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Commentary: NCAA cases could keep others in line

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 2:32 p.m. MDT

Ohio State's Joe Bauserman throws a pass against Toledo during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Toledo 27-22.

Jay LaPrete, Associated Press

Bruce Pearl may as well have "Damaged Goods" stamped on his forehead for all the luck the former Tennessee coach is going to have finding a new job.

Jim Calhoun won't be on hand when defending national champion Connecticut opens the Big East season, serving a three-game suspension instead.

For a second straight year, USC is playing for nothing more than pride.

And Ohio State didn't even bother waiting for the NCAA to pass judgment, shoving Jim Tressel out the door in hopes of sparing the school further punishment.

Fear might be the best weapon the NCAA has in what is largely an uphill fight against cheating, lying and corruption. Intentional or not, the NCAA has been embarrassing some of college sports' biggest names recently and the consequences ought to scare everybody straight. Success, reputation, wealth — they're no protection once a school winds up under the NCAA's microscope these days.

"There's a lot of attention currently because there's a lot of the high-profile programs that seem to be in trouble," said Jerry Parkinson, a law professor at the University of Wyoming and a former member of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

"It takes a confluence of events like this to get people's attention — and that's not a bad thing at all."

Search the NCAA database of major infractions, and you'll find hundreds of cases dating back to 1953. There are more than 60 in the last 2½ years alone, at least a dozen of which have either wiped out records or made it all but impossible for misbehaving coaches to find work.

Yet most of the cases generate few headlines because they occur at small schools or in sports that don't command TV contracts worth billions. Even cases involving high-profile schools can usually be dismissed as isolated incidents, the failures of an individual coach or athletic department.

When there's a rash of violations at marquee schools, however, and serious ones at that, it creates an air of lawlessness that tarnishes all of college athletics.

"It's systemic, and the NCAA is having a harder time saying it's just a few rotten apples," said Murray Sperber, a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and longtime critic of commercialization in college sports. "Because to the casual public, it seems like there are more and more scandals. I would dispute that, but the NCAA has to deal with the perception."

Perhaps the governing body's need get control of college sports explains some of the developments in the past 15 months:

Pearl was given a three-year show-cause penalty (making it tough to hire him) for lying to NCAA investigators and Tennessee was placed on two years' probation.

Two months before Connecticut won its third NCAA men's basketball title, Calhoun was suspended for the first three games of this year's Big East season for recruiting violations, and the Huskies were hit with scholarship reductions, recruiting restrictions and three years probation.

Auburn and Oregon, the national champion and runner-up in football, each became the subjects of investigation.

West Virginia (two years) and Michigan (three) each were put on probation for football rules violations.

USC was given a two-year bowl ban and four years probation, and its scholarships were severely limited. The Trojans also were stripped of their 2004 national title by the BCS.

Ohio State is awaiting the NCAA's decision on penalties involving football players who traded memorabilia for cash with the subject of a federal drug-trafficking probe.

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