The NCAA recently imposed sanctions on the University of Miami (“Miami”)  for numerous violations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) rules over approximately a ten year period.   Miami largely agreed with the investigation’s findings that Miami athletic personnel and a former Miami booster and investor in a sports agency provided improper financial incentives to student athletes, prospective student athletes, their families and friends, coaches and university personnel, and that university personnel improperly telephoned and texted prospective student athletes in violation of NCAA rules.  The investigation ultimately concluded that Miami lacked institutional control over its athletics program in that it failed to appropriately monitor and control its athletics programs, particularly in connection with the football and men’s basketball teams, though there were violations in connection with nearly all of Miami’s athletic programs.

The NCAA’s finding of lack of institutional control  alone is considered sufficient under certain circumstances for the NCAA to impose a complete prohibition on the university playing certain sports — “the death penalty.”   Remember SMU’s football program and its slush fund?    The NCAA, however, imposed a much lighter sentence on Miami.  Specifically, the NCAA deprived Miami of nine  football scholarships and one basketball scholarship for three years,  placed Miami on probation for three years, placed restrictions on unofficial visits by prospective athletes, imposed a five game suspension on the former men’s basketball coach and two year show cause for two former assistant football coaches and one assistant men’s basketball coach.   Miami had previously self-imposed a two year bowl ban.   Thus, the NCAA largely accepted Miami’s proposed level of discipline despite the serious and on-going nature of Miami’s violations.

Although Miami failed to enforce its institutional controls over its athletic programs and clearly failed to establish a culture of respect for NCAA rules, Miami did self-report once it became aware of violations, reported possible violations it became aware of but could not confirm, cooperated with the NCAA’s investigation, and imposed fairly harsh penalties on itself for violating these rules.    This may seem unfair to the likes of SMU which received the death penalty and USC whose recommended discipline was largely disregarded by the NCAA.

It may also strike some as encouraging other programs to ignore NCAA rules given that much harsher discipline could have been imposed; however, imposing less severe sanctions and largely adopting universities’ self-imposed discipline may, in the long run, benefit the NCAA by encouraging universities to self-report and impose discipline so as to immediately discourage future misconduct.   It may also level the playing field to some degree in that the NCAA will need to devote less time and attention to investigating programs that self report and impose their own discipline.  This will  enable the NCAA to spend more time investigating and disciplining those programs that  intentionally flout NCAA rules and attempting to avoid discovery.

Will it work?  Only time will tell.