The Inherent Unfairness of Sanctions

Chip Kelly leading the Philadelphia Eagles


You either love them or hate them.  We love them when the teams we hate get leveled by them, and hate them when teams we love get the same treatment. Ironic, isn’t it?

But there is something inherently unfair about the way sanctions are carried out, no matter what team we are rooting for.  I began thinking of this a few years ago when USC was still in the midst of a bowl ban and thought of it some more last year while watching Matt Barkley and the Trojans in their downward spiral.

Matt Barkley stayed at USC despite the scholarship sanctions.

Bobak Ha'Eri

Matt Barkley stayed at USC despite the scholarship sanctions.

Now, a lot of why they were losing had to do with poor coaching and a seemingly lackluster attitude about playing a full four quarters, but there was also no doubt in my mind that the lack of scholarship players was also taking its toll, especially in the latter portion of the year when injuries and fatigue were wearing players down.

Last year while watching Barkley play (yes, I am admitting I felt bad for a Trojan), I was struck by the unfairness of the punishments the NCAA seems fond of dishing out.   Just like Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, Barkley was and is a class act, a good guy, an honest guy, someone who really didn’t deserve to be punished by the bad behavior of someone else, but it was Barkley, not Reggie Bush or Pete Carroll, who was paying the price for their mistakes.

Think Chip Kelly is going to lose sleep over the now minor sanctions leveled against Oregon?  Think again.  I can’t imagine the ol’ Chipper is going to do more than shrug his shoulders and move on with his life.  While Willie Lyles’ reputation has certainly been torn apart, there is nothing of direct consequence that is going to happen to him, and he certainly won’t be losing any sleep either.  So, just like USC and Matt Barkley, the brunt of the punishments will fall on honorable young men who have done nothing to deserve it.

Coaches should not be able to skip town, sign a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract and engage in hand-wringing while the university, and more importantly, the players, pay the real price. Coaches should pay a heavy financial fine, even if they have left the university. The NFL should enter into an agreement with the NCAA so that if said coach does leave, their salary will be docked. Even better, by creating regulations that prevent guilty parties from gaining employment from the NFL, they can force coaches like Kelly and Carroll from shirking responsibility.

Think about where Barkley’s draft stock was before last year’s disastrous season.  He was speculated to have been possibly the top draft pick overall if he had foregone his senior season at USC.  Yes, I know it was not just the lack of scholarships that caused USC’s swoon last year, but there is also little doubt that they did have a substantial effect on their overall play. Barkley ended up being drafted (ironically) by Kelly and the Eagles in the fourth round. From possible No. 1 draft pick to No. 98. That is a fall of epic proportions, and a good deal of that is due to sanctions that he had nothing to do with.

Like Chip Kelly, Pete Carroll bolted to the NFL before punishment was handed out.

Like Chip Kelly, Pete Carroll bolted to the NFL before punishment was handed out.

The point is this, if we are going to create punishments that really are fair to players and effectively punish the wrongdoers in question, let’s do it in a manner that puts the hammer down where it really counts: in the pocketbook. Fine the coaches a huge amount of money, and make that fine inescapable.  Forget bowl bans and scholarship reductions.  Keep the show-cause penalties, but beyond that, find a way to work a deal with the NFL that keeps coaches from bailing, scott free, from the schools they just screwed over.  Yeah, I am talking to you Chip Kelly, and you Pete Carroll.  It’s past time that there were consequences for coaches who don’t want to pay the piper.

I know that none of these changes are likely to happen anytime soon.  Too many traditions, too many entrenched attitudes, too many fingers in the pie to upset the apple cart.  This is just one sport fan’s wish for a more equitable solution to an inherently unfair way to resolve wrong-doing.

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Don Gilman

Don Gilman

Don Gilman is a second-year communications major at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. In addition to writing for, he has been published in the Roseburg News-Review Newspaper, the UCC Mainstream Newspaper, Bucketlist Publications and is the featured author in the June, 2013 edition of eHorror magazine (under a pseudonym.) In 2013 Don received two awards from the Oregon Newspaper Association's annual statewide college competition: Third place for Best Feature Story and second place for Best Spot Photography.

  • jh

    I couldn’t agree more, this should be in basketball as well. The schools can’t go free though. Also remember that many recruits knew USC would get hammered and they still took a scholarship.

  • hoboduck

    This was a well written piece and I thank you for the effort. However, (you somehow knew that was coming didn’t you?) I could not disagree more on some points of your article.

    You said, “but there was also no doubt in my mind that the lack of scholarship players was also taking its toll” etc., regarding team performance of U$C. This statement is so worn out by the pundits it has almost become a cliché. The numbers just do not support the assumption.

    The years 2009 through 2012, U$C had 82 scholarship players sign with the team and of those 82 players, 40 were 4 star athletes and 8
    or 9 were rated as 5 star. That is NOT a drop off when you compare the numbers to other schools. We should have such problems.

    Oregon, as exampled here, had 94 players join the team on scholarship and of those, 16 were rated 4 star and 3 were graced with the coveted 5 star designation. Doing the math, twelve players over 4 years equates to 3 per year. If the U$C coaching staff could not find a back-up player in a sea of stars, they just were not looking very hard.

    On your point regarding the NCAA and their handling of infractions;
    I do understand your concern for players that may or may not have
    been members of a team when an alleged infraction occurred.

    However, (again) it is not the decision as much as it is the NCAA moving at a glacial pace which always seems to thrill the fans. If you cannot investigate and come to a decision within reasonable period,
    such as 12 months, then it probably is not worth looking into. Furthermore, the decisions made by the NCAA are determined institutionally rather than individually. It is up to the school to maintain, scrutinize and be involved in overseeing the compliance of athletic department actions and this U$C failed to do. It is akin to parents being involved with their children.

    Finally, the differences between what occurred at U$C and the gray area that Oregon operated, are like night and day. The sanctions we received
    are reflective of the law firm we held on retainer and the ambiguity of rule
    interpretation. No more and no less. IMHO.

    Anyway, if you want a real challenge, research and write a piece on the NCAA rules. There’s no earthly reason the rule book should be so complicated, jam packed with unenforceable and ambiguous legalese. I started to follow the ATQ rules quiz and became so uninspired and confused I quit bring up the quiz.

    Go Ducks WTD

  • Interesting piece Don.
    I do think the individual schools themselves create and nurture the hyper-competitive environment that can result in cheating. To limit the punishment to the head coach or coaches is like prosecuting a hit man without prosecuting the contractor. It gives you a scapegoat, but does little to affect any cultural problems with the university, students, and alumni.