Tougher penalties could become norm for NCAA

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, June 12, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is finally backing up its tough talk.

By penalizing Southern California’s football program with the loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year postseason ban, the committee on infractions sent a clear message to programs and coaches willing to win at any cost: Learn from the Trojans’ mistakes or face a stiff penalty.

“The real issue here is if you have high-profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level,” committee chairman Paul Dee said. “So high-profile players demand high-profile compliance.”

Some were surprised the NCAA relinquished the kinder, gentler image it had under the late president Myles Brand and reverted to a more old-school approach in deciding the Southern Cal case.

Until Thursday, no Football Bowl Subdivision school had been prohibited from postseason play since Alabama completed its two-year bowl ban in 2003, and no team has been given a television ban since 1996.

The Trojans nearly got both.

Those who follow the NCAA’s moves closely should have seen this coming.

In the big-money sports world, critics increasingly labeled the NCAA as too soft on rule-breakers. So in October 2008, the committee on infractions recommended imposing postseason and TV bans — punishments that were never scrubbed from the books.

“Some time ago, we moved away from television bans because we felt that impacted sister institutions rather than the guilty party,” Division I vice president David Berst said then. “It believed there were other ways to impose penalties that were just as meaningful. Now, the committee believes it may be appropriate.”

Other recommendations from two years ago included publicly naming staff members involved in infractions cases, eliminating the reward for cooperation with NCAA investigators and imposing fines. Since then, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said, the recommendations have been sent to schools for comment. The Board of Directors has not acted on those recommendations.

It still didn’t stop the infractions committee from punishing Southern Cal.

Neither Berst nor other full-time NCAA employees were available Friday to discuss whether the latest decision could signal a new trend in how the NCAA deals with violations.

But Thursday’s report went far beyond typical infractions announcements.

Dee acknowledged publicly the committee had considered imposing a television ban on the Trojans — a rare departure for an organization that doesn’t like discussing what could have happened.

And although Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo were not identified by name in the public report, they were singled out as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a one-and-done player. Names or identifying characteristics of individuals are traditionally excluded in the report.

Why the change?

“It was included in part to show how prominent the individuals were in relationship to the university,” Dee explained.

The committee went even further.

Among some of the overlooked penalties, Southern Cal must dissociate itself from Bush and Mayo and keep some of the Trojans’ most prominent fans, such as actor Will Ferrell, off the sidelines — a tough hit in a glitzy town.