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August 6, 2013

What to look for in an NCAA investigation

-I've been following Texas A&M since the early to mid 70's which means that I've observed multiple NCAA investigations of A&M and watched many, many more at a distance at other schools. Despite the twists and turns that accompany them, there's always a certain consistency to the proceedings. Here's my experience on how these things play out:

-First off, as in real life, get yourself an attorney. Schools talk about cooperating with the NCAA but they are investigating YOU and they are acting in THEIR best interests. Thus, you should act in your best interests as well. It doesn't matter that it's not a criminal activity….if you are a professional and an organization or governmental entity investigates you for professional misconduct, it's in your best interests to seek an advocate. Texas A&M has reportedly retained the services of Birmingham, Alabama's Lightfoot, Franklin, and White who represented Auburn during the Cam Newton affair.

-Your attorneys are better than the NCAA's. Schools are going to have unlimited funds and manpower to throw at their defense and the NCAA is restricted on both counts.

-Cooperate with the NCAA and investigate the items yourself. It's always better if you discover than they do.

-Don't lie to the NCAA just as you wouldn't lie to any other entity that has professional jurisdiction over you. That's when it can go from professional to personal and any penalties tend to get ratcheted up. In addition, lying has a tendency to convert a situation with a high degree of innocence into one with a certainty of guilt once it's proven that you lied and lying is often easier to prove than the accusations of violations themselves. If you do something against the rules, you may be able to plead it out and significantly reduce any punishments because there may be fifty shades of gray surrounding the situation. However, untruths are regarded as being black and white. Former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant lied to NCAA investigators about meetings with Deion Sanders and that in and of itself was enough to get him suspended for his junior season. It not only affected his team on the field but probably cost him money in terms of his draft stock.

-Can the NCAA punish someone on circumstantial evidence alone even if they lacked an actual paper trail? Looking back at past investigations, that's highly unlikely. In every recent investigation in which someone has been placed on probation, the NCAA has direct evidence (written or electronic) that something occurred. Just because the NCAA isn't bound by due process doesn't mean that they can't ignore the law.

….Oregon….Willie Lyles rolled on Oregon in mid-2011, stating that the $25,000 that university paid his Complete Scouting Services in February 2010 was for "what (Oregon) saw as my access and influence with recruits". The NCAA had Lyles' bill and Oregon's records that the bill was paid.

….Miami….prior to the NCAA investigation imploding under improper or unethical techniques on the part of NCAA investigators, Miami booster Nevin Shapiro emails the NCAA saying that he had been providing improper benefits to athletes since 2001. Shapiro provided approximately 20,000 pages of documents to Yahoo!Sports in a Charles Robinson article dated August 16, 2011.

…Mississippi State….Bulldog booster Robert Herring conducted numerous violations in the recruitment of defensive back Will Redmond. Redmond's summer 7 on 7 coach Bryon De'Vinner provided documentation that supported his claims of violations including hotel bills.

-Ohio State…the Terrelle Pryor situation. Ohio State first learned of the issues when the U.S. Attorney's office in Columbus informed them of the discovery of memorabilia and equipment that Pryor and other players had sold to tattoo dealer Ed Rife. Rife was under investigation and later convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Former head coach Jim Tressel was nailed for playing these players even though his university email account indicated that he was aware of activities nearly a year before the university was informed of them.

Those are four recent examples and in every instance there was direct evidence…either a paper trail, physical items, or someone admitted to violations that was directly involved in those violations. For instance, De'Vinner originally claimed that there were violations involving Herring at Mississippi State but had to provide documentation of said violations.

Hearsay or secondhand knowledge of a violation just isn't enough.

-There always seems to be a "fall guy" or two so in that said person acted alone and without the knowledge of the university as a whole under investigation. That way, they can limit the damage via sanctions to the institution itself so that the blame and penalties affect the individual(s) moreso than the school itself. Sometimes, there have to be more fall guys as in the example on Ohio State (five players and the head coach). Most often, that's not the case….Tressel, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, and former Mississippi State assistant Angelo Mirando all have "show cause" bans.

But…Mississippi State and Oregon were able to limit the institutional damage to the loss of two scholarships and some miscellaneous spare change. Ohio State received a post season bowl ban (considered more serious) because Tressel was aware of the allegations in the spring of 2010 and allowed the players to play during the 2010 season.

-In that same vein, there's always collateral damage of some kind surrounding people involved in an investigation no matter what there intentions were. For example, Ohio attorney Jim Cicero emailed Jim Tressel about Pryor and other players receiving impermissible benefits and had his law license suspended for a year because he had apparently gotten the information from Ed Rife himself who was a potential client which violated client/attorney privilege.

-Using the Ohio State example which involves the sale of memorabilia (something similar to what Manziel is accused of), Pryor was set to serve a five game suspension in the 2011 season before everyone found out that Tressel knew about their activities. At that point in time, no sanctions were considered against the school itself. Pryor had reportedly profited more than any of the other players involved but each player received the same suspension. Pryor was also ordered by the NCAA to repay $2,500.

-Let's reference the evidence thing again. The NCAA sent Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs a letter dated October 11, 2011 which was about a year after the allegations about quarterback Cam Newton first came to light. The NCAA conducted over 50 interviews and had access to bank documents, IRS records, and various types of correspondence about Newton and concluded that a violation had occurred regarding Newton's father and the owner of a scouting service. They also concluded that Newton himself was unaware of the violation.

However, in the same letter, the NCAA referenced other possible violations regarding Auburn players Raven Gray, Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey, and Troy Reddick. Gray appeared on HBO's "Real Sports" and said that received impermissible benefits. However, Gray and his family and friends were interviewed and the claims could not be substantiated. McClover, Ramsey, and Reddick appeared on the same show, made similar allegations, but then refused to be interviewed by the NCAA. These claims were also not substantiated and so no violations were found to have occurred even though the players themselves made the accusations on television.

-Finally, I was asked about a timeline for closure one way or another and even that can vary greatly. It simply depends on how easily obtainable the evidence is. Ohio State's situation took just about six months, Auburn's took about a year, and Oregon's took about two years.

Texas A&M NEWS


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