Does crime pay? How can the cops (NCAA) stop the burglars (OSU)?
According to economists, “a burglar burgles because he finds it a more attractive profession than any other. Without an effective deterrent, he will continue to do so and overwhelm the courts with costly investigations, prosecutions and punishments. So, it is too with the “criminal” schools—like OSU-- that repeatedly violate NCAA rules. In the absence of effective deterrents, they continue to find it profitable to cheat. Such cheating will cost the NCAA vast amounts of time, resources and money..
What can be done? The obvious way to reduce burglary is by raising the costs of the burglar's profession or reducing its benefits.”* So, ask yourself: how can NCAA schools protect themselves from those like OSU, who have allegedly stolen players, titles, bowl games, reputation, and the resulting money that comes to the AD?
Currently, the NCAA relies heavily on information from the press, does a cursory investigation often centered on these allegations, and may then ask the school to suggest penalties. It’s like a policeman asking a mugger to suggest what punishment he deserves. But how has that worked in deterring the crimes of schools like OSU? What did OSU do with their opportunity to self-punish when faced with a deluge of national attention to the increasingly incriminating evidence?
The school agreed to give up their lying coach—with one national title—and replace him by another with two. What a painful penalty! Ouch! Did the self imposed penalties or NCAA investigation slow their coaching search?
To be fair, OSU clobbered itself with other penalties too. Like bank robbers who offer to give back the money after being caught red-handed, OSU also proposed to vacate one years’ victories and return the ill-gotten bowl money. Yet, even the bank robbers now seem more honest. In fact, OSU alums in the national media as well as OSU-controlled Columbus newspapers conveniently ignored the vacated season when they misleadingly reported that OSU’s successive BCS bowls and victories over rivals. So, OSU seemed to say: “we’ll pretend to ignore last year’s victories” (while encouraging alums and boosters to continue the misrepresentations).
Likewise, look at what OSU did to deter future coaches from cheating. First, nothing. Then they let their coach—who admitted lying to the NCAA about ineligible players-- to set his own penalty. A two game suspension….no, raise that to five...and let's call the NCAA's bluff. In fact, the OSU president said he had no intention of firing the coach—he was too afraid of getting fired himself by Tressel. Finally, faced with a PR disaster, OSU reported that they had forced Tressel to resign. But that was not exactly true. Tressel, we were told, himself resigned. Then OSU proclaimed that they had cut ties with him. ….but maybe “cut” wasn’t the right word. After seeming to take the fall for the school, he suddenly was transformed from a resigned or fired employee into an esteemed retiree. So, he got full retirement benefits, was honored in a local parade, with his exploits prominently displayed in the OSU AD exhibition of school honors. In fact, Tressel was not even dissociated from the team. He was allowed to give a pre-game pep talk prior to the UM game—as if he were still the coach
Yet, OSU boosters suggested that Tressel would soon be drummed out of the coaching profession by the NCAA in Indianapolis. Somebody else in Indianapolis must have been listening. He made Tressel an analyst there for the Colts. So, in reality, Tressel was getting paid by the pros, while OSU gave him—hush, hush---pension money---proportional to his past salary gains of $27 million. Seriously. Would the horrible prospect of getting a job in the pros, supplemented by plushy retirement benefits prevent future cheaters from engaging in activities that had already made them rich, famous, and revered as a local God? Would they do so knowing that the chance of even getting caught was small---as exemplified in the Clarret whitewash?
So, what can the NCAA member schools do? First, they can take back control of the NCAA, then they can insist on more effective deterrents.
Economists suggest that the only thing one can do to deter crime, is to make penalties much larger. In fact, the penalties should not merely be assessed so that the expected risks exceed the expected benefits of dishonest behavior. The penalties should also consider the damage done to the victims---the schools that OSU deprived of Bowl bids, recruits, equipment sales, publicity, and the future benefits of an enhanced reputation. For instance, when OSU attended the Sugar Bowl by lying about players’ ineligibility, they cheated another team of attending as well as damaged the record and reputation of their bowl opponent, Arkansas. Who knows how much they decreased the future value of players, like Mallet who dropped much further than expected in the pro draft. Who knows how long OSU had continued to damage other schools by stealing recruits and winning games with ineligible players? Who knows how many schools have suffered losses and prestige by playing a team of paid mercenaries? The length and intensity of the NCAA investigation needs to mirror the number and severity of these questions.
Likewise, it’s hardly enough just to offer the vacation of a season of wins or one game’s bowl money or even to give up a couple of future scholarships. The NCAA must prevent future bowl appearances so that other schools go. They need to take away many years of future scholarships so players can go elsewhere. They cannot be satisfied when a school, like OSU, can get rid of an offending coach, then easily attract another despite the “threat” of impending NCAA sanctions.
The presumed impotence of the NCAA threat is a signal that deterrents to cheating have failed miserably. Now, such empty threats only embolden the worst violators. Until the NCAA penalizes offenders in proportion to the damage they cause, the NCAA will not prevent future violations. Rather, they will find themselves inundated with more and more cases….like they are now.