Obligatory "What Do Ohio State's Penalties Mean For UNC?" Post

The short answer: Probably not much.

On Tuesday, the NCAA handed down its final judgment on Ohio State's football program over a scandal involving improper benefits, a booster and former coach Jim Tressel's attempt to cover up the violations. In a somewhat surprising move, the NCAA slapped a one year bowl ban on the Buckeyes along with an additional year of probation, a reduction of three scholarships per year for three years and a five year show-cause for Tressel.

You can read the full report here. Because of UNC's impending penalties, any time a school gets taken for a walk by the NCAA, it is natural(and futile but what is a blogger to do) to extrapolate what it might mean for the Heels. If the NCAA followed common sense rules and their own precedent, then maybe you could draw some conclusions. Since they don't with the added bonus of being wildly inconsistent across multiple rulings, predicting UNC's penalties is nearly impossible.

It is important to note that the only penalty Ohio St. received which may have been unexpected was the bowl ban. The NCAA basically took Ohio State's recommended penalties and added something to them. Two years probation became three years. The Buckeye self-imposed four scholarships over a three year period became nine scholarships. Certain games were vacated and the forfeiture of over $300,000 tied to a bowl game was also mandated by the NCAA.  In UNC's case, I expect the action will be similar. UNC will get some additional scholarship restrictions and probably another year probation plus something added to UNC"s recommended $50,000 fine. The question is whether the NCAA also adds the bowl ban for UNC like it did Ohio St?

According to the report, there were two aggravating factors that led the NCAA to impose the bowl ban. The first was OSU's failure to monitor a booster who had "insider" access to the football program despite attempts to restrict him. The status of this booster and OSU's failure to keep an eye on him did not sit well with the NCAA. This violation, more than any of the others was the one that brought out the big hammer. The other factor was Ohio State's status as a repeat offender stemming from other run-ins with the NCAA going back several years and involving other sports such as basketball.

As for UNC, the question is what factors the NCAA might consider as aggravating thus bringing out a possible bowl ban. Since UNC is not a repeat offender, that factor won't be considered. UNC also didn't have an entrenched booster providing benefits to football players. What UNC did have was some academic fraud involving a tutor who also provided improper benefits and an assistant coach on the staff who turned out to be a de factor runner(albeit a bad one) for an agent. John Blake is really the wildcard in all of this. No one is sure what the NCAA will do about an assistant coach taking money from an agent because it has never happened before. Will the NCAA consider this an aggravating factor worthy enough apply a bowl ban? Or is UNC's extensive cooperation, which included holding players out during the 2010 season, carry enough weight for UNC to avoid any competition restrictions?

With the NCAA there is no way of knowing nor can we readily ascertain how aggressively the NCAA will go after John Blake as an individual and the institution who hired him. I am sure the NCAA would like to send a message about the role of agents and runners in college football. Whether that means bad news for UNC or not remains to be seen. My guess would be the NCAA would want to nail Blake with a huge show-cause, something like ten years. The notice of allegations really doesn't place a whole lot of responsibility for Blake's actions on the school but that really may not mean much. There is also a question scope with UNC's situation. The notice of allegations touched several of different areas. UNC had impermissible benefits, agent involvement and two cases of academic fraud or as Tom O'Brien put it, a triple play. In addition you had the tutor involved with the academic fraud also named as a part of the improper benefits violations. The totality of it all may carry weight in the penalty phase but again who really knows.

There are some aspects which work in UNC's favor. The first is the cooperation shown all throughout the process. There was a pro-active move on the part of the Tar Heel administrators to ensure no ineligible players made it onto the field. UNC held players out who ultimately ended up being cleared off any wrongdoing. Compare that to Ohio St whose head coach lied about violations to ensure ineligible players continued to compete. UNC also opened up everything for the NCAA to look at, almost to the point of inviting the discovery of violations which had nothing to do with the initial probe. That is basically how the academic fraud case came to light. There were also six players punished by the NCAA, four of them permanently banned and two others who sat four and six games respectively. Again, this is a unique factor. In most cases, the NCAA is handing down penalties after the guilty parties have largely left school. In UNC's case, all of the parties involved in the violations, who were still at UNC, paid some penalty. The guilty players were either banned from playing again or sat huge chunks of the 2010 season. Blake resigned and left the program effectively removing him from the equation. UNC eventually fired Butch Davis despite the lack of any named involvement in the violations. The impact of the 2010 suspensions and penalties was an effective hamstringing of that season which initially had great promise. In essence, not only has UNC fully cooperated with the NCAA but there is a time served element in play which the NCAA could take into consideration in fleshing out the rest of the punishment.

One of the biggest problems in predicting the NCAA is the assertion made by the enforcement division that every case is different. Precedent only matters when the NCAA decides it matters which means there is an effective isolating of each case from the ones that came before it. The NCAA doesn't tend to penalize one school on the basis of actions take against another school with similar violations. Add to that some unprecedented factors in UNC's case and that leaves us with really no idea on how to predict the NCAA's actions.  Of course that doesn't mean people will not try, such as SI.com's Stewart Mandel who provides Pack Pride readers with what is tantamount to soft porn.

North Carolina: If any program's fans should be shaking after Tuesday's ruling, it's the Tar Heels'. UNC went before the Committee in October, and its verdict is expected shortly. When its Notice of Allegations came out this summer, fans hung their hopes for a lenient sentence on the following facts: 1) It avoided the dreaded Lack of Institutional Control charge, receiving Failure to Monitor instead; and 2) The school was proactive, suspending players itself as soon as allegations of misconduct arose prior to the 2010 season.

Well, Ohio State was also charged with Failure to Monitor. It self-reported every violation in Tuesday's report, preemptively fired Tressel, disassociated Pryor and DiGeronimo and self-imposed several penalties -- and still it got hit with a bowl ban. North Carolina should expect even worse, considering its case is wider in scope and involves two of the NCAA's biggest no-nos -- academic fraud and agent violations. I'd expect a two-year bowl ban and at least one docked scholarship for every player who received impermissible benefits or improper academic help.

Really Stewart? That would be USC-level sanctions for UNC and I am not entirely sure the facts of the case warrant that. Of course Mandel's title for his article is "Ohio State case could set precedent for future program penalties" which is a somewhat ridiculous premise to start with. As I noted above, the NCAA has said every case is different and they only cite precedent when it suits them. Mandel is going with the "scope" argument here saying the height and depth of UNC's troubles warrants stiff penalties. I can't say it won't happen because the NCAA is the NCAA. However, given how much UNC cooperated, the preemptive holding out of players, Blake resigning and UNC's own self imposed penalties(which were more extensive than Ohio State's) thinking UNC will get worse than Ohio State when the Buckeyes covered up violations in order to keep players on the field seems a tad off.

At this point, the NCAA's final report on UNC could come any time within the next four weeks. With the holidays coming up I would surmise it will be after New Year's Day, probably into the second week in January, right when Larry Fedora is hitting the recruiting trail in earnest.

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