Smoke, but no fire, NCAA says

The smoke was heavy, the mirrors numerous and transparency was nowhere to be found.

The NCAA on Wednesday announced sanctions resulting from a two-year investigation of the Tennessee football and basketball programs. Former men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and three former assistants were hit with penalties for recruiting violations.

But the Tennessee football program, under former coach Lane Kiffin, escaped major penalties. This despite having been accused by the NCAA’s Enforcement Division of failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and failure to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant coaches and an athletics administrator who reported directly or indirectly to Kiffin.

The NCAA’s Committee of Infractions concluded that "evidence was insufficient to support findings of major violations."

It was as if the NCAA wanted us to believe it never had any problem with Kiffin, who is now the USC coach. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Really?

Just how exactly does the authority in Div. i football ignore its own allegations and have no explanation for its rationale? How can an entity charge a coach with serious allegations, then conclude that its evidence was insufficient? Why were there charges in the first place?

"The charges that were made against Coach Kiffin [were made] by the Enforcement staff and that’s not the committee’s jurisdiction or authority, " Committee of Infractions vice-chair Britton Banowsky said.

Translation: we have no explanation for why they made those allegations, nor do we care to explain why, but underside of bus, meet our Enforcement staff.

"What we do is we find a fact, and ultimately we determine whether violations occurred," Banowsky continued. ". . . relative to the insufficient evidence, I can tell you the committee deliberated hard on that topic, and ultimately determined that based on the record we had before us, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support that finding."

In other words, one arm of the NCAA found evidence strong enough to make serious allegations against a head coach last February, while another arm of the NCAA looked at the evidence and said, "My bad" in August.

"The issue really was whether there was sufficient evidence in front of us, at the time, to find a failure to monitor and a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance, and a majority of the committee at the end of the day determined there was not sufficient evidence to do that," Banowsky said.

Majority? There were some who didn’t agree? Why not a consensus? And why the apparent disagreement?

Perhaps a quick look at the timeline of events will explain the Committee on Infraction’s thought process.

June 2010: USC is handed severe sanctions from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in which Chair Paul Dee chided USC as an institution that "should have known" and had a "heightened duty to monitor elite student-athletes."

September 2010: Tennessee receives a Notice of inquiry from the NCAA.

February 2011: Tennessee receives a Notice of Allegations against both its men’s basketball and football programs that includes charges against Kiffin of failure to monitor and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance against Kiffin.

Aug. 19, 2011: Yahoo!Sports breaks an investigative story in which alleged impermissible benefits had been extended to at least 72 student athletes at the University of Miami by booster Nevin Shapiro, all on Athletic Director Paul Dee’s watch.

Aug. 19-current: Public outcry begins over the apparent hypocrisy displayed by Dee while he chaired the committee that hammered USC.

Aug. 24: The committee doesn’t mention the football program or Kiffin’s name in announcing the sanctions against the University of Tennessee.

Something stinks, and it’s coming from Indianapolis, home of the NCAA.

Portrayed as the bad guy ever since he left Knoxville for USC, Kiffin has been castigated by fans and media alike for his hasty exit from Tennessee after engaging in perceived shady recruiting tactics. Former USC head coach Pete Carroll felt similar stinging comments when he left USC before NCAA sanctions were slapped on the school.

Both coaches were labeled cowards and cheaters.

But ever since the Miami scandal surfaced, USC has almost become a sympathetic figure. How many more supporters would USC have gained if the NCAA had treated Kiffin the way it did Pearl, who was prohibited from recruiting for the next three years?

How bad would the NCAA’s committee look in punishing USC’s Kiffin when right now, it looks like the NCAA’s committee may have had some questionable leadership under Dee when USC’s case was finalized.

The NCAA had a PR mess on its hands. It still does. But the raging boil a week ago has today been temporarily reduced to a simmer because Kiffin walked.

He walked because the NCAA had two choices—one was to hammer Kiffin and ostensibly make USC a martyr to even its most ardent haters, the other let Kiffin walk, forget it ever happened and offer no explanation if anyone asks.

Perhaps Pete Carroll was right — maybe the NCAA does have "an agenda."

This time, it’s all about saving face.