further, the committee imposed no additional penalties on the institution.
- [emphasis MnBDave]
No, LSU got off light because it's compliance office did its joband didn't take the coaching staff's word on the eligibility of an ineligible player. Further, in LSU's case, McCarthy not only improperly arranged to transportation and lodging for Hicks, he had a separate cell phone that he was using to make recruiting calls that LSU was unaware of. You can say that the rogue actions of a single coach intentionally breaking the rules proves that OSU won't get hit that hard because Hicks was canned and operated outside the bounds of the compliance office. But you'd be wrong.
What it comes down to is that LSU saw a problem, dug until they reached the center of the earth, dug more, and when they couldn't justify a player's eligibility, they didn't allow him to play. In the case of OSU, the compliance office may be cooperating but their cooperation has been the equivalent of a blind man leading you through a minefield. The OSU compliance department has (at least) twice certified that there is nothing left ot be found and their investigation was complete, only to find out from the Cleveland Plain Dealer or ESPN or the Columbus Dispatch that not only was their investigation woefully incomplete, the documentation showing that was on their own internal email system that the papers FIOA'd.
Further, OSU's compliance office is alleged to have received notice of the potential violations from a number of different sources and done nothing about it (e.g., the Terrelle Pryor golf outings, missing equipment, etc.). Say what you want, but in comparison, LSU's was relatively diligent while OSU's compliance department was sleep at the wheel. By any measure. Your left to wonder if this photo is hanging over the door as they leave.
I know I'm beating a dead horse, but it looked at me funny and that smug bastard dead horse deserves another kick. What's going on here, especially in light of the ongoing investigations at Auburn, Oregon, etc..., is that the NCAA is firmly laying down the line for compliance offices. If you do your job, self report and stop this nonsense on your own, we'll go light. If you sit there with your thumb up your ass while all hell is breaking loose, simply providing paperwork and smiling after the fact ain't going to cut it.
Further, and this is just for funsies, LSU didn't even play an ineligible player and got docked two scholarships and recruiting time. OSU played 5 ineligible players the entirety of the season, and didn't dock themselves a single scholarship. And that's just not smart.
The NCAA is settling all its family business this summer. Pray to God your school isn't pulling up to a toll booth any time soon.