Does crime pay? How can the cops (NCAA) stop the burglars (OSU)?

Submitted by michelin on November 28th, 2011 at 7:54 PM

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.



Drew Sharp

November 28th, 2011 at 8:12 PM ^

It's more a reminder of how much garbage that place has spewed out.  I think the press in general has swept all the hand-waving under the rug.  This was a good step by step account of all that happened and what was said at the time.  It's a lot and worth putting it all together.

Drew Sharp

November 28th, 2011 at 8:08 PM ^

Very informative.  It's interesting to see how much everyone has willingly forgotten.  It's simply amazing how much a program can benefit from cheating and getting caught.  Then lying over and over and over again about what they decided to do about it.  


November 28th, 2011 at 9:16 PM ^

The other way economists argue to deter crime is increase the chances of getting caught. However, as the NCAA surveillance is nonexistent and only waits for violations to fall in their lap, you were probably right to focus only on punishment.


November 28th, 2011 at 10:41 PM ^

Some have suggested returning to the era of "bounty hunters" in the Wild West: as advertised in the "wanted: dead or alive" posters.  

It's a low cost solution that would make it cheaper to investigate schools.

How much of a "bounty" would you place on OSU?


November 29th, 2011 at 5:28 AM ^

Let's also not forget that economists are quite often wrong. There are certain individuals that like to burgle for the thrill of burgling. No rational incentive will deter them. I think SMU is the prime example of this. They do it because they can, until they are stopped, not because someone gave them an incentive to stop.

Not saying OSU should get the death penalty, but they definitely need to be tossed into solitary.


November 29th, 2011 at 3:39 PM ^

Somewhat as a burglar burgles for the thrill of escaping capture, the thrill of getting away with violating NCAA rules could possibly help motivate some boosters.  Thus, it might be harder to restrain their irrational behavior.  WIth larger institutions, however, I suspect that the thrill of violating NCAA rules is not so prominent a motivation.  Rather, it's the money and associated prestige that they steal.   In such cases, economic thinking--while still undoubtedly flawed--may come closer to the truth.


November 28th, 2011 at 9:18 PM ^

with a 3-year bowl ban, 10, 15 and 20 schollies for each year. The way they've made token concessions about their transgressions (vacating the season, throwing vestie under the bus while claiming innocence) but continued along the same path (more suspensions and no dismissals of repeat offenders, talking up their compliance department, hiring a coach whose track record with similar problems makes Tress look like the Saint they believe him to be, allowing Tressel anywhere near the team - let alone before The Game, keeping the staff intact up to the AD) proves they really couldn't care less about the rules, they will continue to do business as they always have, and that the vindication of their protests of innocence was always a foregone conclusion.

Hell the NCAA could hit them with anything they want.

They won't though, they will give them nothing at all. Too much $$$ and tv ratings.


November 28th, 2011 at 10:32 PM ^

The problem with the NCAA is there is no consistency. Its so arbitrary and there are no real 'rules' about punishment. Look at how the punishment USC received will vary from that of Ohio. I, for one, believe money plays a huge part in all this. Ohio is a big name school, plays on the major sports network and brings in lots of money. Not to say USC isn't big time, but being on the West Coast I don't think they bring as much attention as Ohio.

FWIW, too, vacating wins is the biggest joke of a penalty. Damn right I still say UM hoops made the Final Four in 1993.


November 29th, 2011 at 2:42 AM ^

when almost every SEC school faced some kind of probation, same with the old Southwest Conference, even half the Pac 10 was on probation at one point.  There was SMU, TAM, Oklahoma


We haven't returned but it feels like a fast track to those days.


November 29th, 2011 at 8:24 AM ^

The metaphor of  burglars and cops is not really representative of what the NCAA and its members are all about.  Burglars and cops assumes a criminal law type of mindset between the two, with all the due process and other constitutional protections built in within the American justice system.

This is just not at all what the NCAA is empowered or supposed to be.  First, it is a voluntary member organization that has rules that are expected to be enforced by its member institutions.  The member institutuions are required to self report any violations and police themselves.  Next, the NCAA investigative bodies do not have state or federal prosecutorial subpoena powers, so they can't force anyone to testify by granting immunity.  This makes it easy to stonewall them.  Also, since it is not a criminal law type of investigation, their are no hard and fast standards of judgement and penalty.  The standard of proof does not exist, and the NCAA is free to be the jury, so to speak. 

What has happened is that the rules have been written to be interpreted as if they were law, so they have become very cumbersome and very nit picky about what is or is not a violation and thus they lead to things like people not being sure how to count stretching hours as practice time, for instance.   Note that if a major penalty is involved, it usually means that someone has broken a criminal law and the NCAA comes in to review all the investigative testimony and work done by a federal or state prosecutor such as was done with Chris Webber and Michigan and with Reggie Bush and USC.

A better metaphor would be a fox in the henhouse. 


November 29th, 2011 at 8:33 AM ^

The NCAA is a joke.  They clearly don't police or punish when an offender comes to light.  I have no confidence that the punishment of OSU will fit the crime.  Schools should be able to pay players.  While I don't want to see this personally, I'm sick of the games and at least the playing field would level out so the cheaters and schools in compliance are at least playing by the same rules. 


November 29th, 2011 at 9:31 AM ^

This is an interesting take, but one that I feel gets too far down the rabbit hole in terms of damages to others.  Yes, the handling of Tressel by OSU was stupendously poor, but at the same time I don't think most programs would have acted that differently, at least ones that are nationally prominent and (real or perceived) in the mix for MNCs consistently.  This is surely not a surprise to anyone or overly insightful, but the NCAA isn't really a police force as much as a funded partner of the academic institutions.  And within that partnership is a smaller subset called athletic departments, which interface between the two entities.  They largely control the information shared between the schools and the NCAA, and both employ relatively little oversight over the ADs because the other implicitly expects the other to keep an eye on their charges.  

If the partner institutions really wanted to address the recruiting, player payments, criminal obfuscation, etc. that goes on, then it needs to create an agency completely independent of the schools, one that receives set funds from the schools but otherwise is on an island.  Give this organization subpeona power, access to member institution's financials and logs, and real teeth in terms of enforcement.  It is probably a pipedream, but make it clear that the enforcement organization can and will come down on you if you screw up, and those sanctions will follow your coaches and administrators to their new institutions (the professional ranks are obviously beyond the scope of power, but hopefully some handshake agreements could be made).  Until that happens, you won't see schools in any sport really "worry" about the sanctions except from a PR perspective; some (like OSU and parts of the SEC) could care less as long as they win, while others (like UM) are more aware of how their brand would be harmed across disciplines because of the bad press and respond accordingly.


November 29th, 2011 at 10:38 AM ^

I think your idea about an independent external agency makes a lot of sense.

I do not agree that most  nationally prominent schools would behave like OSU.  I don't think you really believe that either, judging from what you near the end ie that some schools care much more about their reputations.

Mr. Robot

November 29th, 2011 at 9:58 AM ^

I still have a hard time believing they won't lose a bowl game. I feel like a bowl game is mandatory just because of the Sugar Bowl fiasco that the NCAA took a lot of heat for.

I suppose it wouldn't be inconceivable, seeing as how the NCAA already caved into them for the Sugar Bowl in the first place, but given that turned out to be a bad decision, I feel like a one year ban is likely, even if it only ends up being a retraction from this year's 6-6 bowl. If not, that just goes to show that the NCAA needs to go and OSU can get away with cheating, which is why its all the more important that we destroy them on the field to show that still isn't enough to beat Michigan.


November 29th, 2011 at 11:29 AM ^

Michigan's defense was essentially their compliance department was incompetent and hey, changes are coming!!!!  Obviously, if the compliance department is so incompetent they can't regulate practice, it seems unlikely they are doing a good job with the money changing hands to players.  Their is a real benefit to Michigan here - by keeping a terrible compliance department, they always have some plausible explanation for their failures and they won't uncover any.  The NCAA has to be careful not to punish a school like OSU which does monitor and report violations as opposed to ones that don't, like Michigan.


November 29th, 2011 at 12:22 PM ^

The NCAA has no subpeona power, so it will always be hamstringed to even investigate misdeeds. The easiest and cheapest way to increase compliance is to incentivize whistleblowers and disincentivize cheaters (as you say).

1. If a school is found to have violated compliance rules and thus benefited from it in some way (bowl, TV revenue, etc). then the NCAA can simply instutite a whistleblower rule that awards a whilstelblower half of all money that a school earned during the non-compliance period. In OSU's case, Cicero could have been awarded the Fiesta Bowl money for coming forward with his inside knowledge, or the journalists who obtained the FOIA emails could have collected. In Penn State's case, the GA could have come forward after no action on Sandusky was taken, and recieved Penn State's Bowl money. After all, if you're going to committ career suicide, it helps when you get a multi-million dollar paycheck for it. Of course, with that kind of lettuce, I'd imagine Prior would have turned in his coach and department as door was hitting his ass on the way out.

2.  As for punishment, the best way to go is simply ruthlessly slash scholarships. Bowl bans are unfair to players who played by the rules, etc. The best thing to do is just to lay out a very clear-cut scholarship reduction list that corresponds to each type of infraction. Sort of like a minimum sentencing guidline. Also, for any program placed on probation, waive sit-out years for students who want to transfer OUT of the program. In OSU's case, the lying coach and players should have cost them 20 scholarships. For letting Posey get a summer job in violation of rules, whilst on probation, thus incurring a "failure to monitor" charge, another 40 scholarships. If they can make it to a bowl with a team of 24 scholarship players and 60 walk-ons, good for them. The side benefit is that it would truly return the program to one comprised of "student atheletes".



November 29th, 2011 at 4:07 PM ^

The lack of stong incentives and disincentives is a central problem.  It reminds me of the time I went to the former Soviet Union to chair a scientific session.  At the time, the Soviet Union and its economy were collapsing.  I privately asked one of the Russian scientists why, at such a time of national need, so many of their workers just seemed to be standing around. 

He said: "Well, so long as we continue to pretend to pay the workers, they will continue to pretend to work."

So it is with the NCAA. 

So long as the NCAA continues to pretend to enforce the rules, its schools will pretend to obey them. 

(eg OSU's massive disclosures of secondary NCAA infractions and suppression of the most egregious violations).

Seemingly, the right incentives for real compliance are not there.


November 29th, 2011 at 6:25 PM ^

It seems every coach has some kind of incentive clauses in their contracts to boost their pay.  Hit them in the pocketbook by disallowing payment of any incentives for a period of time based on the severity.  Could you limit their ability to get money through endorsement deals, too?   I think if the coach feels it in their wallet, they might get interested in keeping things clean.  I don't think it's right to punish the players.  Do something similar to the AD.

I agree that stiff scholarship reductions would be helpful, too.  Let them try and win with walk ons.

Getting schools to agree to cough up bowl revenue or other $$ won't happen.  That can hurt sports that didn't cheat at the offending school since it will fall on the athletic department.