Monday, July 19, 2010

A new (and improved) philosophy

The nasty, leech-infested muck that is college basketball has (fortunately) never really found its way to college football. Agents, runners, AAU weirdness and murky "here, have a job and car" recruiting scandals just aren't nearly as prevalent ... at least we don't think they are.

But kids get stuff sometimes. Stuff they aren't supposed to get. And we all know it. I don't know if the people in power just didn't really realize it was happening in football until all the USC stuff came about or if that was some sort of wake-up call as to the go-go-gadget arms of greedy agents, but for whatever reason, the NCAA is seriously cracking the whip right now at the first sign of inappropriate benefits.

Exhibit A:
Florida and NCAA officials are investigating a potential rules violation that allegedly occurred this past December involving former Gators football standout Maurkice Pouncey, sources said.

Florida is internally investigating what sources described as an allegation that a representative of an agent paid Pouncey $100,000 between the Gators' loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game and their season-ending Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Florida apprised the NCAA of the allegation after it became aware of it.

Two sources also told Schad that the letter was accompanied by photographic evidence of an alleged runner for an agent in social situations with Pouncey and his brother Mike, including at two awards shows.

Mike Pouncey will be a senior offensive lineman with the Gators next season.

The sources told Schad that the Pounceys have provided phone, bank and credit card statements that do not show any large payments. Two sources added that Maurkice Pouncey said he paid for a Cadillac Escalade and jewelry after the NFL draft with a deferred line of credit and did at times lend the Escalade to Mike in Gainesville, Fla.

Getting a line of credit after you leave school but before the draft? OK. Receiving $100,000 from an agent while still playing in college? Not OK. This seems fairly straightforward; I still can't figure out why it becomes a problem almost every year around bowl time.

Fortunately for Florida, there's not much possible damage. Older brother Maurkice already graduated, so the worst-case scenario is that he played in the Sugar Bowl while ineligible, meaning Florida would have to vacate the win (and Cincinnati could mercifully erase that ass-kicking from its record books). It could also end up as a secondary violation if the NCAA decides that there was a not-so-strict atmosphere around the locker room (at Florida?!? No!).

Mike could also run into some eligibility questions if he was hanging around with a runner or receiving any money on his own, but I can't see the NCAA coming down hard on him for using his brother's car. Have fun trying to close that can of worms.

Exhibit B:

South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman says the NCAA is investigating a possible rules violation of one of its athletic programs.

Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders told ESPN on Sunday that he has been interviewed by NCAA investigators in connection with the North Carolina case.

Saunders is a well-known friend of Marvin Austin, who started the whole UNC investigation by tweeting about a trip to Miami that presumably involved a bunch of money -- not his own -- being thrown around.

He's also one of the best tight ends in the country. If it turns out that he was involved in some shady activity, his loss (even for a few weeks) would be a pretty painful one for the South Carolina offense. But you know what's amazing about Steve Spurrier? Even in the middle of an awkward and possibly controversial situation, he can still pull out an off-the-cuff FTW comment:

"All I know is they had talked to him and talked to some players at North Carolina. That's all I know," Spurrier told the paper. "Whatever comes [of it], we'll just have to wait and see.

"We're not going to look the other way like possibly Southern California did," Spurrier continued. "We're going to abide by the rules."

Excellent. We'll see if he's still cracking jokes if Saunders is suspended for the season; my guess is that he'll throw his visor, utter some sort of "dad-gum" comment with an obnoxious smirk on his face and then blame it all on Stephen Garcia.

These two stories will undoubtedly be the catalyst for 387 columns about how college athletics aren't what they used to be and agents are ruining sports and "get off my lawn" and so on and so forth, but like I said earlier, this shit happens. And these situations are not comparable to what happened at USC; that was a widespread, years-long lack of compliance that was a bomb just waiting to detonate. The interesting thing is that the NCAA is kicking ass and taking names all of a sudden.

The Bylaw Blog explains the new policy perfectly:

What appears to have happened in this case exemplifies the new approach:

  1. Pick a target population, in this case football student-athletes who were expected to be drafted who returned to school.
  2. Investigate the target population for evidence of violations, which turned out to be improper benefits received by agents.
  3. Use the associations and connections between involved parties as a jumping off point for related investigations, using Saunders’ association with UNC defensive end Marvin Austin.

Such an approach was not possible as recently as five years ago since the NCAA enforcement staff did not fully understand the patterns of this activity. It’s the difference between playing Whack-a-Mole and knowing how the game works to predict which mole is coming up next. ...

Certainly the NCAA is devoting more resources to investigating and researching these problems, and that’s a question of priorities and will. But more important is that the NCAA is simply getting better at investigating and knows more about what to look for, where to look for it, and who to question.

We could debate the fairness of amateurism rules until we're blue in the face -- I believe the proper term for that discussion is "beating a dead horse." But with the current bylaws being what they are, it's nice to know that the NCAA is actually, you know, enforcing those bylaws and trying to ensure that there won't ever again be a blatant, USC-level rule-flouting that gets everyone pissed off as the obvious violations pile up and the punishment never comes.

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