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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NCAA's new outlook may add to Jim Tressel's punishment

Jim Tressel might have walked into the NCAA's cross hairs at an inopportune time, when college athletics is roiling over a succession of high-profile infractions cases and the new NCAA president is striking a get-tough tone.
"There's no question that the light is much brighter," former NCAA infractions committee chairman Tom Yeager says as Ohio State and the NCAA work through a case involving the illicit sale of memorabilia by Buckeyes football players and a decision by Tressel, their coach, to keep his knowledge of the violations from school and NCAA officials.
The NCAA detailed its charges in an eight-page notice released by the school Monday. It raised questions about Tressel's "honesty and integrity." Ohio State, which faces institutional sanctions related to the use of players rendered technically ineligible by the violations, has until July 5 to respond. The NCAA has tentatively set a hearing for mid-August.
The case — involving major-college football's fifth-winningest program and its second-winningest active coach, behind only Joe Paterno— is being cast as a test of NCAA resolve and an opportunity to give future offenders pause. In Houston before basketball's Final Four less than four weeks ago, President Mark Emmert pledged to address integrity issues and said, if necessary, the NCAA would act to stiffen penalties "in a way that provides some sort of constructive fear."
Yeager and other officials caution against viewing the Ohio State outcome as symbolic, however. While Emmert can beef up the NCAA's enforcement staff and encourage it to be more aggressive in rooting out wrongdoing, the Committee on Infractions operates independently in weighing evidence and precedent, handing down verdicts and meting out punishment.
In the case of Tressel and Ohio State, says Yeager, the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, "I can tell you the committee is going to be looking at it in the context of other head football coaches who've been involved in similar-type things and what the outcome was there."
The panel handled a similarly high-profile case a year ago, hitting Southern California's marquee football program with stiff sanctions, including a two-year bowl ban.
"I don't know that they were necessarily trying to send a message," says Oklahoma law professor David Swank, another former infractions committee chairman. "What you had was very serious violations (revolving around illicit extra benefits that a San Diego businessman and former marketing agent provided Reggie Bush and his family). … The committee looks at it and says, 'In light of the seriousness of the violations, what it the appropriate penalty?' "
Tressel has agreed to a five-game suspension at the start of next season, but an NCAA finding that he engaged in unethical conduct could lead the infractions committee to extend that. Ohio State might have to vacate regular-season wins in which quarterback Terrelle Pryor and other implicated players took part.
It will take more than coming down hard on the Buckeyes to impress some.
"I would only think there's a turnaround in NCAA attitudes when this case and the next five cases end up with sanctions," says Nathan Tublitz, a biology professor who heads Oregon's university senate and is a former chairman of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog consortium of faculty senates.
"It's such a high-profile school and such a high-profile case and it seems open and shut … it's obvious there'll have to be consequences. My worry is, with other schools that aren't so high-profile and where it may not be so open and shut, that instead of drawing the line and sticking to it, the NCAA will back off."

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