On May 26, 2011, the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee (IAC) upheld the decision by the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) from June 10, 2010 against the University of Southern California. The COI, after a four-year investigation by the NCAA Enforcement staff, had determined that numerous extra benefits were received by Reggie Bush, a former USC football player, and O.J. Mayo, a former USC men's basketball player, while being recruited and/or during their enrollment at the institution. The findings in the case included a lack of institutional control, impermissible inducements, extra benefits, and exceeding coaching staff limits. As a result, USC was put on four years' probation, hit with a two-year bowl ban (one-year remaining), will lose 30 football scholarships over three years, will not be allowed to compete in the inaugural 2011 Pac 12 Championship game and will vacate 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. The NCAA ended up not taking further action against the men's basketball program, which had already banned itself from postseason play last season and vacated its wins from Mayo's one season with USC. So, what can we learn from the IAC and COI decision? Here are my top five things we can take away from the USC case.
1: The Committee on Infractions will have latitude in tailoring remedies to the particular circumstances involved in each case. The most important item we can take from the USC appeal is that the case precedent is not an "unyielding directive." While the IAC does not state that case precedent will be abandoned altogether, it is made very clear that the IAC feels each case is unique and therefore prior decisions provide no restraint on or guidance to the COI and IAC. Each case will be analyzed on its specific facts and any use of prior case precedent is a matter of judgment by the COI and IAC.
2: The NCAA is serious about the enforcement process and the efforts of institutional compliance programs. The penalties (see above) given to USC are going to impact the success of its athletic programs, the prestige of the institution, and the income generated through the athletic department. Further, this decision and the language used sends a direct message to all NCAA institutions that bylaws will be strictly enforced and compliance is to be taken very seriously.
4: A serious commitment to Division I athletics must include a serious commitment to athletics compliance. Every year institutions commit tens of millions of dollars to operate their athletics department and sports programs. The NCAA is directing that this same commitment is made when providing the staffing and resources necessary to operate an athletics compliance office.
5: If you fail to learn your lesson the first time around, you will likely suffer the consequences should additional violations occur. NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199.1, also known as the "repeat violator rule," states "an institution shall be considered a 'repeat' violator if the Committee on Infractions finds that a major violation has occurred within five years of the starting date of a major penalty. For this provision to apply, at least one major violation must have occurred within five years after the starting date of the penalties in the previous case." The COI and IAC specifically noted that "stiffer penalties are particularly warranted because the school (USC) failed to take to heart the lessons it should have learned in 2001."
The USC decision has reaffirmed the NCAA's commitment to athletics compliance and institutional control. The NCAA will not tolerate violations that are made either intentionally or through a lack of commitment. The NCAA will make an example out of institutions who do not meet their standards. Institutions with ongoing NCAA Enforcement investigations, such as The Ohio State University, the University of North Carolina, and Auburn University, are likely very weary of what may lie ahead.