March 6, 2011

Should NCAA be able to fire coaches for violations?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in college football.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Should the NCAA enact a rule whereby a head coach is fired if the program he or she oversees is found guilty of what the NCAA deems a major violation?

I don't know if the NCAA could force an institution to fire a coach, even if said institution is an NCAA member. But I would think a team that learned its coach was involved in a major violation probably would fire him, anyway. Of course, any time violations occur, the coach never knows anything about it, right? It's almost always some rogue assistant coach, an unscrupulous agent or opportunistic family members that are cheating, right? I would think the NCAA should set stiff penalties for what it considers a major violation. How about something like four years of scholarship reductions, four years without postseason appearances and during that time a team is not allowed to share in conference TV revenue. And those sanctions could only be lessened if the college's make "significant changes" in the athletic program (i.e., firing the coach). Also, during that four-year span, any other college that hired a head coach who was involved in a major violation would be subject to the same sanctions. That way, if a coach gets a program on probation, he won't get another job elsewhere and go virtually unpunished. And that would eliminate the "ignorance" excuse.

I think this is a good idea. A rule like this may be as big a deterrent as any in halting unethical practices in college sports. To take things a step further, a coach who is fired under such circumstances also must show "just cause" in order to get back into the profession. I think only extremely punitive measures like this will mute the wanton behavior that seems to permeate big-time college athletics. No rules or regulations in place now are keeping coaches in line. And as the stakes get higher and the salaries grow larger, the pressure to win - and break the rules - only will continue to increase. Now is the time for a restrictive rule like this.

Automatic termination? That's a bit excessive, isn't it? The NCAA is content to let schools and conferences handle their own business to a degree - things like hiring and firings, how to handle players and coaches who run afoul of the law and so on. Forcing a school to fire a coach based on violations would be a drastic measure, though the "show cause" rule serves a similar purpose (though only for coaches seeking employment). I'll be the first to say too many coaches plead ignorance when rules are broken. At least in some cases, being oblivious is a legitimate excuse. Coaches can't monitor families, they can't control rogue boosters or agents, and so on. A coach shouldn't be fired because boosters or agents or runners or even players' families blatantly disregard the rules. That's especially the case if the coach can reasonably say he had no clue rules were being broken. When the case against a coach is pretty clear, he's usually fired anyway. An NCAA rule requiring coaches to be fired would be too drastic a step to achieve an end result that may happen regardless.

If the NCAA and college administrators want to pay more than lip service to cleaning up college athletics, they first need to modify the rulebook and come up with what legitimately constitutes a "major" violation. The NCAA then needs to spend some of its TV billions to increase the size of its enforcement staff. It then needs to set parameters for compliance offices at each member school. Finally, the NCAA then needs to write a rule whereby a coach is fired when his/her program is found guilty of a major violation. With the pink slip would come a "show cause" clause; thus, if (or, in a lot of cases, when) another school wants to hire that coach, an NCAA panel would have to sign off on it. Let's see how many coaches would try the "ignorance defense" (i.e., "I didn't know that was going on") under that scenario.

While I agree that coaches should get some sort of penalty when their programs run afoul of NCAA regulations, this proposal would take it a bit too far. I'd rather have the NCAA take such matters on a case-by-case basis and try to figure out how culpable a coach was in each situation rather than automatically firing any coach who oversees a program that commits a violation. I like what the NCAA already has with the show-cause penalty. When a coach clearly played a major role in a school's NCAA violations, he receives a show-cause penalty that prevents a school from hiring him for a certain length of time without permission from the NCAA infractions committee. That show-cause penalty kept Kelvin Sampson and Dave Bliss out of coaching and seriously derailed Todd Bozeman's career before he eventually got back to the NCAA tournament with Morgan State. But that penalty isn't automatically given to any coach whose school has committed major violations. I think the NCAA needs a little bit of leeway in these situations.

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