NCAA Sanctions Won’t Slow the High-Flying Oregon Ducks

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

 

Oregon Ducks fans have plenty to smile about today after the NCAA finally announced the sanctions in the Willie Lyles recruiting scandal.

Rather than the crippling penalties some expected, the Ducks got off easy. They can offer one fewer scholarship — 24 rather than 25 — in the next two seasons and they are limited to just 84 scholarships — instead of 85 — for the next three. (The Ducks have been operating slightly under the limit anyway.)

Chip Kelly, who is long gone, gets an 18-month show-cause penalty, which means he’d have to appear before the NCAA to coach again during that time period. Recruiting limits are minimal. The Ducks are still eligible for postseason play.

Way to flex those muscles, NCAA.

The problem with the Oregon sanctions is not that the penalties are too light. The problem is that the NCAA has no standard model of operation and doesn’t seem to have any idea what it’s doing.

One of the big complaints about the USC sanctions and, to an extent, the Penn State sanctions are the unduly harsh punishments that fell on players and coaches who had no involvement in the punishable offenses. The lack of a bowl ban and minimal scholarship reductions mean that’s not the case at Oregon.

In that sense, the NCAA may have gotten it right, but because its other rulings have been so very, publicly wrong, there’s no longer even a scale for what is and is not an appropriate punishment. Even when the NCAA gets it right, it gets it wrong.

The investigation into the Oregon violations took a few years and probably cost a considerable amount of time and money, and the first item on the list of sanctions is “Public censure and reprimand.” The Ducks are surely shaking in their Day-Glo socks over that one.

College football’s governing body is powerless to do much to discipline the people who actually committed violations. The show-cause penalties against Kelly and former assistant director of operations Josh Gibson would be appropriate, but with both men gone, they’re unenforceable.

The only way to have any real effect is to bring the hammer down on the entire program, which unfairly punishes innocent parties, although the NCAA has done it at other schools before.

The problem with the Oregon sanctions isn’t the final ruling; it’s really not even a problem with the Oregon sanctions, but rather with the NCAA and its wide-ranging punishments that sometimes do, but often do not, fit the crimes.

The organization itself, during the USC case, said it does not make rulings or judge cases based on past precedent. It should.

If there was any sort of disciplinary standard, where violations incur the same penalty in each case, universities and fans could at least respect the NCAA’s decisions and trust the rulings to be consistent, even if they didn’t necessarily agree or approve.

Instead, the NCAA’s faulty investigative processes, brought to light during the Miami debacle, and the arbitrary punishments doled out on a case-by-case basis, have made the organization an even bigger joke than the Oregon sanctions.

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