The result of the NCAA's investigation of the Oregon football program proves one thing. It pays to cooperate with the NCAA.
The Ducks will continue to fly over the college football landscape with 24 initial scholarships and 84 total scholarships over the next few years. The NCAA allows a maximum of 85 total scholarshipped players per team and limits available scholarships to no more than 25 per class per year.
A reduction of one scholarship per year will not be felt. Oregon had self-sanctioned itself with one scholarship reduction last year and nobody noticed.
The NCAA gave Oregon, a school that admitted it failed to monitor its football program, a time-out instead of a behind-the-wood-shed beating simply because it bent over backward to cooperate with the NCAA.
Head coach Chip Kelly received an 18-month show cause order, but he is no longer at Oregon. It's a toothless sanction. The Ducks' biggest punishment appears to be a reduction in the number of allowable official visits by prospects.
Instead of hosting 56 prospects on their official visits to the school, Oregon will be allowed to host 37. That could affect its recruiting since Eugene is a good distance from the fertile recruiting grounds of California, Texas and Florida. Then again, Oregon's flashy, high-tech marketing is reaching those kids who may not be able to take an official visit to Oregon.
Nobody wants to see innocent players feel the brunt of a punishment intended for miscreants. But doesn't a slap on the wrist send an unintended message?
Questionably cheat, act arrogantly and dig your heels in during an NCAA investigation and you'll get the University of Southern California treatment of a two-year postseason ban, a loss of 10 scholarships per year for three years and vacated games. Cheat away, self-report and cooperate with the NCAA and you'll get the University of South Carolina treatment.
South Carolina was investigated by the NCAA in 2010 over allegations of impermissible recruiting and student-athletes receiving preferential treatment and impermissible benefits. The NCAA also leveled the school with the dreaded "failure to monitor" charge. Among its findings:
Nine student-athletes received special loan arrangements by deferring rent payments through an agreement with the hotel. In total, the student-athletes received approximately $51,000* in impermissible extra benefits and preferential treatment.
Its biggest sanctions were a reduction of three initial and three total scholarships over two years and a limit of 30 official visits for one year. Pfffft.
The “committee noted the university’s cooperation in the investigation, which went beyond standard expectations.” When facing potential major sanctions, isn't cooperating an obvious choice after what happened to USC (West)?
That brings up a bone of contention for schools that ere hammered by the NCAA. If two schools face similar charges from the NCAA, how does one cooperating lessen the severity of its original violations? The violations still occurred.
The punishment is reduced because the NCAA lacks subpoena power. Cooperation is desperately needed since it cannot compel witnesses—outside of the NCAA's reach—to talk. You scratch our back and we'll scratch yours.
The NCAA's message is clear: Help us investigate your egregious violations, and we will reward you. Do not help us investigate and you will feel our wrath.
Turning a blind eye to what is going on in a program isn't cheating. It is ignorance and condoning complacency. How ignorant was Oregon?
In February 2010, Oregon was billed $25,000 by Willie Lyles' Complete Scouting Services for A "2011 National Package," according to The Oregonian. The next month CSS registered its website and Oregon paid the $25,000 bill.
On February 22, 2011, at the request of assistant director of football operations Josh Gibson and head coach Chip Kelly, "Willie Lyles provides Oregon outdated recruiting materials in a rushed attempt to assist the Ducks in fulfilling NCAA requirements for [written] quarterly reports from scouting services," according to the report. Six days later, the NCAA received a tip about Oregon's possible violations regarding recruiting services.
It appears that Oregon knew it was not operating within the NCAA's recruiting guidelines and attempted to rectify it by making an urgent request for written materials. The previous year, it had received oral reports. Was this just a case of Oregon scrambling to follow up with missing written quarterly reports required by the NCAA? Or was it a cover-up?
In either case, it was a feeble ex post facto attempt to follow NCAA requirements. An argument could be made that Oregon made a preemptive strike to avoid potential punishment from the NCAA.
Technically, cooperation fails to exist if one does not follow the rules. Neither does making a retroactively covert attempt to appear to have been following the rules. The NCAA failed to recognize that and instead noted that "the former head coach was unaware" of Lyles' scouting tactics.
How does one prove someone is unaware? There is no technology available that can decipher cognitive thought.
Pleading ignorance is not a legally recognized defense. The "we didn't know" defense holds no weight in the American legal system. It does in the NCAA. Unless, of course, you are USC.
Cheating is a harsh word. Oregon may not have cheated, but it may have attempted to cheat. It definitely did not do enough to discourage cheating.
None of this matters.
Cheat, become ignorant or unaware, and you're in big trouble with the NCAA.
Cooperate with the NCAA and almost all is forgiven.
Do both and you win the day at warp speed.