Is cheating structural?

One question I have about the scandals which have engulfed Southern Cal and Ohio State:  why, damn it?  After all, it’s not as if either school cheated because it had to scratch its way out of the muck to compete.  Both are among the cream of the college football crop.  (Just ask anyone from Montana.)

Elkon hypothesizes.

… Ohio State and USC are similar programs in that they sit in the best recruiting areas in their respective conferences.  There are more players from Ohio on Big Ten rosters than there are from other states.  Ditto for players from Southern California on Pac Ten rosters.  USC and Ohio State dominated the Pac Ten and the Big Ten in the Aughts by controlling local talent.  (If I had a nickel for every reference to Jim Tressel’s proverbial wall around Ohio.)  With fans following recruiting to an increased degree on Rivals and the like, keeping top talent at home became more of a priority for these programs.  Nothing will anger Ohio State fans more than Ohio players going to Michigan and coming back to haunt the Buckeyes.  (Ask an Ohio State fan about what state produced Michigan’s two Heisman winners in the 90s.)  Thus, both USC and Ohio State had an incentive to look the other way on rule-breaking in order to create an environment that would be attractive for recruits.  Because instate recruits are more likely to visit campus frequently and their coaches will be plugged into what’s going on at the major school in the area, a reputation that players get extra benefits will be especially valuable in keeping local talent.

It’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure I buy it, at least in totality.  Elkon gives the SEC a pass on this because he perceives the talent to be more diffused geographically than is the case in the Big Ten, but from where I sit, Florida and Georgia (perhaps LSU, as well) should be eligible candidates for his theory, along with Texas, which he mentions and credits for avoiding trouble.

The Gators in particular during the middle part of the decade dominated in-state recruiting due in large part to the collapse of rival programs at FSU and Miami (insert Tommy Perkins’ useful analogy), but Florida the state remained a huge recruiting pipeline for a number of programs both in and out of the SEC, including Tressel’s, for that matter.  I’d argue there’s a strong similarity there with the conditions Elkon attributes to Ohio, maybe stronger in the sense that there’s an even bigger pool of schools which poach in UF’s waters.  Yet the Zooker, for all his obvious flaws, never ran seriously afoul of the NCAA.

I don’t dismiss Michael’s premise in its entirety, though.  I can see how that might explain the conditions on the ground that lead a coach to cheat and a program to look the other way.  I would simply add that it takes the right mix of people to allow those conditions to ripen into opportunities to commit serious violations.


UPDATE:  USA Today posits another structural hypothesis:  maybe some programs are just too big to fail care.


Filed under College Football, The NCAA

12 responses to “Is cheating structural?

  1. NCT

    Yes and no. First, it’s the kind of (alleged) cheating involved: impermissible benefits to players from third parties that the programs disregarded (actual disregard or (for lack of a better term) constructive disregard through reckless/negligent lack of attentiveness). Neither Ohio State nor USC need a system of benefits to attract stars (cf. Auburn, which does or thinks it does – same results, either way). However, the culture of being the cream of the crop leaves a program vulnerable to a dangerous sense of entitlement among its players and boosters — more so than at other big-time programs. It’s not a direct cause-effect: it’s a matter of favorable conditions being in place.

    This view compares well to those UF basketball players’ recorded conversation in the back of a police car a few months ago, where an expectation of entitlement to a third-party benefit (skating from criminal charges) was in place.

    The universities’ and coaches’ complicities in the scandals at USC and Ohio State? It could be that the sense of entitlement corrupted them, as well. Or it could be more in line with Elkin – the programs (or representatives thereof) feel they must tolerate the third-party corruption to maintain the programs’ attractiveness. I do think the latter view is a big part of why Auburn has kept itself in hot water so much – they feel they have to add incentives to create a more level playing field with their competition. Many AU fans have said as much.


  2. Mike

    Florida learned its NCAA cheating lessons in the 80s. If cheating is “structural”, then at best the coaching staff and athletic administration have to turn a willful blind eye to cheating. At worst one or both actively participate in cheating.

    Foley, and by extension the coaches he hires, simply will not tolerate NCAA cheating. That is not t say Florida players have not run afoul of NCAA rules in the last 20 years or so, (see Tank Black), but Florida coaches and administrators have been pretty damn pro-active when things like that come to light. Much like UGA did with AJ Green.

    From that perspective, cheating really is structural, in the sense that there is either willful ignorance of it or willful intolerance at the highest levels.


    • Reggie Ball

      This is the most cogent post you have ever written. Congratulations, sir.


    • Wonderful Ohio on the Gulf 'Dog

      E. Gordon Gee’s tolerance of Tressel remaining employed by tOSU after Tressel had been caught red-handed lying to the NCAA demonstrates that institution’s tolerance for cheating. If not that, then the level of tOSU’s institutional control over its athletics program.

      Either way, the NCAA must slap tOSU hard or risk being a national joke.


    • Dude

      Good point. Look at the programs in current NCAA Double Jeopardy: UNC. OSU. UT. These guys have never really been in the cross-hairs before. I would think programs that have been in that position already probably have more institutional backbone on matters like this.


  3. Dude

    Why stop with sports comparisons? USC and Ohio State remind me a great deal of Enron.

    The corruption grew at the same time the program/company was experiencing enormous success. That culture of “winning” generated real benefits across the board for everyone, psychological and material. It takes enormously strong leadership to disrupt a culture in the midst of a winning streak, even when those disruptions uproot the very dynamics which, in retrospect, represent the greatest danger to the organization’s success.

    And, like Enron, within that bubble of success, it became very easy to ignore the warning signs and craft a context to minimize the things which could not be ignored. That’s exactly how a program like OSU or USC gets this far down this road, IMO. Success encouraged rationalization, which then became a cultural habit.


  4. Dog in Fla

    “UPDATE: USA Today posits another structural hypothesis: maybe some programs are just too big to fail/care” is a winning! article about why there are only Goldman Sachs, and no Lehman Brothers, in the business of CFB featuring USC, OSU, UM, UA and some of the CEO’s on how those big corporations somehow manage to make it through the NCAA show-trial penalty phase of the game.


  5. 69Dawg

    I think Maurice hit the nail on the head with his analysis. There are certain football towns where a “Star” gets everything for free and the cops look the other way. The AD for these lucky schools doesn’t have to spend 50% of his off season policing his program because nothing is ever told to the coach or the AD. Like Maurice says the players know by word of mouth who can be turned to for “help” and they go to the source. Pat Dye’s error was acting as a facilitator for some of his guys. He lost his plausible deniability when he got recorded. If the ex OSU player had just minded his own business Jim T would have been as safe as in his mother’s arms.


  6. Dog in Fla

    If people everywhere would have paid attention to her, there would be no cheating anywhere


  7. Cojones

    Structural? No. Instructional? Yes!