Ole Miss went out on a limb Friday, choosing to self-impose several penalties instead of allowing the NCAA full control of the athletic department’s fate.
It’s a strategy that can accelerate the healing process, but also one that can do more harm than good.
When the NCAA is involved, justice does not typically take a simple path. And while self-imposing may seem like a straightforward step, there are plenty of strings attached and — quite often — ulterior motives involved.
“When you have schools essentially using self-imposed sanctions as a means of plea bargaining for a better deal, does that not create an impression that NCAA ‘justice’ is being dispensed in a manner that is both inconsistent and subject to manipulation?” asked Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader in a column earlier this year.
His question was a response to the opposite strategies of the Louisville and North Carolina basketball programs this past season.
Both the Cardinals and Tar Heels violated NCAA rules (predominately due to academic fraud and staff-provided sex parties, respectively), but only one of them announced self-imposed violations. Louisville went the self-punishment route, essentially sacrificing its most recent season in an attempt to appease the NCAA.
North Carolina used a loophole (self-discovery of more violations) to delay the official NCAA investigation, preserve its most recent season and play the long game. Judgment day will eventually come for the Heels, but not anytime soon.
For those schools that choose to impose sanctions themselves, there’s no perfect answer.
“The typical approach is you don’t want to sanction yourself too much,” David Ridpath, associate professor of sport management at Ohio, told STLToday.com’s Dave Matter in January. “Because 99 percent of the time the NCAA will add something.”
Let’s review three recent cases to get some context on Ole Miss’ self-imposed punishments: One ACC school that did not go far enough, a Sun Belt school that appeased the NCAA and an SEC school that might have gone too far.
The university tried to get off easy in February 2015, and the NCAA came down hard one month later. After several years of failing to follow “its own written policies and procedures for students who tested positive for banned substances” (as dictated in the eventual NCAA decision), Syracuse decided to take action and assessed a postseason basketball ban.
That wasn’t nearly enough, according to the NCAA. The Orange received the following additional punishments:
- Nine-game suspension for head coach Jim Boeheim
- Loss of 12 total scholarships; three per year for four years
- Return of all money from revenue sharing in three separate NCAA tournaments
- Forfeiture of an unknown number of wins from the 2001-2009 seasons
Barring the death penalty or a Penn State-esque takedown, this is the worst-case scenario for a school that self-imposes punishments: the NCAA accepted the one-season postseason ban and then piled on plenty more discipline.
A former coach fraudulently boosted various recruits’ standardized test scores and provided $6,000 cash to a junior-college recruit. The school worked collaboratively with the NCAA during its investigation, which lasted nearly two years.
- Vacated one full season (2011)
- Two years’ probation (2016, 2017)
- Loss of 11 scholarships spread over three seasons (2016-2018)
The NCAA added a couple more measures (including further review of games that may need to be vacated and a $5,000 fine), but many saw it as the governing body “accepting” ULL’s self-imposed sanctions, a rare case of “Hey, we’re okay with this,” from the blue logo.
With the basketball team (19-44 over the past two seasons) not showing much promise, the Tigers went all out in their self-punishment after the NCAA informed them of several violations in April 2014.
Among them: A donor provided “impermissible benefits” to three athletes and one recruit, a second representative gave “impermissible benefits” to 11 athletes and three members of one athlete’s family, an assistant coach “assisted in the relocation” of one prospective athlete, and another staff member made “multiple impermissible recruiting contacts” with a prospective athlete, among other violations.
Missouri announced the fallout in January of this year.
- Vacated one full season (2013-2014)
- One-year postseason ban (2015-2016 — the university did not receive revenues from either the SEC tournament or the NCAA tournament)
- Loss of two basketball scholarships (one in 2015-2016, another no later than 2017-2018)
- “Restricting of recruiting activities” for two seasons
- Disassociation from two “representatives” — one permanently, another for two years
- $5,000 fine
It’s still unknown whether the NCAA will let those stand or tack on further punishment, so the Tigers are in a similar position to Hugh Freeze’s program at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss (2016)
With eight “Level 1” infractions out of 13 total (read the summarized report here), Ole Miss appears to be on a different level than Missouri, which reported only one “Level 1” violation. The NCAA considers these types of violations to be “severe breach of conduct,” per its bylaws. Here are the Rebels’ self-imposed punishments (football only), announced Friday.
- Scholarship reduction (11 total, including three in each of the next three seasons)
- Recruiting suspensions for two assistant coaches
- Reduction of recruiting evaluation opportunities as well as official and unofficial visits allotted
- “Disassociation” with one organization and four individuals over the next three years
- Supplementary rules education for staff members
- A fine of nearly $160,000
Did the Rebels do enough to keep the NCAA of their back? That’s the question fans will be asking for months. Ole Miss clearly committed more serious violations than the other schools on this list, but — depending on how much weight you give the difference in monetary fines — these punishments are mostly in line with Missouri’s.
Whether that’s the Tigers’ fault for going overboard or the Rebels’ fault for not going far enough is a grey area that no one can fully analyze.
Ole Miss’ fate is in the NCAA hands, and that tends to inspire more fear than confidence.