Why Recruiting Violations Aren't Caught

Submitted by Zone Left on February 7th, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Apologies to AC1997, but my reply turned into a diary. There is a lot of snark here, it's not aimed at you, it's just because I'm snarky.

Brian's mentioned Bill Simmon's article about PEDs and its natural extension into college recruiting. Whenever a school, Ole Miss in this case, gets a recruiting windfall, illicit or otherwise, or has a sustained run of success at the top, like USC, lots of folks question whether or not the success is legitimate. Then, they openly speculate, often using terms like "U$C" or "Ole Mi$$," (AC1997 did not do this) why no one sheds light on the violations. Here's my take as to why really big recruiting violations rarely come to light.

First, let's set the scenario. Phil Philbert is a five star dual-threat QB from Springfield. Instead of staying home to play for Local U (LU), he instead goes to Football University (FU), which is on the other side of the country. LU fans cry foul and demand justice, but no one sheds light on why Phil was seen leaving town in a new Maserati.

In this scenario, I think there are three ways Phil and FU get caught:

  1. NCAA investigation.
  2. Concerned insider tells all.
  3. Investigative journalism.

First, we all know the NCAA isn't out to discover recruiting violations. If the NCAA is a part of a police force, its job is that of a detective. In other words, they here about something bad and investigate to determine what happened and who is responsible. This detective would be taking many of its calls from cops on the beat. The only problem is, there aren't any paid cops on the beat. If the NCAA and its members wanted that, there would be paid staff at FBS schools "patrolling." No one involved really wants that. Therefore, the NCAA is waiting by the phone for options 2 and 3 to call before starting an investigation.

The most obvious person to call the NCAA would be the concerned insider. They would have first-hand knowledge of the situation and could steer the NCAA toward FU's egregious violations. The problem is, who are these insiders with direct knowledge? The parties with direct knowledge are:

  1. Phil.
  2. Phil's parents.
  3. Phil's high school coach.
  4. FU's coach.
  5. The deep pocketed booster who bought the Maserati.
  6. The bagman.

None of these people has any incentive to talk. Phil and his family got a free car (or cash) and don't want to go to jail for not paying taxes on the gift. Phil's coach can't tattle or he gets fired and his high school becomes persona non grata in recruiting circles. FU's coach doesn't want a show cause penalty or to lose his buyout. The booster and the bagman love FU too much to tell. Anyone else who talks has circumstantial evidence unless Phil (or the bagman) is dumb enough to talk about their nefarious deed into a microphone.

That basically leaves investigative journalism. However, there are serious problems with developing these types of stories. Even disregarding the lack of actual journalists who have the skill and tenacity to run down these types of stories, they still have to get someone to talk. That's really hard. Additionally, which news outlet would run the story? The most obvious one is LU's home paper. However, LU's home paper probably isn't doing very well right now and is likely devoting their investigative stories (if there are any) to things like crime, serious corruption, or serious societal issues. FU's home paper is definitely out. Papers struggle for readers as it is, they don't need to anger their subscriber base by getting FU in a bunch of trouble.

That basically leaves Charles Robinson at Yahoo! and a few other journalists at big-time news organizations who have the time and organizational backing to do this type of work. I heard an interview with Robinson a year or two ago. In it, he basically said he has a bunch of Nevin Shapiro / Miami stories in the works at any time, but journalistic standards of prohibit him from publishing until he can get credible on-the-record conversations and / or a lot of verifiable evidence. Again, that's really hard to come by given the few people with insider knowledge and their lack of incentive to talk.

This is one guy's opinion as to why serious recruiting violations don't come to light very often. They're hard to find and hard to verify. Furthermore, I don't believe much really serious stuff actually happens anymore. It's too easy for someone to Tweet a picture of himself holding a stack of cash and add "loving FU right now, LOL." Cheating today is an incredibly short-sighted tactic that can't go on long. It would be impossible for wholesale, SMU-style cheating, to be kept quiet, just like it was then.



February 7th, 2013 at 12:43 PM ^

I believe it was in his Book "Bo" talking about the job at Texas A&M and illegal recruiting. He discusses that he felt like if a kid did well the booster would want to make sure everyone knew about how he was responsible for getting that kid to go to school there. If the kid sucks, the booster won't stop complaining to everyone who will listen that he paid $10K for that bum who does nothing but screw up. 

Granted I largely agree with your premise, but do think that people talk about it. I just don't think the NCAA can do anything about it due to their overall lack of power. 


February 7th, 2013 at 12:43 PM ^

Given the incentive structure you laid out, why wouldn't cheating be rampant? Isn't that a pretty weird belief?

Also: there's another party to add to the interested in seeing Phil and friends get busted. Namely, any non-cheating rivals have a very significant incentive to at least work through back channels in bringing this kind of thing to light. But I imagine they would have to be extremely secretive because there's very likely a lot of anti-snitching codes in place throughout the game. ADs are hamstrung by this, but boosters probably could devote some time/money to it. It doesn't have to be just Yahoo that funds Charles Robinson.

Zone Left

February 7th, 2013 at 1:07 PM ^

My feeling is that coaches are too wary of the random nature of teenagers to rampantly cheat, but I could certainly be wrong. Also, anything organized leaves a trail and lots of potentially disgruntled insiders.

As for other schools, that's really likely to set off a petty infraction arms race. Besides, the NCAA would still need to verify accusations.


February 7th, 2013 at 1:15 PM ^

It wasn't (necessarily) a recruiting issue, but if we look at the latest improper benefits case it was OSU. This wasn't institutional, $100,000 cheating, and if Tressel never got that email he's still the coach. But to college kids, a few grand is a big deal. If recruit X has 2 schools 50/50 and he hears that at OSU they've got a hookup where they can autograph jerseys and get some extra spending money.... that'd be nice.

Again, we've seen recruits choose schools for all kinds of reasons. I doubt that small scale "improper" things like the OSU tattoo stuff/memorabilia doesn't go on elsewhere. and I doubt that recruits don't know about it too.


February 7th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

The problem with Ohio State and NCAA Investigations is that the "Sacred Brotherhood" perpetrates death threats upon anyone who is going to testify before the enforcement committee.  

At this point, the only time the NCAA punishes anyone is when somebody else does their job for them.  Usually, if it isn't the FBI or some other law enforcement agency, that means that the schools involved admit to as little as they possibly can, deny everything else, and hint at legal action if they receive anything more than symbolic "punishment."

If they really wanted to, the NCAA could take field depositions and count them as testimony, but that would force them to actually punish some of their biggest cash cows.  It's obvious that they don't want to do that.



February 7th, 2013 at 1:06 PM ^

You touched on another way: taxes. The NCAA can play detective, but they can't subpeona anyone, can't make anyone talk under oath, make arrests, or anything. As you said, the NCAA needs cooperation.

The police/feds/government don't though. They have the power to subpeona, and the reason they would would be tax money. Just ask CWebb. However like the hometown papers, the government probably has better things to go after than a few thousand dollar gifts here or there.

/please let that be the end of the politics talk?


February 7th, 2013 at 2:32 PM ^


FU's home paper is definitely out. Papers struggle for readers as it is, they don't need to anger their subscriber base by getting FU in a bunch of trouble.      Local Paper = Freep (another example is they could do a 1/2 ass job in the investigation and draw a bunch of bad conclusions that lead to FU spending millions of dollars to defend themselves against a few hours of extra practice time).


February 7th, 2013 at 4:31 PM ^

First off, I'm in no way offended by your response Diary and appreciate how you handled it.  This is the type of discussion I wanted to generate.  Your response took the approach of "why isn't it caught" as opposed to "are they cheating" but I think that's a topic worth discussing too.

With regard to what you had to say, I agree with many of your points.  The problem with catching people is a lack of whistle blowers, a lack of cops on the ground, and a lack of enforcement power.  Unless there's a reason to engage the government, the NCAA is pretty impotent in these matters. 

To clear up one thing, you mentioned USC as a casual example.  That didn't jump out to me because they have obvious things to offer potential recruits and thus there is a logical explanation you can go to for their success......whether they are cheating or not.  Ole Miss lacks that obvious reason on the surface.  (The connection some of the 5-stars had with existing players may be the hidden answer.) 

Getting back to the OP, I still think there are other potential sources of the story that I'm surprised we haven't seen more of:

  • A fired staff member or administrator from the AD.
  • A player who's scholarship wasn't honored for some reason (though these players might not be the ones getting the $$).
  • A jealous girlfriend.
  • A car accident involving that Maserati

Better yet, let's say your recruit Phil decided to attend FU for clean reasons but LU really wanted him and kept offering him illegal bribes to attend (girls, money, cars, etc.).  Why wouldn't someone like Phil talk and throw LU under the bus?  He has the chance to destroy a rival school in the process of showing how honest he was during his recruitment.  Maybe he even does this after he graduates college. 

To me the better source would be a credible author who follows around a few recruits during this process and gets all of the information first hand as soon as they get back.  It would take the right recruit who was willing to talk about it without risking his own eligibility. 

Zone Left

February 7th, 2013 at 5:30 PM ^

The problem ultimately returns to credibility. Anyone can (and does) say anything bad about the schools, coaches, players, etc that they don't like on message boards, in bars, and in phone calls to the press. However, those same people, don't have enough credibility to make the story on their own for an aspiring expose author. The best bet would be a disgruntled coach, but only if he never wanted to coach again and the cheating was organized enough to leave a clear trail. That's why Miami and OSU were caught, there was a paper trail. This is the main reason I don't think cheating is as widespread as many believe--news organizations here stuff all the time and more would act if there was enough evidence.


February 7th, 2013 at 8:26 PM ^

How about jaded teammate that feels he's better than "Phil" but isn't feeling the love from boosters, alumni, etc?

This is what's going to bring ND and Teo down eventually IMO.


February 7th, 2013 at 11:29 PM ^

I don't see why Phil's hometown newspaper wouldn't want to do some digging and run hard with this story. You state as a given that they are struggling and thus preoccupied with "crime, serious corruption, or serious societal issues".  Isn't this something that could land them on the front page of ESPN, CNN and the like?  Everyone would be racing to the newsstand.  There is no way people in that town don't know what happened.


February 8th, 2013 at 7:28 AM ^

The HS and college coaches might be (in many cases, willfully) out of the loop.  Willfull ignorance would seem to be a tempting choice for most coaches. They may see smoke billowing out from one direction but not look too closely and just turn their head so they can say they never saw any fire.



February 8th, 2013 at 9:09 AM ^

We are going about this the wrong way.  We keep speculating on recruiting violations, which does not get us anywhere.

There's only one sure fire way to know . . . find out for ourselves empirically.
Here's what we need to do, it's simple really:  We need the studliest guy on MGoBlog to volunteer to, um, get with Kate Upton and produce a freakishly athletic child.  (I asked her if it would be OK and her reply was "The Team, The Team, The Team.")
You then need to groom that child Todd Marinovich-style to be a future 5-star college football recruit.
During the recruiting process, take copious notes about who offers what to whom, and report back here in 17 years.
And remember, video or it didn't happen.
Gentlemen, duty calls.