By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) And like that – poof – plausible deniability disappeared.
What had been a guiding principle of oily NCAA coaches for decades was stricken from the cheaters’ playbook. There will be meetings in the coming days – serious, sober meetings – in football and basketball offices, at which stern speeches will be delivered by newly-vulnerable emperors.
The NCAA board of directors today approved broad, new regulations that crack down on rogue programs and increase the burden on the top dogs. Amid the revamped guidelines are two significant changes.
First, an aggravated case of what is now termed “serious breach of conduct” could have a school paying back any revenue generated from the program during the time it was running afoul of the rules. Essentially, this is an after-the-fact codification of the Penn State penalties that were levied, quite justifiably, in clear ready-fire-aim fashion. Something utterly unprecedented is now actually being used as precedent for policy, and this punch to the pocketbook is designed to get the attention of those above athletics. Be careful who you hire.
More significant, though, may be a subtle shift in the burden of proof for coaches trying to pin misdeeds on underlings. To avoid up to a year’s suspension for a violation committed by an assistant, a head coach now is required to prove that he was unaware – a practical impossibility in a modern, control-freak culture that insists the man in charge know everything, all the time.
It had been a much-utilized loophole for the wink/wink schemes that connect staff to the booster-benefit pipeline. Build in some buffers, pin it on the guy who gets popped and move along, nothing to see here…I had no idea. That just became tough to do.
Note: if you are already rolling your eyes at any of this because who cares, the whole major-college-sports industrial complex is hopelessly, endemically corrupt, the NCAA itself is just as phony as the venal coaches, it’s all a calculated, cynical exploitation of essential slave labor to keep feeding the television networks’ insatiable programming desires, a misshapen, cancerous, minor-league developmental mechanism hiding behind the student-athlete fallacy, et cetera…chill out. I probably agree with you on all of it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t give a polite golf-clap to something that seems like a step in a positive direction, at the very least.
There will be real attention paid to this. By trustees increasingly concerned and critical about every last line-item on the budget, more risk-averse than ever when it comes to the enticing reward potential of on-the-edge athletic programs, and by coaches who now will get even less sleep when they imagine every assistant spread across the country on scouting missions and recruiting trips.
That guy in the big office at the end of the long hallway gets plenty of extras with the job title. He has the big house on the hill, access to the private plane, and the occasional dinner with the wife at the governor’s mansion. He has that guy on Main Street in town tailoring his suits for free, tuition waived for his kids, and more than one country-club membership. He can cut any on-the-side endorsement deals he wants, bully the skittish local media, demand a fee for a tossed-off speech at the Kiwanis Club, and walk away from his contract for the next job that catches his wandering eye.
It’s right that all that can come with some increased responsibility.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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