Is the NCAA’s recent decision in a rules-violation case evidence of a major shift in policy?
The NCAA recently imposed sanctions on a big-time basketball program for rules violations. But it wasn’t just another day in NCAA-land.
The NCAA deviated from its past practices by going easy on the University of Connecticut, a one-time powerhouse under former head coach Jim Calhoun, but slamming the school’s former head coach, Kevin Ollie.
The NCAA imposed a three-year show-cause order on Ollie for violations committed during his tenure. That means any school wishing to employ him is required to restrict him from athetic-related duties, unless it can show cause why the restrictions should not apply.
Of course, no university will wish to jump through the hoops necessary to hire Ollie.
There is life after show-cause orders for college basketball coaches.
Two prominent current coaches — Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson — both were sidelined by show-cause orders that eventually expired. They now are winning and making millions of dollars in a business from which they were once banished.
The word “winning” is key here. Despite suggestions to the contrary, everyone knows that’s all that matters in major college sports. So despite their checkered pasts, both Sampson and Pearl easily obtained good coaching jobs because the schools that hired them are more interested in winning than they are in hiring coaches with clean backgrounds.
Ollie, of course, does not have a winning reputation. He took a top-drawer program and turned it into mediocrity.
UConn fired Ollie “for cause” in March 2018, and the university is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with him over a $10 million payoff Ollie claims to be owed.
UConn did not emerge unscathed from the probe. But its self-imposed sanctions — the loss of one scholarship, the vacations of wins in which ineligible players competed and two years of probation — were accepted by the NCAA in toto.
But there is no ban on post-season tournament play or any other significant penalty.
So, essentially, the school skated while its former coach didn’t.
There’s logic to that. After all, if there was wrongdoing, it wasn’t the institution or the players who engaged in it, it was individual coaches.
Further, the NCAA is no longer allowing coaches to get away with saying they were unaware of rules violations committed by their staff members.
They are being held responsible for managing the overall programs and subject to sanctions if they do not do so.
In citing Ollie, the NCAA complained that he lied to investigators, a major violation.
It also found a booster provided “extra benefits” to a player, another potential major violation.
But there also were what should be considered minor violations, including extra pickup games for players that exceeded limited activity time and having a video coordinator who doubled as an impermissible extra coach.
Ollie, not surprisingly, rejects the findings against him.
Also not surprising, he and his lawyer contend that the NCAA limited his ability to defend him by barring Ollie’s lawyer from cross-examining witnesses against Ollie.
Frankly, that has the ring of truth. The NCAA has long used a peculiar and self-serving enforcement process to limit the ability of the accused to challenge charges against them.
But its denial of due process procedures and selective enforcement are issues for another day.
What matters here is where the NCAA aimed its fire — at coaches who oversee rule-violating programs. That’s a welcome change in emphasis.