In The Land Of Vague Plausibility

Submitted by Brian on June 21st, 2011 at 1:10 PM


If they can figure out you are doing something shady, you're in trouble.

Yesterday Oregon produced an FOIA data-dump that initially caused yawns. Important people on my twitter said "nothing to see here," so I didn't look. Then Doctor Saturday said it again:

And as far as NCAA violations are concerned, frankly, it seems there's not a whole lot to see there: Oregon paid its money, and received its materials, as do many other schools that use recruiting services within NCAA rules.

And then Doctor Saturday related what Oregon had bought with its 25 grand:

Amid the documents released by Oregon related to the football scouting services inquiry were 140 recruiting profiles of high school players under the heading "2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet." Above each individual profile, however, reads "Player Profile 2011." The related invoice cites the "2011 National Package."

A search of all the players listed revealed that virtually all graduated from high school in 2009 with a few graduating in 2010 or 2008.

And I'm all like wait a dang minute here. Oregon paid a guy $25k for perfectly useless information and it seems like people are reacting like this isn't a major violation on a plate. Andy Staples comes to the rescue, but even as he does he feels the need to point out paying 25k for nothing may not be against NCAA rules:

Even if the payment was for something else, investigators probably couldn't have proved the Ducks broke any 2010-vintage NCAA rule regarding scouting services. But that only holds true if Lyles produced something resembling a legitimate product. If Kelly or any of his coaches tried to pass off the booklet released Monday as legitimate, NCAA investigators might consider that a fib on the level of, say, claiming a recruit wasn't at a cookout at a coach's house when he actually was or, possibly, conveniently forgetting to mention that series of e-mails about the tattoo parlor. Ask former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel how those fibs turned out for them. It's relatively unclear whether any NCAA rule in 2010 could prohibit a school from paying a recruiting service $1 million, much less $25,000. But it's crystal clear that in 2010, the NCAA rulebook forbade lying to the NCAA.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, Greg Little's license plate thing gets even more bizarre:

Between March 9 and April 29, 2009 Little’s Dodge was issued 16 parking violations under three separate license plates. The car was cited three days in a row from March 30 to April 2, and each time had a different plate. On April 13, the car was cited twice, with two different plate numbers.

Many of these plates are "linked to a car dealer currently serving time in federal prison for money laundering."

Even more meanwhile, the Ohio BMV says there is nothing to see here with the Ohio State car purchases:

The BMV's 65-page report issued Tuesday said the certificates of titles for cars sold by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to players and families accurately reflected the vehicles' sales prices.

This leaves Ohio State dealing with tattoos and memorabilia and nine guys with dealer plates instead of temporary tags and several other things besides.

The question the NCAA is going to have to answer soon is "how obviously fishy does something have to be before we punish someone?" Each of the three items above falls at a different place on the you-expect-me-to-believe-that scale:

  • Actual car purchases by Ohio State people checked out by governmental organization: not that fishy in and of itself. Add the loaners and the memorabilia and the cuddly relationship and there's still a cocktail of NCAA violations, but the actual sale of vehicles that were apparently sold for book value or above in most cases is plausibly on the up and up. The sheer concentration of sales and murky value of used cars makes it unlikely there wasn't some extra benefits going on, but proving that seems required if that particular slice of the Ohio State issues is going to produce anything.
  • Greg Little's ever-rotating license plate from guy serving time for money-laundering: there might be some level of plate and car swapping that is reasonably explained. Little clearly exceeds that and is hooked up with a guy who was in some dirt. Other schools monitor traffic/parking infractions closely; if UNC did so they would have ended up suspending Little a lot sooner. This should be the ground for a failure to monitor charge, one that will be part of a more general hammering for John Blake's clear knowledge of Marvin Austin, et al., and their magic carpet rides.
  • Oregon paying 25k for perfectly useless paper: if you had purchased a $25,000 vehicle and found out it was in fact a rabbit, you would get your money back. You would instruct your credit card company not to honor the charge or sue or something. You would not go on your way, maintaining a positive relationship with the man who sold you a rabbit he told you was an Escalade. This is fishiness that should rise to the level of a major NCAA violation in and of itself, a clear quid-pro-quo with no plausible explanation.

The NCAA dared to make inferences in the USC case, something that forms the basis for much of the Trojan outrage surrounding the case. They made a leap of logic many fourth-graders could make. Oregon obviously fails the fourth-grader test. North Carolina likely does. In this instance, Ohio State does not; with the loaners they do.



June 21st, 2011 at 1:23 PM ^

This whole thing is starting to become a death by a thousand small cuts.  At what point does someone, the NCAA, the university presidents, the government, someone, need to step in to salvage the ever deteriorating image of collegiate sports?  How many more schools are going to get swallowed up in scandal before something gets done?


June 21st, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

How can you NOT question getting nothing for 25 grand? This is just begining for Oregon. With all the low character players there over the last couple seasons, there's a lot of smoke. Things are not boding well for the pac 12...


June 21st, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

I'm missing something here. It's good news for the dealerships because it means they won't be cited for tax evasion, but can someone explain to me how a finding that the sales prices matched the prices on the titles is relevant to potential violations of NCAA regs?

The only thing the BMV would have found, if they'd found anything, was that the actual sales price was higher. If anything, that would helped OSU's claim that no improper benefits were provided.

Benoit Balls

June 21st, 2011 at 1:39 PM ^

all they have reported is that the "sales price" on the titles to the vehicles in question matches the "sales price" on the dealer paperwork. This doesn't mean the cars were sold for their true market value, and frankly, since this is a free market, the state does not care about ensuring a dealer gets fair market value for their product. If you own something, you are free to sell it for whatever price you wish, so long as you pay the proper tax on the true sales price. That is where the state's interest ends

This doesn't mean that cars were not sold at a deep discount. Nor does it in any way get tsio any closer to being out of the woods. At least, it shouldnt.  



June 21st, 2011 at 2:08 PM ^

In an May 18 letter, James Mitchell, executive director of the Ohio Independent Automobile Dealers' Association, wrote that he was summoned by Goss* to examine the dealership's Ohio State-related sales. He wrote that he found no irregularities and that "gross profits were in line with or in excess of the national average" reported by a national association of used-car dealers. --  """ 

*It's not clear to me who Goss is. 


The article further says:

Kniffin also had loaned cars to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who left the team amid an NCAA inquiry into his use of up to six vehicles. Larry James, Pryor's lawyer, said in a statement today that the BMV report reinforces his client's assertions that he received no special deals or favors. 

The report seemingly only partially reinforces Pryor's assertion that he received no special deals or favors.  As Brian notes, the report doesn't say anything about loaner vehicles...The report also leaves me wondering about the statements made by Ray Small and (IIRC) Robert Rose re: getting car deals.  Why Small (and Rose?) say that if it wasn't true?  They had nothing to gain. 



June 21st, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

Now that the BMV has confirmed that the sales data matches on both the dealer paperwork and the BMV titling documents, is there anyway to confirm that the "deals" reported by some of the players wasn't in the actual payment of the prices reported?  Did OSU compliance connect and confirm that the players (or their parents) paid the price listed for the cars?  Something's still missing here, I feel.


MI Expat NY

June 21st, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

The BMV also stated that only one vehicle was reported to be sold at a loss.  Implying that they were at least checking what the dealer paid for car that would eventually be sold to an OSU player and comparing it to the final cost.  So I'm not sure your statement about the state's lack of interest in final price is accurate.  

But, I guess they could have reported a higher sales price than actually paid as long as the higher rate of taxes was paid.  

OSU certainly thinks they're out of the woods.  According to the Dispatch, they cancelled a planned independent investigation into the car sales.


June 21st, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

The Ohio BMV found that only one vehicle was sold for negative profit and said car was in the lot for a long time, so the dealership wanted to unload it. This doesn't eliminate the possibility that OSU players got special discounts on these cars (an NCAA violation), but it does mean that no cars were given away by the dealership to OSU players (which is what was initially reported) and makes it appear much more likely that the sales did not violate NCAA rules.

skunk bear

June 21st, 2011 at 2:59 PM ^

If the cars were sold to OSU players for less than what the dealership would have required anyone else to pay, there was an extra benefit even if the dealership made a profit.

Also, who says the players actually paid for the cars? Where did they get that kind of money? Maybe the dealership just said that they received x number of dollars for a car.

Maybe the owner of the dealership made up the difference in cash.

skunk bear

June 21st, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

I looked, so you are going to have to show me where it says they made a higher profit on sales to players.

And while it is unlikely that Bigfoot paid for the cars, somebody paid for the cars.

I don't know about you, but I  didn't have an extra $13,000 laying around when I was in school.


June 21st, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

If the cars were sold to OSU players for less than what the dealership would have required anyone else to pay, there was an extra benefit even if the dealership made a profit.

I already noted that if OSU players received discounts on the car sales, that would be an NCAA violation.

Also, who says the players actually paid for the cars? Where did they get that kind of money? Maybe the dealership just said that they received x number of dollars for a car.

Maybe the owner of the dealership made up the difference in cash.

Maybe some the players got money from their parents or other relatives. Others may have taken out lones. Some might have jobs. There are many ways the players who bought the cars could've come by the money for the cars in accordance with NCAA rules and more importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that they got the money for the cars in a manner that violates NCAA rules. Furthermore, suggesting that the dealership might've simply lied about how much money they received for the car is completely unfounded speculation seeing as that was the matter which the Ohio BMV just investigated.

skunk bear

June 21st, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

The Ohio BMV just investigated whether the paperwork was consistent, not whether anyone lied.

Yes, there are many ways to pay for a car.  However, a common topic on this board is how players don't have enough money for pizza and laundry. They don't have enough money for pizza and laundry, but they have enough for a fancy car.

Also, I seem to remember that one player got a late model 300 for $13,000. The dealership may have made a profit, but could you buy a 300 for $13,000?


June 21st, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

I can buy the car the same way a dealer gets it (at a used car auction).

Players get stipends.  They have parents.  They can get loans.  If they can't their parents can.  I know if my kid had a full ride, I'd have no problem buying a car for him.

I'm not saying shady things don't happen in college sports, but don't paint with an overly broad brush.

skunk bear

June 21st, 2011 at 4:29 PM ^

There appears to be a culture at tsio of disregard for the rules.

Providing players with nice cars is a classic way rule-breaking programs cheat.

The car dealer is a big tsio booster.

Players are driving cars that are pricey.

The players have no obvious way of paying for these cars.

The Ohio BMV investigates to see if the state of Ohio has been cheated out of taxes and finds that the sales prices reported on new titles to the state of Ohio match the prices found on the corresponding bills of sale.

The tsio rejoices and hopes people misconstrue this as a proof that players did not receive extra benefits.

They find a gullible audience.


And I'm supposed to be convinced? It is not speculation to be suspicious of such circumstances. It is speculation to say the sales were on the up and up.

The fact that there is consistency between the titles and bills of sales only proves that the taxes were paid on the price reported on the receipts.

It proves nothing with respect to "extra benefits".


June 21st, 2011 at 6:23 PM ^

It is true that there is no proof that players did not receive extra benefits here. However, the issue is that there is no evidence that players did get money for cars or free cars from the dealership, as you suggest. While the NCAA does not operate to the standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by any means, they do not operate under the presumption that violations were committed.

There are a ton of allegations against OSU that are backed up by witnesses, paper trails, etc. There is no need to invent new ones without any evidence.

skunk bear

June 21st, 2011 at 7:00 PM ^

There were enough allegations about this dealership that tsio was considering doing their own investigation of the dealership.

Also, you seem intent on assigning to me the role of accuser. I am not. This is a misreading on your part. I am only objecting to the response to this report where people consider tsio to have been cleared or that if anything had been going on it cannot now be proven.

This report means nothing with respect to whether the dealership was providing extra benefits to players.


June 21st, 2011 at 1:29 PM ^

Selling the out-of-date profiles reminds me of the "trick" people do to illegally sell tickets online. They will sell you a program or picture for $200 and include "free" tickets to said game. It's a loop hole in the law.


June 21st, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

The NCAA knows that lots of violations are going on, but they need more than just “looks suspicious” before they can dock scholarships, ban post-season appearances, and so forth.

Unfortunately, that means Ohio State will probably not be punished as severely as many Michigan fans expect. As Michigan fans, we tend to assume every rumored violation at Ohio State is both true and provable. Some of them invariably won’t be.

On the other hand, the NCAA does tend to over-punish. Since they can only find a tiny percentage of the wrong-doers, they need to make an example out of those they do catch. So I think the penalties will be significant, even if the NCAA can prove no more than what they have already alleged.

But the people imagining 5-year bowl bans, 45+ scholarships, etc., are probably aiming too high.


June 21st, 2011 at 1:49 PM ^

Not so much to the Phil Knight Death Star. Might be one of those things where nobody feels like dealing with the legal foolishness and writes off the cost. Fishy, but not obvious-to-the-point-of-major-violations-fishy IMHO.


The real question is: did Oregon ever deal with this huckster before, and/or did they continue to do so afterwards?


June 21st, 2011 at 2:11 PM ^

However, this also assumes there is an existing contract where the dispute could get drug out in court where you may not win or be forced to settle in which case you are wasting legal resources. If a formal contract exists, Oregon purposely paid for old information per contract details or did not get the promised merchandise. In the second case, you probably would send a few legal cycles since the university was just defrauded. If we assume the university will not pursue these issues for less than $25k, I will start sending my email bills asking for $10k from the football department so they can make $100k once I get my inheritance in hopes that checks are put in the mail.

The larger item is that this guy did not have any further recruits in the pipeline so a further relationship was not necessary. This is not good for them.


June 21st, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

I once worked in a university's legal division, and I agree that 25k is not necessarily worth the legal bills for OC. My bigger concern if I was the NCAA would be the lack of any real response from Oregon when the document was found to be fraudulent. Even a stern e-mail saying that the contract was not performed properly, send refund or correct doc, etc. would have been enough for me even if they didn't follow through on it. That's why this seems like a bigger issue than first thought.


June 21st, 2011 at 1:50 PM ^

"The NCAA dared to make inferences in the USC case, something that forms the basis for much of the Trojan outrage surrounding the case. They made a leap of logic many fourth-graders could make."

This is so critical.  The NCAA waited around for what, 5 YEARS hoping for a smoking gun to turn up against USC, and in the end the hardest piece of evidence they had was one picture of Bush at a party.

They waited and waited, and granted, to some extent, that was due to ongoing court cases.  But part of it seems to be that if they had acted sooner on the little bit of evidence they ended up with, they couldnt have gotten away with hammering USC as hard as they did.  They had to wait until there was so much smoke, the public assumed there was a big fire.

That makes me cautiously optimistic.  OSU is already guilty in the court of publiuc opinion, the NCAA should have no qualms about punishing them as hard as they want to.

Wes Mantooth

June 21st, 2011 at 2:24 PM ^

I'm not completely sold on the idea that the NCAA will come down hard on anyone.  I think they SHOULD but then I think of Cam Newton and the doubts start creeping in...


June 21st, 2011 at 4:05 PM ^

The NCAA doesn't need to make any leaps of logic.  Tressel lied on the NCAA compliance form and played five ineligible players for a season.  Then, when it became public, the university did essentially nothing about it.  Before anything else broke -- the SI story, vehicles, this Talbott guy -- OSU had already committed a serious violation.  You can't come up with a more obvious case of Lack of Institutional control.  At this point, "NCAA maintains a shred of integrity" and "OSU escapes serious sanctions" are mutually exclusive outcomes.


And don't forget -- more is probably coming.  As has been previously reported, ESPN and SI are back in Columbus working on another story.


June 21st, 2011 at 5:41 PM ^


The response to just about everything the NCAA does should be that old movie line: "Hey, don't kid a kidder."  And the entire system, built as it is on a monopoly in restraint of trade which has, within the last 15 years, become a major economic, social, and athletic industry in the US, where profits inure not the the benefit of the "talent', but of the administrators and the schools, the NCAA's implicit message is "if we can help it, we just don't want to know."   And, as a part of this "desperate to maintain this tsunami of cash flow to schools, coaches, and athletic departments" implicit philosophy, the NCAA effectively applies a "criminal justice" standard of decision-making: "innocent til proven guilty", with the standard being "beyond a reasonable doubt."   Use of this standard makes sense where a defendant is subject to being jailed; it's bizarre that it is the de facto standard in NCAA litigation. It ought be whether the preponderance of the evidence shows violation of a by law, just as that is the standard in non-criminal, civil and administrative proceedings.

But here's why OSU is sunk:  because part of  their investigation follows AFTER, and in parallel with, to an extent, the one done by the Feds.  So the NCAA is scared to death, because the Feds can - if the NCAA does its' usual fake-out slap on wrist, Inter Frat Council investigation and punishment, the Feds work can expose their sham.  Which is why OSU is so worried, and why OSU's Pres "Pee Wee" Gee and AD Smith are goners.  it's because the Feds are keeping the NCAA honest. 

Finally, all this parsing of auto dealers stickers/profits etc is alot of "angels on the head of a pin" stuff; you know and I know that a whole lot of funny business goes on, and that it's all in violation of NCAA (sham) regulations.


June 21st, 2011 at 6:06 PM ^

Sportsbybrooks has an interesting post about Oregon. In it he has excerpts from an interview with a coach who Texas said was paid $25,000 by Oregon to steer a recrruit to Oregon. He goes on to detail stuff about Oregon's alleged violations. This all could come crashing down on Oregon...