NCAA should make cheaters truly pay

It’s time for the NCAA to go after cheaters like the Drug Enforcement Agency does drug dealers.

Because if college sports’ governing body is truly committed to cracking down on the sordid epidemic of illicit payments to players, unscrupulous coaches and the lies to cover it all up, it’s going to have to take away what matters most to athletic departments: the money.

Continue with reducing scholarships and postseason bans, but change the rules to allow the NCAA Committee on Infractions to also penalize schools the next fiscal year by seizing the money they receive from their conferences, just like the DEA takes illegal proceeds from drug dealers.

That’s millions of dollars for BCS conference schools. Let the seriousness of the violations determine how much money is seized.

If it’s a situation like LSU recently receiving a year of probation for major violations in the recruitment of a former player, take half of the reported $18 million average that each Southeastern Conference school receives annually from the conference.

In the case of the Ohio State saga, take all $22.6 million from the Buckeyes that each Big Ten school reportedly receives annually.

And if the allegations of payments, prostitutes and an abortion for a girlfriend financed for University of Miami players by convicted Ponzi scheme architect and booster Nevin Shapiro are true, seize the reported $13 million the Hurricanes receive from the Atlantic Coast Conference for years.

To show how serious the NCAA is about pursuing cheaters, it should display the seized millions in stacks of cash at a news conference, where President Mark Emmert can discuss the specifics of the infractions case and reiterate his organization’s aggressive stance, just like the DEA does after making large drug busts.

Extreme, yes, but desperate times like these demand drastic measures. Other than the unlikeliness of bringing back the death penalty, it’s perhaps the only way to get the attention of clueless university administrators — those like Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, who infamously told reporters that he hoped Jim Tressel wouldn’t fire him after the former Buckeyes coach was busted in March for lying about his knowledge of illegal benefits his players received.

College athletics are all fun and games; that is, until the money stops flowing or a university has to subsidize them even more than the majority are already doing.

But even losing millions of dollars might not be enough. That’d just be the cost of doing business at Auburn, Miami and USC to win a national championship.

So the ante must be raised even higher than the stakes. That means taking the money the NCAA seizes from a school and distributing it equally among its fellow conference members.

That gives financial incentive for schools to police each other. It makes it like a Crime Stoppers for college sports in which coaches and administrators could contact the NCAA with tips on violations that could eventually pay off for them with a monetary reward.

Schools in the SEC already turn each other in like DEA informants, but just imagine if the rest of the conferences did. The potential combination of financial loss and monetary benefit to your competition would give coaches and administrators millions of reasons to make sure they were following NCAA rules.

And if I were a president or athletic director at a university that received seized money, I would at least use some of it to give bonuses to coaches who followed the rules and perhaps more to those who might have been involved in turning in the punished school.

Again, it all sounds outrageous, but several of college football’s top coaches have privately expressed interest in the concept. They would say it publicly, but worry about upsetting the hierarchy of college athletics.

“That’s really the only way to do it,” says one coach, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

Just don’t count on the NCAA seizing anyone’s money anytime soon. It, too, worships at the altar of the almighty dollar, so much so that its nonprofit status should have been stripped years ago.

That’s too bad because there’s a war to be waged on cheaters. One that actually makes them pay.