NCAA gets serious with penalties

Since the start of NCAA president Mark Emmert's tenure, he has been pushing for the acceptance of harsher penalties for NCAA violations. He's talked often of changing the cost-benefit analyses that allow coaches and athletic directors to excuse rule-breaking -- everyone else is doing it; if I get caught, what's the big deal; I am the one who knocks! -- more easily than Walter White.

Nothing in the NCAA rules process happens particularly quickly, which is why serious punishment reform is just making its way through the NCAA legislative sausage-o-matic. But it is making its way. On Thursday, NCAA leadership endorsed a proposal that would levy penalties against rules violators more rigidly than ever before:

The plan calls for changing the current two-tiered penalty structure of major and secondary violations to a four-tiered concept, increasing the size of the infractions committee from 10 up to 24 in an effort to speed up the enforcement process and holding coaches individually accountable for any violations that occur in their program.

But it's the penalties that will make school leaders take notice.

A program found to have made a "serious breach of conduct" with aggravating circumstances could face postseason bans of two to four years. In addition, the program may have to return money from specific events or a series of events or the amount of gross revenue generated by the sport during the years in which sanctions occurred -- fines that could cost a school millions of dollars.


Coaches, too, would face new guidelines. They would be presumed responsible for any violations committed by their staffs. If they cannot prove they were unaware, the head coach could be suspended from 10 percent of the season to the full season.

Will those penalties change the way programs (and particularly coaches) treat wrongdoing in their programs? Yeah, maybe. Probably? I don't know.

What I do know is that the NCAA has no choice. Actually, I suppose it does. It could do away with much of its amateurism-related restrictions and allow an Olympics-style system to foment, and thereby undercut the constant game between coaches who break the rules and the infractions committee members who investigate and prosecute those crimes. (These are their stories. Bum bum.) But of course the NCAA is not going to do that. It's been committed to this model, and remains so to this day. Emmert may be interested in major reforms to the system, but he's still keeping the system.

Which is why I'm OK with the increased penalties. If the NCAA isn't going to revolutionize its model, then it has to make sure the current model is enforced. That may not be a long-term solution, but given the circumstances -- the steady drip-drip-drip of major infractions cases, the seedy underbelly of college hoops recruiting, the rumors of cash payments and shoe contracts, the pervasive notion that everybody cheats in at least some small way -- the NCAA has to do something to at least make coaches think long and hard about the road they're going down before they do so. If these rules proposals are the start of that almost invisible transformation, good. All things considered, it's for the best.