The SEC and its Long Scandalous Road to Success

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Institutional indiscretion and recruiting violations are not rare and unusual these days in the college football world.  It is almost an inevitability in an arena in which the fat cats of the NCAA continue to pad their accounts with money earned on the backs of college athletes who dare not accept so much as a free cheeseburger during their collegiate career. However, questions have been coming up for the past decade as to why SEC teams have inexplicably been getting away with reported  player and recruit improprieties far more often than anyone else and with far less penalties. 

An article from nearly a decade ago points out:

“The SEC – the richest collegiate athletic league with $95 million in revenues in 2000 – has amassed the most major rules violations in Division I-A, the big league of NCAA sports.”[1]

To put this into perspective, let’s look at the old Southwest Conference (SWC), disbanded in 1996 amidst controversy for the numerous major violations that occurred in their football programs.  The SWC had 27 major violations.  However, SEC schools had 36 major violations during that same time span, as referenced in the aforementioned article.  How is it possible that college football history has often been rich with storiesof the old SWC being  an “outlaw” conference, yet somehow that history has allowed us to forget the SEC has always been worse, even during THAT era?  Could it be because the NCAA and their own sponsored cronies are the ones writing the history? 

The SEC and their rule breaking culture to “win at all costs” isn’t all that much of a secret, as one former Auburn head coach notes:

Regardless, something different is going on within the SEC, according to some who have held its top jobs. They say the Deep South’s year-round obsession with college football has created a rule-breaking monster that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

‘Football is more than a passion in the South, it’s a religion,’ said former Auburn coach Terry Bowden. `When you let it become that big you get the old phrase, `Win at all costs.’”

NCAA records bear out Bowden. Of the 15 major violations incurred by the SEC since 1990, the largest number nine involved football.  Bowden said fans and coaching staffs constantly talk about the importance of winning, but rarely do university administrators confront SEC coaches with serious talk about always playing within the rules, regardless of wins and losses.[2]

In 2012, the Kansas City Star even noted how “Scandal and the SEC have a long history” together

Slive was appointed to the conference’s top job [in 2002], and although he didn’t admit it publicly, the SEC was in turmoil. Half of the league’s 12 teams were either on probation or under investigation in July 2002. In the dozen years before that, each of the conference’s schools had been docked by the NCAA for one or more major rules violations. In the 1980s, Florida vacated the only conference championship in its history, won in ’84, after it was uncovered that former coach Charley Pell had broken 106 NCAA rules.[3]

The culture of rule breaking to get ahead isn’t exclusive to SEC football, of course, as we have seen similar stories crop up in professional baseball, boxing, and even cycling of late.  However college football may be the only sport where the entity breaking the rules to get ahead is not only getting away with it for the most part and using those breaks to excel, but possibly even getting indirectly assisted by the very organization that is supposed to be policing them!  Seemingly blatant attempts by the NCAA to ignore rules violation reports made against SEC teams, even in cases where players come forward to offer their story of accepting cash from coaches, are being seen along with surprisingly soft penalties against SEC teams.  This all seems rather shocking considering:

  • the devastating blow delivered by the NCAA upon Penn State’s football team in 2012 (4 years bowl ban, 40 scholarships taken away, and a $60 million dollar fine over twisted events that didn’t even involve the student athletes being punished); or…
  • the over the top punishment of Florida State 4 years ago (4 years of probation and scholarship reductions and 14 wins stripped from an uninvolved coach Bobby Bowden over a handful of athletes being given the answers for an online course exam by a teaching assistant); or…
  • the publicly uncovered corrupt aggressive NCAA investigation tactics on the Miami Hurricanes in 2012 reported by Sports Illustrated (a case botched by investigators who were reportedly trying too hard to pin major violations on Miami without proper procedure.[4] )

Fascinating the lengths the NCAA will go to when trying to nail some programs to the wall, yet using almost just as much effort to avoid hitting high profile SEC programs like Auburn, Alabama and Florida.

All the above… no investigations.  No follow ups.  No worries.  And these are merely the tip of the iceberg.

What about the programs that the NCAA eventually DOES decide to punish?  Surprisingly soft punishments are passed down to SEC teams with little to no explanation of their arbitrary nature.  Such as the case with LSU in 2011, found guilty of MAJOR recruiting violations that a former assistant coach even tried to cover up… and how was that handled?

LSU committed major violations while recruiting a junior college football player but won’t be slapped with any postseason bans or future scholarship reductions, the NCAA ruled Tuesday. The governing body decided to place the school on probation for a year and cited a former assistant coach for unethical conduct.” [5]

As noted in this article entitled “LSU getting off easy”: “Overall, the penalties were light in comparison to other programs that have faced the wrath of the NCAA…[6]

Gee.  You don’t say!

Alabama has been punished before, in the softest of ways, for major violations.  But as we see in this 2009 Bleacher Report article entitled “Alabama, Another Chapter in the Inadequate Punishment of NCAA violations”,

“While this [latest] major violation should have resulted in a major punishment, the punishment was virtually zero. All the university had to do was vacate past wins that no longer matter from 2005-2007 and they were put on three years of probation. This punishment is extremely soft considering the university was already on probation at the time of the infractions. 

This lack of punishment shows a major flaw in the NCAA and their failure to enforce their rules. We can see that probation means nothing anymore, as there was no harsh punishment enforced. The university was basically put on double probation and this just opens the door for more violations.”[7]

Mississippi State is the latest NCAA-softball story to come out, as noted:

“In today’s news, the NCAA found that a Mississippi State booster provided numerous benefits to current defensive back Will Redmond during his recruitment, and that a former Mississippi State assistant coach knew of the benefits. Among the benefits: a VISA gift card, $200 cash, about a $2,000 discount on a car, and a $6,000 offer for Redmond to not take an official visit at another school….

Mississippi State’s NCAA violations announced today in football marked the sixth major infractions case for the SEC in the past four years, tied with Conference USA for the most in that period. Once again, the SEC avoided a postseason ban.”[8]

What is the excuse of the NCAA now in being so soft amidst a sea of aggressive NCAA hammers dropping on everyone else in college football?  This time, they are trying out a “new violation structure,” they say.  How convenient.  So MSU will escape with only “two-year probation, loss of two scholarships and some recruiting restrictions.”  Furthermore, this was the punishment that MSU self-imposed and the NCAA seemingly said, in so many words, “sure, that’s fine, whatever you want.”  Interesting.  Especially considering the Oregon Ducks had recently attempted a self imposed punishment almost identical to that and was REJECTED by the NCAA, who chose to decide a tougher punishment.  Any reason why Oregon was held to a higher standard for similar if not less aggregious violations?  Was it because of this new structure the NCAA is experimenting with?  Or was it because Oregon isn’t in the SEC?  You be the judge. 

I guess none of it really matters.  So long as the $EC is #Winning!



[1] (AccessNorthGa.com 2013)

[2] (AccessNorthGa.com 2013)

[3] (Babb 2012)

[4] (Sports Illustrated 2013)

[5] (ESPN.com news services 2011)

[6] (Brown 2011)

[7] (Trahan 2009)

[8] (Solomon 2013)

References

AccessNorthGa.com. 2013. Access North GA. http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail-pf.php?n=199015 .

Babb, Kent. 2012. The Kansas City Star. August 22. http://www.kansascity.com/2012/08/22/3774402/black-eyes-galore.html .

Brown, Daniel. 2011. “LSU: Getting Off Easy.” HolyTurf.com. July 24. http://www.holyturf.com/2011/07/lsu-getting-off-easy/.

ESPN.com news services. 2011. “NCAA sanctions LSU on recruiting.” ESPN. July 20. http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/6784149/ncaa-hits-lsu-one-year-probation-recruiting-restrictions.

Solomon, Jon. 2013. “SEC has 6th NCAA major violation case since 2009, avoids postseason ban again.” AL.com. June 7. http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2013/06/sec_has_6th_ncaa_major_violati.html.

Sports Illustrated. 2013. “University of Miami asks for ‘corrupted’ NCAA investigation to end.” Sports Illustrated. April 4. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20130404/miami-details-damages-caused-by-investigation/.

Trahan, Kevin. 2009. “Alabama Another Chapter In The Inadequate Punishment Of NCAA Violations.” Bleacher Report. June 13. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/198551-alabama-another-chapter-in-the-inadequate-enforcement-of-ncaa-violations.

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