USC football coach Lane Kiffin, currently awaiting his day in NCAA court for alleged violations committed at Tennessee, said something Thursday that suggests he has studied the history of the NCAA's enforcement process.
"As you read the reports, when you look at those things, it has to do with issues of how you deal with the NCAA and how you communicate with them through the process," Kiffin said. "I don't think that's a question at all in this situation."
Kiffin is confident, believing he and Tennessee were forthright with investigators, and the charge leveled against him suggests the NCAA believes that as well. Kiffin was charged with failure to monitor -- an allegation many a coach has survived with his job intact. Among those who follow the NCAA's enforcement process, the general rule of thumb is this: The NCAA's Committee on Infractions can forgive a few transgressions, but one it rarely forgives is hiding the truth from the NCAA. That's why Kiffin should feel much safer than Ohio State's Jim Tressel, whose own school has turned him in to the NCAA for a violation of Bylaw 10.1, which prohibits Unethical Conduct.
Tressel has already been fined $250,000 and suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, but a look at past infractions cases suggests he isn't out of the woods. An SI.com study of the past 177 NCAA infractions cases involving violations of Bylaw 10.1 revealed that coaches accused of such violations rarely retain their jobs. The cases in the NCAA's Major Infractions database dated back to 1989, and included schools from each of the NCAA's three divisions. Offenses ranged in severity from a coach providing free T-shirts to recruits to former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss encouraging others to lie to the NCAA about the habits of a murdered player. Of the 177 cases, 172 involved coaches or athletic administrators accused of committing unethical conduct. Of those, 159 resigned or were terminated. Eighty-one cases involved coaches or athletics administrators accused of providing false or misleading information to NCAA investigators or encouraging others to lie to investigators. Of those, 78 resigned or were terminated. In many of the cases, the coaches accused of lying to investigators also were accused of other violations. One intriguing aspect of Tressel's case is that it does not -- at this point -- include any other violations on his part.
E-mails from a former Buckeye to Tressel last spring alerted the coach to a Columbus tattoo parlor that was trading cash and tattoos to at least two players -- a clear violation of NCAA rules. According to Ohio State, Tressel notified neither his superiors nor the NCAA. In September, Tressel signed an NCAA form indicating he knew of no violations of NCAA rules. In December, when NCAA investigators came to Columbus to investigate Ohio State players' relationship with the tattoo parlor, after the school was tipped off by federal authorities, Tressel never mentioned that he knew what was going on. The story got even messier Friday when The Columbus Dispatch reported that Tressel forwarded the information to Ted Sarniak, the 67-year-old owner of a Jeanette, Pa., glass factory and a "mentor" of Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of six players found to have traded memorabilia for cash and/or tattoos at Fine Line Ink in Columbus.
Those three acts -- 1) the forwarding of the information to someone other than his bosses or the NCAA, 2) the signing of the form and 3) the failure to divulge his knowledge of the arrangement in December -- are likely to draw the ire of the Committee on Infractions. In essence, Tressel will stand accused of knowingly playing ineligible players and then hiding that ineligibility from the NCAA.
But not all 10.1 cases are equal. For instance:
Section 10.1_(b) prohibits engaging in academic fraud. Tressel's case has nothing to do with academic fraud. When the enforcement team finishes its work and hands down a Notice of Allegations, Tressel could be charged with a violation of section 10.1_(c), which forbids knowing involvement in providing extra benefits. In that case, the committee would have to prove Tressel knew of the arrangement and did nothing to stop it. A more likely charge is a violation of section 10.1_(d), which forbids "knowingly furnishing the NCAA or the individual's institution false or misleading information concerning the individual's involvement in or knowledge of matters relevant to a possible violation of an NCAA regulation."
Basketball coach Bruce Pearl is charged with a 10.1_(d) violation in the same Tennessee case as Kiffin, but Pearl won't have to wait for the Committee on Infractions to rule to learn his fate. Tennessee fired him Monday with athletic director Mike Hamilton citing "the cumulative effect of the evolution of the investigation combined with a number of more recent non-NCAA-related incidents."
What should concern Tressel just as much as Pearl's dismissal is that even in cases where coaches who knowingly used ineligible athletes didn't hide that fact from NCAA investigators, those coaches still lost their jobs.
In 2006, the NCAA released its infractions report for Iowa's men's swimming program. The report detailed how former coach John Davey knowingly used three ineligible Polish swimmers between 2001-04 and never reported that they were ineligible to his superiors. Davey was not accused of misleading NCAA investigators; in fact, the case never got that far. Iowa conducted its own internal investigation that ended in January 2005. By then, Davey was gone. The school put out a release on Dec. 20, 2004 saying he had resigned for "personal reasons."
"John has been an outstanding representative of the University of Iowa and the Iowa Athletic Department," then-athetic director Bob Bowlsby said in a release. "We always hate to lose someone of his caliber and talents."
Another similar case offers the only time the head football coach at Ohio State will ever draw a comparison to the rugby coach at tiny Southern Vermont College. Jeremiah Madison, who shepherded Southern Vermont's rugby club team into NCAA play, was fired in 2008 for knowingly using ineligible players. One player, according to the NCAA report, played in a game under the name of an eligible player.
But not everyone found to have misled investigators got fired. Alcorn State women's basketball coach Shirley Walker was accused of multiple violations between 2002-04. They included impermissible benefits (giving ineligible players travel per diem) and using ineligible players in practice. The COI also found that Walker provided misleading information to investigators regarding several issues. But Walker didn't lose her job. Though the COI in 2006 cited her continued employment as an "aggravating factor" in its decision to impose a postseason ban, it accepted the school's self-imposed two-game suspension and threatened further sanctions if Walker wasn't suspended from the first week of practice for three consecutive seasons.
In the end, it wasn't the NCAA that got Walker. It was her record. The 30-year veteran was fired in 2008 after going 12-18.
Tressel can only hope his fate is determined by his 106-22 record at Ohio State. Because since 1989, the record of coaches and administrators accused of violations of Bylaw 10.1 is quite dismal.