You will excuse USC fans for their reaction today to the news of Ohio State's NCAA penalties.
The Buckeyes were found to have violated rules with multiple players -- including a coach who knowingly played ineligible players for a whole season -- but the penalties handed down did not come close to matching the punishment USC received last year.
The penalties given to the Buckeyes were pretty much in line with the standard ratio that we’ve seen from the NCAA in recent years. A bowl ban, the loss of nine total scholarships over three years (including self-imposed reductions) and a show-cause penalty against former head coach Jim Tressel is a fairly stiff blow, but it’s one a program like Ohio State should be able to withstand.
The problem for USC fans is that those penalties aren’t in line with a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. There is no mention of a 75-man roster limit for the Buckeyes, as USC will face for the next three years. There is no ability for Ohio State seniors to transfer next year, a luxury the NCAA gave to USC upperclassmen, with the logic being that they wouldn’t be able to take part in a bowl game for the remainder of their careers. There wasn’t even a mention of the need for “high profile” compliance for “high profile” athletes, something the NCAA made clear to include in the USC report.
This has been a major point of contention for USC fans all along. Nobody is denying that violations took place at USC, but the penalties were simply too severe. When you rationally look at the facts of the case there is no way to conclude that the penalties were in line with the violations, at least when you consider past NCAA rulings.,
The key for Ohio State -- and for other schools who have followed USC in the NCAA crosshairs -- is that they learned from the Trojans mistakes.
In the world of NCAA compliance, the way you handle an investigation is almost as important as the actual violation. At the first sign of a potential violation, the NCAA wants to believe the school is the first line of defense. They want to believe the school is doing everything it can to uncover the facts and report back to them.
USC did not do this to the satisfaction of the NCAA. When the Reggie Bush allegations broke, USC said there was nothing to it and they did not self-report any violations. As time went by -- and as the NCAA took no further action -- most USC observers felt there wasn’t a case to be made. After a few years, however, the NCAA did make a case. It might have been a thin one at times, but they pieced it together enough to their satisfaction and were able to combine it with some other minor violations to hand down some pretty severe sanctions.
Other schools have watched USC and learned not to ignore the seriousness of the situation when the NCAA comes snooping around. USC took the position of making the NCAA prove its case, and the Trojan paid harshly for it. Other schools such as Ohio State, North Carolina, Auburn and Miami have all been quick to take action, to investigate and self-impose some kind of penalties.
Even though those self-imposed penalties are often minor, it’s important to realize how important they are to the NCAA's way of thinking. That’s the way they want schools to act, and Ohio State is benefiting today by avoiding the hard lesson that USC learned.