Shocker: BCS Teams Face Lighter NCAA Sanctions

If one were to craft a hierarchy of perceived importance to college sports, in terms of its divisions, one would think that the order would go like this: 1) BCS schools, 2) non-BCS I-A schools, 3) I-AA schools, 4) HBCUs. That’s to say absolutely nothing about the quality of said institutions, just how much they matter to big-money athletics.

Nun with ruler
(”And it appears to me that the littlest children have been the naughtiest…”)

Based on a report just released by Michael Buckner, a licensed attorney who specializes in investigating allegations of NCAA violations, that hierarchy holds up in the way the NCAA polices the schools. Which makes sense, really. Since the most famous schools are so important to the NCAA’s overall success, they’re managed more stringently and effectively and… AHAHAHA we’re making that part up, the big boys get to do whatever they want.


… The study reveals universities who belong to conferences whose champions receive annual automatic BCS bowl bids (BCS automatic-qualifier schools) received less stringent probation penalties from the NCAA infractions committee than other Division I institutions. Also, the research indicates FBS institutions receive less probation years than FCS institutions and non-football sponsoring schools. Finally, the results suggest historically Black colleges and universities in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference (HBCUs) received harsher probation penalties than other Division I institutions.

In other words, it’s exactly why everybody nodded in agreement with Jerry Tarkanian’s classic line, “the NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it will probably slap another two years’ probation on Cleveland State.” You make money for the NCAA, it appears, the NCAA will love you right back.

In the world’s least surprising news, the NCAA has already discredited the report; from the ORLANDO SENTINEL:

The NCAA discredited the report, saying the study was based on an inadequate examination of the facts. The NCAA said in a statement, “the research relies on a very small sample size of a handful of institutions and a methodology that fails to tests the claims against standard statistical criteria.”

“Assertions that the NCAA makes these determinations based on any other factor, such as the financial status or size of the schools, are baseless and flat-out wrong,” the NCAA said in the statement.

The problem, however, is that the data suggest otherwise. To boot:

• Issued an average 2.58-year probation penalty to universities in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC (BCS automatic-qualifier schools) while imposing an average 2.74-year probation penalty on all other Division I institutions.

• Issued an average 2.58-year probation penalty to FBS schools while imposing an average 2.86-year probation penalty on all other Division I schools.

• Issued an average 3.83-year probation penalty to HBCUs.

Here, though, the issue may not be a matter of out-and-out favoritism, but more the influence of well-funded legal and compliance departments. The NCAA are notorious for being lenient for self-reported violations, and the best lawyers (the ones who go to the highest-profile schools for more money and more prestige) are more skilled at framing issues in the type of light that would suggest less stringest punishment is appropriate. That’s not to take anything away from the HBCUs, of course, it’s just a fact that lawyers with talent and ambition are more likely to go to North Carolina than North Carolina A&T.

With that institutional disparity in mind, then, it hardly seems surprising that the smaller colleges would struggle next to the NCAA’s heft and clout. But just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean it’s not unfair.