NCAA denies playing favorites

The NCAA defended its recent rulings in violations cases involving Ohio State and Auburn, saying it does not play favorites or make decisions based on financial considerations.

The NCAA posted a statement on its website Wednesday responding to critics. It says "the notion that the NCAA is selective with its eligibility decisions and rules enforcement is another myth with no basis in fact.

"Money is not a motivator or factor as to why one school would get a particular decision versus another. Any insinuation that revenue from bowl games in particular would influence NCAA decisions is absurd, because schools and conferences receive that revenue, not the NCAA."

Last week, the NCAA suspended five Ohio State players for five games next season for selling their championship rings, trophies and other memorabilia items, but is allowing them to play in the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Before the NCAA handed down its penalties, Ohio State officials informed Sugar Bowl organizers that the school was lobbying for the players to be eligible for the Jan. 4 game.

Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan told The Columbus Dispatch that he encouraged Ohio State officials to push for the players to be allowed to play against Arkansas.

"I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year's game, we would greatly appreciate it," Hoolahan was quoted was saying in Wednesday's editions of the newspaper. "That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I'm extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution."

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told the AP he had no problem with Hoolahan looking out for the Sugar Bowl.

"He's the leader of the Sugar Bowl and probably needs to do that," Long said. "I also don't think that his lobbying, so to speak, would carry a whole lot of weight with the NCAA when they make their decisions. I don't mean that with any disrespect to Paul Hoolahan, but I would be surprised if the NCAA took that into consideration when making their decision."

Last month, the NCAA did not punish Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, even though it ruled his father had solicited money from Mississippi State while that school was recruiting his son.

In the Ohio State case, the NCAA said players -- including quarterback Terrelle Pryor and three other starters -- had been inadequately educated about the rules and that was a mitigating factor in the case. The NCAA reiterated that point in its statement Wednesday.

It also said bowl games, the postseason and NCAA championships are evaluated differently when determining a student-athletes' punishment.

"This policy was developed and implemented by the Division I membership, specifically the Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement and approved by the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet, in 2004," the statement said.

In the Newton case, the Heisman Trophy winner was allowed to continue playing because there was no evidence that he or Auburn knew about Cecil Newton's attempts to get Mississippi State to pay $180,000 for his son's commitment out of junior college.

The NCAA said Wednesday that efforts are being made to strengthen rules "when benefits or money are solicited [but not received]."

"Put simply, had Cam Newton's father or a third party actually received money or benefits for his recruitment, Cam Newton would have been declared ineligible regardless of his lack of knowledge," the NCAA said.