The NCAA's Committee on Infractions always has worked in mysterious ways, but its recent decisions in regard to the Syracuse and Clemson basketball programs have made more than a few folks question whether the committee has gone soft. For those who recall the hit Maryland took nearly three years ago, there seems to be a kinder, gentler approach being taken.
Consider this: Syracuse, which was found guilty of 24 violations, was banned from postseason competition for one year. Maryland, which in 1990 was found guilty of 18 violations, was banned for two years. The Orangemen will lose one scholarship for each of the next two years, but they can play on live television this season; the Terps, who lost two scholarships for two years, were not allowed on live television during the 1990-91 season.
And this: Clemson, which was found guilty of five violations, was given two years' probation, but will be allowed to appear on television and is eligible for postseason competition. The school was told to pay back $353,361 from the 1990 NCAA tournament and lost one scholarship for each of the next two years. The school imposed a one-year ban on off-campus recruiting, and the NCAA tacked on limits to on-campus paid visits by recruits.
"The most serious penalty is when you take away grants-in-aid," said Alan Williams, a history professor at the University of Virginia and former chairman of the Committee on Infractions. "The most dramatic penalty is when you ban a team from postseason competition, but it doesn't have as much an effect."
Williams, who recused himself from the decisions on Maryland and Clemson because of his affiliation with another Atlantic Coast Conference school, said he doesn't believe that the Committee on Infractions has lightened its penalties. "I notice no difference, as far as the nature of the penalties," said Williams.
Said Roy Kramer, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and a member of the committee for the past five years: "I think we are taking a more diligent approach than we did four or five years ago. We are taking a harder look at what infractions took place and what penalties fit into those infractions."
The most obvious difference is that no school from a major conference has been banned from appearing on live television since Maryland, a ban that created many scheduling problems for the ACC. In one instance, a taped telecast of a Maryland-Boston College game was shown in West Coast prime time, violating the terms of the sanctions.
"It's totally disruptive to conference plans," said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger, who came to College Park after the penalties were in place. "It affects that institution as well as those that it's playing. It becomes something of a nightmare."
Said Kramer: "Television isn't the issue it was a few years ago. Ten years ago, it was the highlight of some teams' seasons to appear on television. Now, it's so commonplace. It's still a sanction, and it might be a marquee sanction for some, but if you ban a team from recruiting for a year, that has a more far-reaching effect."
Williams said that most schools don't understand that the penalty usually fits the crime. At Syracuse and Clemson, none of the violations was pinned directly to the head coach. At Maryland, former coach Bob Wade was cited in a number of the violations.
Though "a lack of institutional control" by former athletic director Lew Perkins was believed to be the overriding factor in the severity of Maryland's sanctions, the biggest problem, according to those familiar with the decision, was that players had been scalping their tickets to the ACC tournament for years, dating back to the days of Lefty Driesell.
According to David Berst, associate executive director of the NCAA and director of its enforcement staff, the ticket scalping and lack of institutional control at Maryland made its case worse than Kentucky's.
"In my mind, some of Maryland's assistant coaches were giving money to its players for years," said Berst. "If it wasn't for those two things, they wouldn't have gotten hit as hard as they did. They cooperated fully with us, and, from what I know, they continue to do a great job."