Welcome back to Three Downs and Punt, the "Please put down your brackets for five minutes and read this" edition.
In the state of my birth and current residence, North Carolina, opening weekend of the NCAA tournament is always an exciting time, especially when three of the four Tobacco Road schools are in action. But the state's self-declared flagship university is still reeling from Monday's NCAA bombshell, and the results could give us a hint about what's to come for other schools facing potential sanctions.
First down: The UNC effect
Here in Charlotte, known by some as Chapel Hill South, there is still much outward bitterness and anger after the NCAA tossed a stack of penalties atop the North Carolina Tar Heels' football program. The hammer -- three years probation, 2012 postseason ban and loss of 15 scholarships over three years -- was about what some, including me, expected but clearly much worse than those around the program had anticipated.
But mixed in with the disappointment has also been a chorus of sighs of relief that nearly two years of living in the cold, dark shadow cast down from Indianapolis has finally transformed into actual sanctions instead of speculation.
Over those two years, the majority of the "What do you think they'll get?" guesswork was based on looking back over the two most recent high-profile NCAA football scandals -- the USC Trojans and Ohio State Buckeyes.
The now-infamous USC penalties -- two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships -- came about because of the actions surrounding one athlete, Reggie Bush, and a rogue booster. Ohio State's penalties were announced just last December -- a one-year bowl ban, three-year probation and nine scholarships lost after the Tattoogate scandal that involved five players and a booster.
In years past, the NCAA Committee on Infractions has gone out of its way to repeatedly state that every case is unique and is thusly handled that way. In other words, there's no crib sheet that says, "State U. committed violations A, C and Y, just like State Tech did in 2009, so naturally their penalties will be Nos. 1, 3 and 25, just as it was for State U."
But now, for the first time, there does seem to be more crossover between cases that carry similarities. Maybe.
When Ohio State's penalties were announced, buried deep down in the report were two specific references to past precedent. That may not seem like a big deal, but if you've spent hours poring over NCAA reports -- and I'm proud/sad to report that I have -- you know that's not something that happens. Ever.
The Ohio State report confessed looking into a multiyear postseason ban but decided not to after considering "aggravating factors and the overall seriousness of the case in light of other recent major infractions cases where a multiple year postseason was imposed." In other words, USC. There was also mention of a 2003 case involving Arkansas in which money and jobs provided by a booster were very similar to those involving OSU booster Bobby DiGeronimo.
In years past, the turnover of Committee on Infractions membership (members are administrators from NCAA member institutions, serving on a rotating basis) has prevented much consistency from one high-profile case to the next. But sadly, the frequency of such cases has increased, so those members are ruling on more than one case during their tenures.
The current committee membership ruled on Ohio State in December and North Carolina in March, so it should be no surprise that the two cases were handled similarly. USC supporters are understandably angry at the disparity between their penalties and UNC's. But the committee and even the NCAA president are totally different now than they were then.
Like Ohio State, UNC avoided the black mark of "lack of institutional control" in its initial Notice of Allegations, instead being saddled with the lesser charge of "failure to monitor." And like the Buckeyes, the Tar Heels' administrators were cooperative with investigators and proactive with self-imposed penalties (though many believed they might have been better served by adding their own bowl ban). Unlike OSU, North Carolina's case involved agent involvement and academic fraud. But again, their up-front cooperation appears to have helped head off what could have been much, much worse.
So is Ohio State/UNC the new template for high-profile football cases going forward? It feels like it. At the very least, it certainly feels more like a consistent baseline than we've ever had in the past. And the majority of the current Committee on Infractions membership, a group clearly not afraid of looking up past cases, will remain on that committee through the next year, in some cases two.
What does this mean for the next schools in line?
On the surface, the Willie Lyles case would seem like North Carolina's agent problems. And it's an easy conclusion to draw that because of his ties to the program he will be labeled as a booster and banished from contact with the program. But truthfully, this "street agent" situation is a totally new set of circumstances for the NCAA to look into.
The key for the Ducks is how coach Chip Kelly is perceived by the committee. In July, the school launched an internal review and retained the services of law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, which has miles of NCAA case experience. The hang-up for Kelly could be rooted in statements he made nearly a year ago, claiming he had cut ties with Lyles, but phone records suggest otherwise.
If the committee sees that as a naive coach and gives him a pass, as it did with UNC's Butch Davis, it will be nothing. If it sees that as a coach who is not being forthright, as it did with Jim Tressel, it could be very bad.
If the details in the Yahoo! Sports report hold up, you can go on and dig the USC report back out. Because the Hurricanes will be looking at penalties much closer to what the Trojans are dealing with, now considered by many to be over the top, than what UNC has just been hit with, thought by many to not be enough.
Nothing angers the Committee on Infractions, no matter who is on the panel, quite like someone on the coaching staff knowing about a rogue booster or agent and doing nothing about it. USC running backs coach Todd McNair was believed to have known about the Reggie Bush-Lloyd Lake relationship. That was pretty much the NCAA's whole case. It cited Ohio State's inability to track Bobby DiGeronimo, who at worst paid players a few hundred bucks and got them sham jobs.
But in the case of Nevin Shapiro at Miami, the Yahoo! guys present evidence that suggests at least seven members of the Hurricanes football and basketball staffs not only knew about him, they steered athletes and recruits toward him. Then he "provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010."
Honestly, if all of that ends up being proven by the NCAA, the UNC and Ohio State cases won't matter. They might be the NCAA's new baseline, but the Miami situation won't be concerned with baselines. It might be establishing a new ceiling.
Second down: Call from the Hall
As I flew out to Las Vegas last week, I decided to bang out my ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.
Holy cow was that hard.
There were 206 candidates in all, covering players and coaches across all four NCAA divisions and the NAIA, and voters are supposed to pick 23. What I thought would be a 10-minute job turned into a transcontinental, internal debate. In the end, this is how I voted and why, in alphabetical order within each category:
FBS Players (Vote for 11):
Trev Alberts, Nebraska Cornhuskers -- Almost single-handedly won the national championship game against Florida State while playing with a cast on his arm.
Ted Brown, North Carolina State Wolfpack -- One the greatest players never remembered. His ACC record of 4,602 yards has stood for 34 years.
Tedy Bruschi, Arizona Wildcats -- 52 sacks. That's all I need to say.
Eric Crouch, Nebraska -- If you won a Heisman, you automatically get my vote for the Hall.
Ty Detmer, Brigham Young Cougars -- See above.
Tommie Frazier, Nebraska -- Speaking of Heisman, how did he not win one?
Raghib Ismail, Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- Also Heisman-less but was easily the most feared player in the land.
Jonathan Ogden, UCLA Bruins -- The immovable object.
Orlando Pace, Ohio State -- The irresistible force.
Vinny Testaverde, Miami -- Won his Heisman nearly 26 years ago. How the heck is he not already in?
Danny Wuerffel, Florida Gators -- Have there ever been four Heisman winners inducted in one year?
FBS coaches (2):
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee Volunteers -- I worked for Fulmer as a student and I've always taken issue with how he ascended to the head coach's position at Tennessee, but his record is indisputable.
Jimmy Johnson, Oklahoma State and Miami -- Passed on him last year in favor of Lloyd Carr and Fisher DeBerry, as did a lot of others. This year, he should get in.
FCS players (2):
Archie Arneson, Northern Arizona -- Won the 1996 Walter Payton Award, the FCS Heisman.
Michael Payton, Marshall -- The '92 Payton Award winner and king of the Southern Conference when it was the SEC of FCS (then I-AA).
Division II players (2):
Tom Collins, Indianapolis -- All-time NCAA interceptions leader, across all divisions, with 37. That's a lot.
Bobby Hedrick, Elon -- When he graduated in 1980, he ranked second all-time among NCAA rushers, trailing only Tony Dorsett.
Division III players (2):
Chuck Downey, Stony Brook -- 239 tackles as a safety, first D-III player to surpass 1,000 yards on both punt and kickoff returns and holds 12 D-III records.
Jeff Wittman, Ithaca -- Three-time All-American, 1991 national champion and school's all-time rushing leader ... at fullback.
NAIA players (2):
Joe Micchia, Westchester -- Second year I've voted for him. Won two national titles and never lost a game as a starting QB: 31-0.
Rex Mirich, Northern Arizona -- Old-school ironman was an All-American at defensive tackle in '62 and offensive tackle in '63.
Divisional coaches (2):
Randy Hubbard, Florida A&M -- Second year I've voted him, too. Won back-to-back national titles in '77 and '78, including the inaugural FCS title.
John Whitehead, Lehigh -- Won 1977 Division II championship, then moved up to FCS and made it to the championship game there in '79.
Third down -- Missed it by that much
Of the names I left off of my Hall of Fame ballot, these are the ones who barely missed the cut. When and if they reappear next year, they will more than likely have my vote. Some of these guys -- Carrier, Dickerson and Majors -- I voted for one year ago. But this year's group was too talented, and some players had to be benched temporarily.
Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma
Mark Carrier, USC
Eric Dickerson, SMU
Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech
Bobby Majors, Tennessee
Paul Palmer, Temple
Sterling Sharpe, South Carolina
Derrick Thomas, Alabama
Lorenzo White, Michigan State
Fourth down -- Not college football, but ...
Bracket Mania starts Thursday, and this Funny or Die/ESPN collaboration is very funny.
"And yes, every tournament at least one 12-seed beats a 5-seed, but that doesn't mean you pick every 12-seed to win."