Sunday, July 15, 2007

The SEC: Sanction Free After All These Years?

It is a well-known fact that the Southeastern Conference has had at least one school under NCAA sanctions each of the last 25 years. Seems SEC Commissioner Mike Silve set a goal back in 2003 to have a conference free from NCAA sanctions within 5 years. According to this article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, that goal is almost within reach:

June 11, 2008, may mark the day the joke is on all of us.

That's the date that the last of three Southeastern Conference schools currently under NCAA probation -- Mississippi State and its football program -- completes its four-year sentence.

After having at least one league school on NCAA probation for 25 consecutive years, the SEC, with fingers crossed at all 12 league schools, will be sanction-free.

I must confess, that would be something worth crowing about. Of course, we are almost one full year away from achieving that goal for however short a time it turns out to be, but if we actually get there, it would be something almost unthinkable by college sports fans continuously inundated by news of sanctions, probations, and scholarship losses. The SEC has a historical record of being one of, if not the most cheating conference in all of college sports. In 1984, Florida alone was accused of 106 separate NCAA violations in its football program.

What is truly amazing is that this story is getting almost no coverage at all. I suppose covering it fully one year in advance, though, is probably setting oneself up for a follow-on article about how we almost made it. This summer's spectacular scandal surrounding Houston Nutt of Arkansas that lead to the eventual decision of Frank Broyles to announce his retirement at the end of 2007 makes us wonder if there isn't something under the hood in Fayetteville.

Indeed, there are opportunities for violations everywhere, and none more so than in the athletic foundations of Florida, LSU and Arkansas. Although these foundations are overseen by the NCAA as part of a reporting process, the fact that they are not subject to scrutiny by the press due to their "private" nature and lack of state sunshine laws governing them, they represent areas where hanky-panky could happen. The recent success in these three schools' football program and the secret nature of their athletic foundations combined with well-documented NCAA incompetence must surely give Silve occasional nightmares.

Still, secrecy by no means equals chicanery, and we nor anyone else should declare schools with private athletic foundations automatically suspect. With all due respect to those worthies, however, secrecy in funding is always going to raise suspicions, especially given the anemic oversight of the NCAA. The would be well served to reconsider, or the state would be well advised to apply sunshine laws to such foundations. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely given their success.

Alabama's new head coach Nick Saban also gives this blog some reason for concern. After being hit with some secondary violations recently, including inappropriate booster contact with recruits, Saban had this to say to the Montgomery Advertiser:

"I think everybody has some secondary violations," Saban said. "I think what we want to do at the University of Alabama is to do things the right way, and we're certainly committed to not violating rules. I think most institutions have some secondary violations on occasions and that's not something we ever want to have, but I think it's part of doing business."

Call me unrealistic, but I don't think this is the kind of attitude coaches aught to be fostering toward NCAA violations, minor or major. Yes, it is naive to think that any school can avoid every secondary violation, but that isn't the message the SEC should want Saban to be sending. The objective of every program should be to avoid every violation, and Saban's willingness to accept a certain level of impropriety is ... well, disturbing to me.

I would love to see the SEC manage to be sanction free, and then we could truly thumb our nose at self-righteous conferences like the Pac-10. But not everything or everyone in the SEC is giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling right now.