On Thursday, the NCAA upheld the standard enforcement for Middle Tennessee star quarterback, Dwight Dasher’s, impermissible loan that the NCAA deemed as preferential treatment. In Dasher’s case, loans totaling $1,500 equated to being withheld from competition for four games.
The decision comes on the heels of Alabama’s Marcell Dareus having his suspension reduced by the NCAA from four to two games. Much like Middle Tennessee did with Dasher, the University of Alabama declared Dareus ineligible before the season began and like Dasher preferential treatment was identified as reason for the original suspension. However, Dareus was also suspended for an additional factor, as cited by the NCAA, for violation of agent benefit rules. Dareus received nearly $1,800 in extra benefits from a sports agent who financed transportation, lodging and meals for two trips to Miami. Dareus is one of several players from multiple programs implicated in a larger sports agent related investigation.
The NCAA reduced Dareus’ suspension from four to two games for what it called mitigating circumstances, and mitigating circumstances are why Middle Tennessee officials believed Dasher’s penalty would also be reduced.
During a Thursday night press conference, Middle Tennessee’s athletic director, Chris Massaro, said he felt like the University had done everything it possibly could to address mitigating factors the NCAA staff looks at when making a judgment on a student-athletes eligibly.
“We self reported; we’ve been thorough,” said Massaro. “And it was a loan. I feel good about what we’ve done as a University. We’ve been as transparent as we can. We think these are some of the mitigating circumstances.”
Massaro seemed to be indirectly referencing the Darius case when he later stated that he was not anticipating a four game suspension due to “other things that happened this summer.”
However, the NCAA will not release details about what the mitigating factors are due to sensitive or personal information collected in the course of an investigation. In a statement provided to BlueRaiderzone.com, Stacey Osburn, Associate Director for Public and Media Relations at the NCAA, said,
“When the public or media attempt to compare two cases, you are doing so with an incomplete snapshot of the information. Also, no two cases are ever going to be identical and that is why each case must be considered on its own merits.”
Although the NCAA’s position makes it clear that each case is different and the subsequent penalties are subject to be different, the appearance or perception of inconsistencies in how the NCAA levies penalties is underlying problem that has plagued the organization for years.
There’s no way to know what the mitigating factors are that led to Dareus receiving two games and Dasher getting four, and that was apparent in Massaro’s frustration on Thursday evening. According to the University, it took every conceivable measure to ensure the mitigating factors were addressed to reduce Dasher's suspension including the one the NCAA deems most important, which is telling the truth from the beginning.
Perhaps frustrating the situation even more is agent related involvement is generally seen as the greater of two evils compared to taking an improper loan. As an objective observer I understand the rock and hard place the NCAA is between, but on a personal level I’m not sure if there is a mitigating factor anywhere in the world that could make me as an individual understand how Dasher’s mistake is twice as bad as the situation involving Dareus.
This isn’t to try to point out a conspiracy theory or to say that the NCAA is playing favorites. In fact, the NCAA has to make extremely difficult decisions and they are often under a microscope for those decisions and how quickly they make them. And it’s precisely those reasons why the NCAA needs to standardize the penalty and enforcement process. As the rule book grows each year standardization of enforcing it becomes all that more important.
There’s no question that under the NCAA’s by-laws that Dasher placed his amateur status in jeopardy, and he should be disciplined accordingly; however, the NCAA does themselves no favors when it comes to establishing rules and the subsequent penalties for breaking them.
Reasonable people can appreciate and understand that mitigating circumstances will mean one student-athlete gets a lesser suspension than another for somewhat similar acts, but the inconsistencies in how the NCAA hands out penalties and the veiled nature of their enforcement process often leaves people with nothing more than the one thing the NCAA doesn’t want and that’s the media, public and likely its members comparing cases. It’s a public relations nightmare the NCAA needs to rethink in its enforcement process. Otherwise, the very people whose livelihoods depend on these decisions are negatively affected, and the NCAA’s job should be to serve its membership not make it more complicated.
At some point, the NCAA is going to have to make rules and punishment of their broken by-laws more standard. Compliance staff costs are sky-rocketing at colleges and universities across the nation, because of the NCAA’s ever expanding bible of codes, but it’s the enforcement and penalty phase that needs to be made more transparent. Perhaps the NCAA should affix the exact same penalty for like grievances, publish these so everyone knows the rules AND consequences and allow an appeals process to make the determination on whether a reduction should be granted?
The greatest irony is the NCAA demands complete and total transparency when it comes to dealings with its membership but fails to be transparent in its enforcement efforts.