The NCAA is finally getting serious about this whole corruption thing. Again. We know because President Mark Emmert says so.
Of course, we've already covered a few ideas for helping to fix college football and amateurism by paying players a modest stipend during their time at school. But the other side of that has to be a new way of dealing with those who will still break the rules.
Some of that can be done by the NCAA, though not all of it. There's a role for the NFL and even government, believe it or not, to play.
So, assuming Emmert is serious -- and, really, sometimes it's hard to tell -- here are a few ideas on how to truly crack down on corruption in college football. Some of them aren't anywhere close to ideal, and some of them might even be a little draconian for my taste. But maybe they can at least start the ball rolling on real reform at the NCAA and other levels.
Make impermissible benefits a cause of civil action. Many states already have laws that threaten repercussions against agents who break NCAA rules. Those that don't should pass them and there should be a federal law. There also ought to be similar laws for boosters, though Logan Young found out that the lack of a specific law doesn't necessarily mean you can't be prosecuted. The flip side is that, even if prosecutors are prompted to act by the recent spate of stories, it's difficult to get a conviction in a lot of these cases. And there's also the little detail that prosecutors have murders and stuff to deal with.
So we need a vehicle for punishing rogue agents and boosters that has a lower threshold for a verdict but still has some teeth to it. Enter civil court. States could pass laws specifically allowing states to recoup the value of the scholarship given to a certain player and the total value of the benefits if the benefits offered by an agent or a booster cause that player to be declared ineligible. The laws should also allow juries to consider the costs of missed television or bowl opportunities when deciding damages. An agent or booster facing the prospect of paying tens of thousands or possibly even hundreds of thousands of dollars (particularly when legal costs are factored in) if found guilty based on a preponderance of the evidence might very well reconsider giving a player an iPhone. And schools would have a more tangible reason to go the civil route than prosecutors have to go the criminal route: Namely, money.
Don't subpoena, suspend. The idea of giving the NCAA access to the subpoena, or even giving some law enforcement agency the power to subpoena on behalf of the NCAA, is probably not the best policy and a bit unnecessary. Instead, any player or coach who doesn't cooperate with the NCAA will be suspended and cannot apply for reinstatement until an interview takes place and any requested documents are turned over.
The policy should also apply to boosters, too. Any booster should face temporary disassociation from his or her favorite program until answers and documents are turned over.
Of course, the NCAA would have to set up some sort of appeals mechanism to make sure that an overzealous enforcement staff doesn't shut entire teams down. And it still wouldn't do anything to crack down on agents or other outside actors who might cause problems.
But unless you make the cost of the cover-up as much as the cost of the crime -- i.e., not playing football or not being a part of your program -- it will always be easier to stonewall the NCAA instead of cooperating with the investigation.
Get the NFL and the NFLPA to help out. This has been discussed a lot in the wake of Agentgate, although the notion of suspending players in the pros for something that happened in college has yet to gain much traction. But other proposals might pick up some momentum, and now is actually an ideal time for the league and the players to consider it. A collective bargaining agreement is the best place to deal with some of these issues, and it's not like it's going to blow up an imminent deal right now.
Bundling violations. Let's say a football program hires a coach, and that coach decides to try to gain a recruiting edge by embarking on a series of seemingly intentional "secondary violations" -- which are supposed to be unintentional. Hello, Lane Kiffin. Now let's say that a systemic pattern of secondaries could add up to a major violation -- might that discourage the likes of Mr. Kiffin from taking that kind of a shot?
To some extent, the NCAA is already doing this in its investigation of Kiffin's guided tour of Knoxville. But if it were to become common practice, you would discourage coaches from trying to game the secondary violation system, and instead leave it for the inadvertent mistakes it was meant to deal with.
Death penalty reform. The fact that Southern Methodist remains the only program to ever get hit with the death penalty, and the near-certainty that the NCAA would never impose it again (despite what they might have said about Alabama after the Means investigation), has actually done an immense amount of harm to college football. First of all, it's not at all clear what would be enough to draw the death penalty -- though we have abundant evidence of what isn't enough to get the death penalty, and in some cases you have to wonder if anything short of an SMU-style slush fund would ever be enough. Short of simply getting the NCAA to use the death penalty when it's warranted, here are a few ideas to make at least the idea of the penalty more effective.
Quick-hang death penalty. Part of the problem with the death penalty is not just the amorphous way that it's applied, but the fact that programs know they'll always get a second bite at the apple. In other words, you have to have committed major infractions before for the death penalty to be on the table. It's time to change that. The NCAA should pass a rule allowing for a program to get the death penalty for one case -- as long as the case is bad enough to truly warrant it. That's not to say that a school's record shouldn't be considered, because it should. But it does remove the certainty that even if things get out of hand, your program won't get the death penalty as long as it hasn't gotten caught breaking the rules in a long time.
Now, the bar for imposing this penalty would have to be very, very high. The commission on infractions ought to be required to vote unanimously for a one-violation death penalty, and I wouldn't be opposed to requiring the full NCAA membership approve the penalty by majority vote or at least decline to overturn it. Ideally, the quick-hang death penalty would never actually be used. But it would serve as an additional deterrent for those who might think that one major investigation won't mean the end of their beloved football program. That wouldn't necessarily be the case any more, and it would hopefully be enough to make them reconsider their actions.
True death penalty. But the NCAA should also institute a true death penalty. If a program is hit with findings of major violations involving academic fraud or impermissible benefits by boosters, or by agents with the knowledge of university officials an excessive number of times -- we'll say three times in ten years -- the program is automatically disbanded. The school could eventually file with the NCAA to have the program reinstated, but only after at least five years had passed. Reinstatement would not be automatic. Among other things, the university would have to file a detailed plan with the NCAA about the safeguards it would put in place to avoid major infractions in the future.
The death penalty for coaches. The only way we're going to really get rid of corruption in college football is to change the incentives for those who benefit the most from ill-gotten wins: Head coaches. Any coach knowingly involved in a case of academic fraud or impermissible benefits should be hit with a one-year suspension without pay. The second instance would result in a lifetime ban from coaching at an NCAA institution.