Extra Benefits: Student-Athlete Violations and NCAA Punishment

Jackson El Stop LogoBy Laura Funk
The Red Line Project

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From cash and lavish trips to prostitutes and bounties for on-field play, the NCAA is struggling to keep up with regulations and the constant accessibility of extra benefits continually presented to student-athletes.

Due to major NCAA violation scandals occurring at the University of Southern California, Ohio State University and the University of Miami, the NCAA has recognized the need for system improvements. Through an updated violations structure, harsher punishments and progressive steps towards NCAA compliance with the NFL addressing third-party and agent issues, the NCAA aims toward prevention in the future.

NCAA rules prevent student-athletes from receiving money, transportation, or any extra benefit or expense allowance not authorized by the NCAA legislation. This includes benefits from an agent or any agreement to have an agent market the player’s athletic ability or reputation in that sport.

The NCAA Division I Manual defines an extra benefit as “any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution's athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or their relatives/friends a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation.”

However, a general rule under the NCAA states that the receipt of a benefit by student-athletes is not a violation of NCAA rules if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students.

Because of the pressures and prominence associated with a Division I school, there are student-athletes more likely to participate in such actions, said DePaul University Associate Athletic Director for Varsity Sports Kathryn Statz, who spoke on behalf of herself and experience in athletics for 20 years and not as a DePaul representative.

 “We [a school’s athletic department] do try and stay on top of it [monitoring players],” Statz said. “I would be dishonest if I said it was easy.”

During an interview on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" talk show in August 2011, NCAA President Mark Emmert discussed concerns and improvements he aims to execute within the NCAA regulations and policies.

“The system in place that manages and oversees the compliance with the rules of amateurism is clearly not working in fundamental ways,” he said.

Mark Emmert Photo (NCAA)

NCAA President Mark Emmert. (Photo courtesy NCAA)

There are many sensational cases within NCAA violation and a string of high-profile cases that are extremely disturbing, Emmert said. With people in and around programs engaging in ways that are unacceptable, it is clear that the system is in “serious need of serious repair.”

USC was somewhat made an example for NCAA punishments and penalties, ESPN.com Big Ten Blogger Adam Rittenberg said.

USC was sentenced with a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits of an entire year's games for improper benefits to Reggie Bush in 2010. The Trojans were condemned with the harshest sanctions outside of Southern Methodist University receiving the college football’s only “death penalty,” in 1987.

“There needs to be some show of force to show things aren’t fair,” Rittenberg said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions Paul Dee said the NCAA hoped USC would serve as a warning to other schools.

Ohio State’s scandal in 2011 involved players including starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor exchanging Buckeyes memorabilia for a total of $14,000 in cash and tattoos. The school was sentenced with a one-year bowl ban, loss of scholarships and one-year probation.

Despite Coach Jim Tressel flat-out lying about his knowledge of the infractions and allowing it all to happen, Ohio State received more fair penalties than USC, Rittenberg said. They took a more cooperative attitude when working with the NCAA than USC, which helped them in the end.

In response to the athletic department and coach’s ability to monitor athletes when it comes to accepting benefits, Rittenberg said that it’s very difficult to some degree, especially for bigger schools like Ohio State.

Statz said the sheer size of a football team makes it much harder to monitor.

“They don’t have the power to make students talk,” Rittenberg said. “Therefore there should be more people in the [compliance] department dedicated to investigating.”

How high-profile a school is should determine how big the compliance department should be, he said. Schools should have a number of investigators dedicated directly to football.

“It’s impossible to police players all the time and year round,” Rittenberg said.

Statz said another way to improve upon the issue is to educate. Do more to help student-athletes manage or hold on to the money they have instead of spending it on things that don’t make sense like new phones or phone plans. And educate the risks that are associated with accepting extra benefits, in addition to NCAA penalties.

“If they give you something once rarely do they not expect something in return for it,” Statz said. “There’s always an expectation on the back end.”

One of the bigger issues is to reduce the rule book, Rittenberg said. There needs to be less time spent on secondary violations and start really attacking the bigger areas of concern including recruiting violations, academic fraud and memorabilia issues.

Emmert said the rule book needs to be cleared of multiple unenforceable rules and focus on the things that are serious threats to the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. It needs to be adjusted to not only have an enforcement process but penalties that provide real severe disincentives.

He said he fears that coaches and people around athletic programs are doing a “cost-benefit analysis” about whether it’s worth trying to cheat the rule book and wondering if the payoff is worth it. He said it’s important that there becomes a clear understanding that it’s not OK.

When rules are enforced, they need to be perfectly consistent between institutions, the conferences and the national office so there in no time wasted on things that are extraneous, Emmert said.

“Focus on the things that matter and not on the things that don’t matter,” he said.

According to the NCAA Preliminary Report, the NCAA working group on Enforcement is currently developing an expanded, four-level violation structure for infractions, from the current two-level structure of major and secondary violations. Level I being the most severe violations that seriously undermine or threaten the integrity of any NCAA enduring value, to level IV, which would be minor or technical issues that don’t rise to the level of a serious violation.

Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA's vice president for enforcement, told the USA TODAY that the panel sought a penalty structure that was fair "but they also wanted it to be predictable, and they wanted it to be strong."

Emmert said they need to make sure penalty structures are in alliance with the nature of the violation; penalties and crimes are lining up with each other. He said there is a “clear appetite” for stronger and more severe penalties that affect things that people really care about like playing time, the ability to be on television and, in some cases, the death sentences.

“We have to look at all of those tools that are at our disposal and find ways of matching up penalties that fit the violations that provide legitimate deterrence,” Emmert said. “No one would argue that today we’ve got that.”

The working group is still defining specific circumstances, but according to the USA TODAY website, stakes would rise including postseason bans stretching to three years or more, teams docked up to half of their allotted scholarships and probationary periods running up to a decade. A new adjustment that still requires further discussion includes an increase of monetary fines reaching up to 5 percent of an offending program's budget.

"There's acknowledgement . . . that we need more input on all of it, but especially when it comes to financial penalties," Roe Lach told USA TODAY, not getting into their specifics. "You want to address the behavior, but you don't want to get so far out of line that somehow you've created an impact that's going to be more devastating than intended."

The proposal was revealed to schools and conferences in February and will go to the Division I Board of Directors in April and August. If approved, the system will go into effect in August.

In the report, the group outlined specific outcomes it expects to see from the changes including a clear understanding of the seriousness associated with alleged infractions, the level of accountability they will be held with if NCAA rules are violated and “strong penalties that are predictable, deter the risk-reward analysis and address any unfair advantage.”

The NCAA’s “death penalty” isn't featured in the proposed plan but will remain on the books, Roe Lach said. A term used by the media to describe the most serious NCAA penalties possible, the “death penalty” has only been applied once in football history to SMU in 1987.

The execution only applies to repeat violators and can include eliminating the involved sport for at least one year, removing athletics aid in that sport for two years and a relinquishment of the school’s Association voting privileges for a four-year period, according to the NCAA website.

The current investigation at the University of Miami concerning former Hurricane booster Nevin Shapiro’s claims of giving athletes and recruits extra benefits for nearly a decade, is a clear example of what the NCAA aims to prevent in the future.

Rittenberg said he doesn’t think Miami will receive the death penalty, but according to the USA TODAY website, Emmert talked of instilling "some sort of constructive fear” with the NCAA’s new proposal.

According to Yahoo! Sports, Shapiro, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, said he provided benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 to 2010 that included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play, travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.

“I did it because I could,” Shapiro said. “And because nobody stepped in to stop me.”

Running back Tyrone Moss was one of eight former Miami player or recruits to confirm receiving illicit benefits from Shapiro, according to Yahoo! Sports. Shapiro said he hosted Moss on his $1.6 million yacht and also gave the player $1,000 in cash.

In addition, Shapiro named 39 Miami players or prospective recruits who he provided paid prostitution to. From 2002 to 2003, the booster said he used a handful of hotels to host prostitutes for individual players, or threw “parties” where services were made available to multiple players.

He told Yahoo! Sports about multiple individual payouts he had for “hit of the game” and “big plays.” He also put bounties on specific players, including former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and former Seminoles quarterback Chris Rix, offering $5,000 to any player who knocked him out of a game.

 “Clearly it was a systematic breakdown,” Rittenberg said. “He [Shapiro] was not monitored enough.

“It’s as simple as that.”

Stewart Mandel Photo (Twitter Mugshot)SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel (right) wrote in an August 2011 column how the death penalty is an entirely possible outcome for Miami. The scandal is a case that will test the credibility of NCAA enforcement, he said.  In comparison to USC’s two-year bowl ban and 30 docked scholarships, Mandel questions what punishment Miami should get for an “encyclopedia of allegations.”

 “If you're going to rake one school over the coals for a single player's impermissible benefits, your entire credibility is at stake if you don't raise the consequences exponentially for a case involving 73,” he wrote.

But before penalties are assignment, there must be an investigation; and this one is predicted to be every bit as long and grueling as USC’s four-year probe, according to SI.com.

In August 2011, Emmert said the NCAA was already working on the Miami case for about five months gathering information and collecting data.

“We were well aware of it and weren’t surprised by the sensational media coverage,” Emmert said. “We’ve been on top of it for a while.”

According to the ESPN website, the UM compliance office distributed a newsletter in January stating that Miami boosters may no longer provide any type of food, drink, transportation or other extra benefits to current student-athletes. This includes occasional meals or hosting them at their homes, even though those acts are typically allowed by the NCAA.

Emmert said they will continue the investigation until they have as much information as they possibly can and let their process work its course.

All cases vary depending on circumstances and the availability of information, he said. Some cases, including the USC case, take a few years, but most are resolved in six to seven months.

The NCAA website outlines the enforcement process in four main stages: investigation, charging, hearing and penalty-assessment stage.

In the case of legitimate reason that a school violated NCAA rules, the enforcement staff will first initiate an investigation. Three things will prompt review of a situation: new information of an intentional violation, a significant competitive or recruiting advantage, or false or misleading information that was given to the institution or enforcement staff.

Investigations can start from college coaches or student-athletes who contact the NCAA directly to report a potential rules violation.

“If you find out someone gets something they shouldn’t, it’s hard not to tell someone,” Statz said.

Sports Illustrated Cover PhotoUnlike Ohio State’s Jim Tressel (left), who knew about infractions and let them happen until athletes were caught, Shapiro took it upon himself to expose the thousands of impermissible benefits he allegedly provided to students-athletes and the athlete in particular who participated in such actions.

Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that following his incarceration, when he needed financial help, he was abandoned by players he treated so well. And now his goal is to “rip away the façade of ‘The U,’ and reveal an ugly truth about one of the country’s most celebrated college football programs.”

When the university found out, it then notified the NCAA enforcement officials of the allegations, according to Yahoo! Sports.  

Once the enforcement staff begins to review a situation, the NCAA sends a letter of inquiry to the school’s president that notifies the institution of a progressing investigation.

When the investigation begins, enforcement staff conducts multiple interviews and gathers as much information as possible to determine whether a major NCAA violation has occurred. If enough information has been collected to determine rule violations then a notice of allegations is sent to the school leadership.

A reinstatement decision may occur at this point once the facts of student-athlete involvement in violations are determined. Independent from the NCAA enforcement process, the decision is used to restore the eligibility of student-athletes involved.

In August 2011, the NCAA reinstatement staff ordered eight Miami players to miss up to six games and repay the value of the benefits they were associated with, in order to become eligible to play again, according to the NCAA website.

“The student-athletes involved have acknowledged receiving improper benefits and will now be responsible for restitution, and in some cases, the student-athletes will also serve game suspensions,” University of Miami Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst said to the NCAA. “They understand that their actions demand consequences.”

After all involved parties have responded to the allegations, a hearing date is set with the Committee on Infractions and a case summary is written by the enforcement staff. If everyone agrees with the facts and penalties presented, a summary disposition (cooperative process between all parties involved) occurs.

The Committee on Infractions then reviews the report in private and decides whether to accept the findings or conduct an expedited hearing. Penalties are then announced along with an infractions report documenting the specific findings, penalties and supporting rationale for both.

NCAA public and media relations staff alerts the media prior to the release and the chair of the Committee on Infractions then hosts a telephone press conference to announce the results.

Institutions and involved individuals have the opportunity to appeal findings and penalties to the Infractions Appeals Committee.

In 2011, USC took its case to the Appeals Committee. The university appealed a reduction in football scholarships for three years and the second year of the postseason ban. However, the Appeals Committee upheld the findings of NCAA violations and the associated penalties.

The intention of penalties is to assign them severe enough to deter schools from violating NCAA rules in the future.

But what happens when players graduate before they’ve served their NCAA punishment and move on to the NFL?

The situation was encountered with Pryor, the former Ohio State quarterback turned Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback. After Ohio State’s cash-for-memorabilia scandal, Pryor was suspended at the end of the season and was to sit out the first five games of what would have been his senior season that fall. Instead, he left school the spring prior, hired an agent and began the process of entering the supplemental draft in August 2011.

The NFL responded by signifying its support for NCAA integrity and eligibility rules by carrying over Pryor’s five-game suspension upon his signing with a team.

In further attempts to escape his NCAA punishment, Pryor asked the NFL Players Association to appeal his suspension. But, according to the NFL website, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld Pyror’s five-game suspension and made the following statement in his decision:

"This smacks of a calculated effort to manipulate our eligibility rules in a way that undermines the integrity of, and public confidence in, those rules.”

Emmert said that the NFL understands the problem and the NCAA understands their perspective. He said they are going to see if they can get something done and start looking at an area with “a huge number of problems.”

Former Florida coach and current Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer was in favor of the NFL’s decision surrounding Pryor, according to the NFL website. He also agreed with the league that there needs to be hesitation with players’ ability to just leave their NCAA penalties behind and jump into the NFL with no recourse.

"I've dealt with that on several occasions that the athlete will look at is as just a free pass. 'If this doesn't work out, if I break these rules, get kicked off the team, whatever happens, I just go to the NFL,'” Meyer told the NFL.com in August 2011. "Any time you can have the NFL -- whether you consider it working together or at least respecting what the NCAA is trying to accomplish, that's a positive."

Rittenberg said there should be penalties for agents as well.

“It needs to be very clear and very specific,” he said.

Emmert said the NCAA began looking at third party and agent issues within the NFL. He said the NFL and NFL players association have been very engaged and thoughtful in the conversation.

“I think we are in a place where we can actually make some real progress there,” he said. “Saying that and doing it are two different things.”

In response to possible reasoning for why student-athletes still accept unauthorized benefits with such threatening consequences, Statz said it could be due to the constant pressures they face.

Many are faced with the pressure to support their families. Those likely to participate in such actions are in the mindset that they have to take risks to get where they are, she said.

Something that people aren’t up to speed on is the number of benefits that are available to athletes, said Statz.

According to the NCAA website, the NCAA Division I and Division II members provide more than $2 billion in athletics scholarships annually to more than 126,000 student-athletes. Full scholarships not only cover tuition and fees but also room and board, meals and course-related books.

The Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program provided by the NCAA covers student-athletes who are catastrophically injured during participation in a covered event. Statz said the only medical issues not covered are things outside of athletics that were unnecessarily provoked, like bar fights.

“They [student-athletes] are definitely getting all their needs met,” Statz said. “Absolutely they can manage.”

The NCAA also provides other programs including the Student Assistant Fund to help student-athletes with unmet financial needs. Most of this money is used for educational purposes, but also helps to provide things like clothing, traveling home or medical and dental costs not covered by insurance.

According to the NCAA website, the Division I Board of Directors is working to expand scholarship limits. That legislation was adopted last fall by the Board, but due to membership feedback and concern, it was withdrawn for further adjustments. The ruling would have allowed a $2,000 financial aid allowance within schools to be awarded among students already receiving a full scholarship.

Rittenberg said the principle of the scholarship allowance is good in order to help students travel home if there are problems, but becomes an issue when it comes to the execution between schools.

“The tough part about it is that every school isn’t going to be able to do it,” he said. “Not every league is going to be able to do it.”

Schools must have money to be able to implement it, Rittenberg said. There will not only be pressure from other universities within a conference, such as competing big ten schools, to apply the allowance but also from schools that have the money to do it verse schools that do not.

“It divides a wedge between the two of them,” he said.

Statz said, in addition to the pressure to implement, it also affects recruiting. With the expansion of competing schools adopting the scholarship allowance, it develops the issue of how schools will be able to recruit without it, she said.

“I don’t know if the end justifies the need,” Statz said.

When students are being recruited by heavily funded institutions, they are more likely to chose the school that has the dominant athletic program, Emmert said in an article that appeared in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 12, 2011 "Interview Issue." Those kids are rarely asking, "Do I go here, or do I go to an institution that has less money?" he said.

The Board of Directors announced in January that it continues to support the concept of a scholarship allowance, but still wants to adjust the proposal and work out further details. The Board will consider new implementation options in April, according to the NCAA website.

In addition to scholarships, medical benefits and essential financial support, student-athletes are also rewarded somewhat extravagant gifts during bowl games.

During the 2011-2012 season, various bowl sponsors distributed gifts, including a Samsung Galaxy tablet, a Sony PlayStation 3, Oakley Eyepatch sunglasses, an Amazon Kindle Fire, an Apple iPod nano, Fossil watches, an estimated $400 Belk’s shopping trip, a $400 Best Buy gift card and a Toshiba 32-inch flat-screen TV, according to the Sports Business Journal website.

The NCAA allows each bowl to award up to $550 worth of gifts to 125 participants per school.

Unlike student-athletes seeking unauthorized benefits from agents or other outside sources, NCAA members view bowl gifts as a way of honoring the hard work of student-athletes. It is a reward for their devotion towards athletics success, from regular-season participation through a national championship, according to the NCAA website.

“To not allow this would mean national champions could not receive a ring, Heisman winners could not receive a trophy, or seniors could not receive a keepsake honoring years of hard work,” said the NCAA website. “Allowing these awards with reasonable limits is well within the confines of amateurism.”

Whether it’s improving NCAA rules and regulations, upholding financial needs or honoring the hard work of student-athletes, the NCAA continues to dedicate itself towards efforts to uphold the collegiate model and restore public trust in college sports and the NCAA.

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