The year of 2011 in college football had a number of consistent themes to it, but one of the biggest was NCAA investigations. Many, many programs came under the (occasionally) harsh lights of the NCAA's investigators, and the SEC was no stranger to that process.
The grandaddy of them of course was the Cam Newton investigation at Auburn, which spilled over from late in 2010. It was a long and crazy ride from beginning to end. Let's review, shall we?
The news that the NCAA was investigating Cam Newton's recruitment first broke on November 4 of last year. There were supposedly tapes incriminating the Newtons, but nothing came of them. There was an HBO special where four former players accused the school of violations, but I believe three of them refused to talk to the NCAA. Supposedly the investigation stretched all the way to South Florida back in June. Danny Sheridan had stories of a bag man. Finally, we learned about Gene Chizik getting told by an NCAA official.
In the end, the NCAA found absolutely no trace of wrongdoing at Auburn. Cecil Newton had tried to shake down Mississippi State, but no evidence could be found that either Cam knew of that fact at the time or that anything shady happened on the Plains. Therefore, Newton's eligibility was never compromised for more than the approximately 24 hours he had been declared ineligible in November of 2010 and no penalties would be coming down on the Tigers.
The most impressive thing was that, after going through one of the most extensive investigations the NCAA has done in recent years, not even a secondary violation came out of it. Typically the NCAA will at least find an improperly-timed phone call or some other kind of piddling secondary violation. Not this time.
Meanwhile, the SEC's other Tigers found themselves sucked into controversy surrounding notorious alleged street agent Will Lyles. LSU bought some materials from his recruiting service that was of questionable value. The issue the NCAA has been investigating is whether the school merely got taken by Lyles or if it nominally paid for those materials while really paying for access to and influence with recruits.
As of right now, the former seems more likely to be the case for both LSU and Cal but possibly not for Oregon. However during the process of the investigation, Russell Shepard talked about his interview with a teammate who had an upcoming interview. That's a no-no with the NCAA, and it earned Shepard some time off at the beginning of the season.
If you had forgotten about 2010's Hotelgate scandal at South Carolina, you A) weren't alone and B) don't work for the NCAA. South Carolina recently released its response to the NCAA's investigation into discounted hotel rooms that players enjoyed at the local Whitney Hotel, and it includes probation, recruiting restrictions, and scholarship reductions.
If that's not enough for you, four then-recruits who signed with SEC schools and one former assistant coach at Miami (FL) now at an SEC school (Florida WRs coach Aubrey Hill) were included in Yahoo! Sports' massive expose on the impermissible benefits that disgraced booster Nevin Shaprio showered on the Miami program. The NCAA cleared all the players of any repercussions, and while Florida said it stands by Hill, no word has come yet as to whether he will face NCAA sanctions.
With UNC, Ohio State, Oregon, Cal, and Boise State all dealing with investigations this year, the SEC schools were definitely not alone. Still, it'd be nice to get a year without all this off-the-field garbage. With the NCAA currently being the busiest its ever been on this front, I doubt we're getting one in 2012.