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NCAA still doesn't get to root of problem

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- WHEN I READ Tuesday's story on the NCAA's new infractions process, I saw where a "serious breach of conduct" could mean a postseason ban of two to four years.

To be paid by the players.

I saw there could be "fines of millions of dollars."

To be paid by the school.

What I'm still awaiting is the sun and the magnifying glass to be placed over those mostly responsible - the coaches.

Yes, progress is being made in that regard. Head coaches, specifically, will be held more accountable under the new provisions. It won't be as easy to claim ignorance or push blame over to compliance offices. (See WVU, circa 2009. See Marshall, circa 2001.) Coaches will now be presumed to have knowledge of broken rules unless they can prove otherwise.

But the latest measures still punish athletes who had nothing to do with the offenses. They still punish schools and fan bases that depend on and rally around teams.

The NCAA still hasn't reached the root of the problem.

Let's face it, most major college coaches are mercenaries. They are hired after proving a particular skill set elsewhere. WVU's Dana Holgorsen is a perfect example. Before being hired in Morgantown, he had no ties whatsoever to the school.

Hopefully such coaches grow an affinity for their players and schools. Surely most do.

But there's so much pressure on coaches, especially football coaches. The football team has to bring in money to pay for the school's other sports. It serves as a rallying point for donors. University presidents and athletic directors feel the pressure.

So the school presidents and athletic directors do what's necessary to make football programs competitive: pay through the nose for coaches.

Last week, in writing about the WVU football downturn, I mentioned that defensive coordinator Joe DeForest is making $500,000 a year. Tell me this: In what other profession would Joe DeForest be making $500,000 a year? He graduated from Louisiana-Lafayette with a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1987.

The point isn't to pick on DeForest. It is to shine a light on why coaches would cheat.

On the one hand, such a coach would be foolish to cheat and put such an exorbitant salary in jeopardy. On the other hand, if team fortunes start heading south, one might use desperate measures to continue drawing that exorbitant salary. Or such measures might be used to prevent a fortune - team and personal - downturn.

"The more they pay," said former WVU coach Don Nehlen, "the more desperate [coaches] become."

Thus, the root of the problem.

Nehlen knows all about cheating.

"A couple schools we played gave kids extra benefits," said the coach. "Their players would eat downtown for free. They'd get some cash from boosters to sign [letters of intent]. Of course, the coach would stay out of it, but he knew."

And Nehlen has seen coaches skate, as have all of us who follow college football. USC got hit with sanctions; ex-Trojan coach Pete Carroll is now being showered with millions as the NFL Seattle Seahawks coach.

"People who do the cheating," Nehlen said, "can move on. Look at Penn State. The kids and coaches there now are paying."

There has been improvement. When Ohio State was hit with a bowl ban, then-head coach Jim Tressel's punishment mirrored that of former Tennessee hoops coach Bruce Pearl, who received a three-year ban. Tressel must be out of coaching until the 2017 season. If another school wants to hire him to coach before that, it must go before the NCAA committee on infractions to argue its case.

Such measures should extend to assistants.

"If someone moves on," Nehlen said, "the violations should move with him or her."

It's a start. But the trick is to eliminate the risk-reward angle. If a coach, especially one with no school ties, feels his or her job/salary is in jeopardy, why not break rules to get an edge? Doing so isn't illegal. It's simply against NCAA rules.

There is language in most coaching contracts that says cheating is cause for termination. But if a coach is headed for a firing anyway, what difference does the reason make? Might as well throw a few haymakers, hope they land and pray no one finds out, right?

Lowering salaries would help. But there's a market for sharp coaches, and schools can't make a pact over maximum salaries. That would be restraint of trade. It would be artificially controlling the market. It would be against our laws.

So what to do?

Make coaches earn their salaries. Make sure they know the NCAA - as well as their particular sport's - rulebook. Test them repeatedly. Include strong contract language and make sure cheaters are immediately terminated and there is no further compensation after termination.

Perhaps schools could defer part of those large contracts until, say, five years after the job/marriage is resolved. If no violations surface, a payout is made.

It's time to dig at the root of the problem. Make the risk as risky as possible.

And burn those responsible, not the innocent.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 

 

 

 

 


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