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Jay LaPrete, Associated Press
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.

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.

And in what could be the biggest embarrassment for college sports since SMU received the "death penalty," shutting down a sports program for a season or more, the NCAA is investigating claims by a former University of Miami booster and convicted Ponzi scheme artist that he provided Hurricanes players with cash, prostitutes, cars and other gifts from 2002 to 2010, and that several coaches knew and even participated as improper benefits were handed out.

"There's no question it's at a crossroads, and I've been saying that for a long time," NCAA president Mark Emmert said last month. "That's why we need to act and why we need to act quickly. But again, I think, it's a case of all the great things in college sports being overshadowed by these high-profile infractions cases, and that's something we have to fix."

But how?

Critics have long dismissed the NCAA enforcement process as ineffective, blaming its reactionary nature and lack of impartiality. The NCAA doesn't have its own detective bureau, relying on schools to report themselves or for others, most often the media, to provide information on wrongdoing.

Once the enforcement staff determines possible violations, the case is forwarded to the Committee on Infractions, which includes seven representatives from member schools and conferences as well as three members of the public. The committee makes the final determination on violations, including what the penalties should be.

"Obviously the NCAA is very stretched trying to manage all this," said former U.S. Congressman Tom McMillen, who led Maryland to the 1972 NIT title and has been a longtime critic of the NCAA enforcement process. "Clearly, we need some more independence, we need some tougher penalties directly on the perpetrators. But ultimately, it's a finger in the dike."

There's so much money at stake, McMillen said, and the incentives to cheat currently outweigh the punishments.

"The system needs revolutionary change," he said. "I don't think there's a stomach for it until there's major crisis. ... You need to have a tipping point and we're not at a tipping point."

It may be close, however.

NCAA leaders signaled at last month's presidential retreat that they were ready to adopt harsher penalties for the worst offenders — something infractions committee members recommended back in 2008. Among the possibilities are making greater use of postseason and TV bans, punishments that were the norm in the 1980s but have become rarities over the past decade.

Emmert even said the "death penalty," only used that one time against SMU, is still a possibility in the most egregious cases.

"If there was a general theme ... it was, 'Let's strengthen penalties and get the attention of people,'" said Parkinson, who chaired the subcommittee that made the recommendations.

"But there's not going to be a huge movement until that message is sent from the membership and leadership of the NCAA," Parkinson said. "If the message comes up from the membership to the Committee on Infractions that they've got to toughen up and there's a clear signal, the committee will do that."

In the meantime, if the pain and humiliation being felt at elite schools like USC, Ohio State and Tennessee keep everyone else on their best behavior, well, that won't be the worst thing in the world.

AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.

AP National Writer Nancy Armour can be reached at narmour(at)ap.org or follow her at http://twitter.com/nrarmour