5 Quick Thoughts on Yahoo! Allegations

FootballThis week has been rife with allegations of impropriety among college football programs. First, Sports Illustrated began a five-part expose’ on Oklahoma State entitled “The Dirty Game: the money, the academics, the drugs, the sex, and the fallout”. The first two parts of which were intriguing, but not all that surprising as the things described therein sound to me like things that take place in probably 90% of FBS schools. However, it only matters which ones are discovered. I also wonder if the former players and coaches will actually talk to NCAA investigators and potentially take down the program with which they were once so closely affiliated. It’s easy to talk when it will get your name in a national magazine (and website), but when repercussions for the Oklahoma State program on the line, I’d think speaking up will be much more difficult. The main thing I took away from the first two parts was that most of the indiscretions aren’t documented and can easily be denied in a he said/he said manner. However, we’ll see how it progresses.

Late yesterday afternoon, Yahoo! Sports released a story that reported that five SEC football players received improper benefits from agents and financial advisers while they were active student-athletes through an intermediary, former Alabama defensive end Luther Davis. Those players were Tyler Bray (Tennessee), DJ Fluker (Alabama), Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State), Chad Bumphis (Mississippi State), and Maurice Couch (Tennessee). Four of the five are no longer college athletes, with only Couch still an active player. He’s a starter this year for the Tennessee Volunteers and Butch Jones has already announced that he will not play this weekend against Oregon.

I have a few quick thoughts on these SEC-related allegations:

1. The conspiracy theory concerning timing: There has been a large amount of people, mostly (but not exclusively) Alabama fans, who think it’s no coincidence that this story broke just before their matchup against Texas A&M. The implication being that these allegations could serve as a distraction for the Tide in what could arguably be the biggest game they’ll play this season. I’d like to remind those people that this article includes five players from four different teams and only Tennessee has a player on that list that is currently active. Additionally, I’d like to point out that if the allegations turn out to be valid, it would not affect the eligibility or accomplishments of Alabama this season, but could only potentially affect the accomplishments of the past years. Finally, the idea that the media would want to intentionally give an advantage to Johnny Manziel after the nitpicking and overstating of every little thing Manziel-related this offseason is absurd to me. If anything, they’ve portrayed him in such a negative light since January that it seems the media wants to see him fail just as much as Tide Nation does.

2. Comparisons to other scandals: Often times when a school or one of it’s players is accused of wrongdoing, fans point to other schools and punishments. In this case, the natural tendency will be to point to the recent Johnny Manziel allegations, talk about the half-game suspension and then naturally argue that their school should get a similar suspension (or even less since the athletes are no longer there). That would be comparing apples to oranges given that the Manziel ordeal involved two things that these allegations seemingly don’t have: cash-only transactions (if they took place at all) and accusors that were unwilling to speak with the NCAA (for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons). These allegations, conversely, seem to have a lengthy and detailed paper trail which, if turned over to the NCAA, could be quite damning. Even the Ohio State scandal is not quite apples to apples (although it will certainly come up in comparison) either. The Buckeyes’ scandal involved multiple players within a program and a head coach that actively deceived the NCAA. Those two things made matter much worse for them. The similarity there though, was evidence, because there was quite a bit to be had due to the federal case that was ongoing against the owner of the tattoo parlor. The situation, to me, much closer resembles the Reggie Bush debacle in which he allegedly received improper benefits from a marketing agent. The difference is that here if the he paper trail turns out to be valid, the case would seemingly be stronger than it was against Bush which was dependent more on an uncooperative Bush, questionable handling of testimony of an assistant coach, and a mysterious series of phone calls. The Yahoo! story seems to involve invoices, emails, text messages, and wire transfers, etc.

3. Speeding Ticket Syndrome: That’s what I call the tendency to point to the idea that everyone else is doing it. How often does a driver who has been pulled over for speeding quickly point out another car that was driving just as fast or faster? It happens all the time and to the officer the point is moot because he didn’t catch that other car violating the speeding limit. You notice the driver doesn’t necessarily dispute that he/she was speeding, only trying to make it sound a little more okay because everyone speeds sometimes. That’s not how it works. Not everyone is going to get caught violating the rules (otherwise, I think we would all have been in jail at some point in our lives). Everyone may break the same rule that your school or player is being accused of breaking, but it wasn’t everyone that was caught this time and that’s no defense for your player or school breaking it.

4. Well it’s a stupid rule! I have no sympathy for anyone when they make this argument. How stupid is it that a player can’t sell an award he won? It’s his award, he should be able to do with it what he chooses. That’s what started the whole Buckeyes’ downfall. This argument will certainly be accompanied by the announcement that players should be paid to play anyway, so that’s why they’re reaching for money from outside sources. I’m not going to get into that debate right now, I’m just going to say the same thing I did when the hammer was about to come down on my Buckeyes program: Stupid rule or not, it’s a rule, and if you break a rule, there should be consequences.

5. Vacation of wins: I’ve never been an advocate of vacating wins as a punishment for violations that do not directly effect on-field performance. If this were an accusation of something like point-shaving, player tampering, or official tampering, then I think vacation of wins would be appropriate because the game’s outcome was directly affected. I know the NCAA argues, just as it did the Reggie Bush case and numerous others, that because the player should have been ineligible due to accepting improper benefits it nullifies that win because he contributed to the win. Did DJ Fluker contribute to Alabama wins? Of course. Having three All-Americans on an offensive line is a huge advantage for anyone. Could they have won without him? I could certainly argue they could have, but we can’t know that. However, the NCAA stripped the 2004 national championship from a USC team that had 54 players beyond Bush that played in the NFL at one point, one of which was a Heisman Trophy winner (Matt Leinart). Would they still have beaten Oklahoma for the title (a game which they won 55-19)? We’ll never know. Keep in mind, the NCAA is a big fan of vacating wins, folks. They vacated 111 wins from Penn State and Joe Paterno with zero NCAA violations.

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