UC gives itself soft slap on wrist

Wednesday, July 1, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bob Goin has looked at clouds from both sides now. He's seen the rain, but also the puffy white purity. The University of Cincinnati's athletic director has peered "through different eyes," and decided the Bearcat basketball program is not nearly so guilty as he once supposed.

Upon further review of the allegations to be considered by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, Goin sees a whole lot of sloppiness, but not much real sin. He disputes the most serious charge -- a failure to exercise appropriate institutional control -- and has proposed penalties befitting petty violations.

He is taking a calculated risk, and it could be a clever one. He is gambling the Committee on Infractions can be convinced UC has been negligent, but not really nefarious. He has proposed penalties so soft they should come wrapped in terry cloth.

Goin's voluntary sanctions would not seriously undermine Bob Huggins' recruiting, would not keep the Bearcats from postseason play, but might be enough to satisfy the NCAA's contrition quota. "The committee always takes into consideration any penalty the school proposes," said Rebecca Wempe, director of the NCAA Infractions Committee. "It kind of shows a good-faith effort."

Playing his role

By acknowledging some violations and contesting others, then imposing punishments that purportedly "fit the crime," Goin can tell the NCAA he has studied the problems he inherited and sought to fix them. His proposed cure is like the opening bid in a plea bargaining process, and not necessarily the limit of what he deems appropriate. The job of any athletic director is to be an advocate for an institution and to perform diligent damage control. To expect him to dispense justice blindly, ignoring his vested and conflicting interests, is to expect a politician to vote his conscience instead of his constituency. It is asking a lot.

Bob Goin revealed his true colors to be red and black last November when he said restitution was the appropriate remedy after UC forward Ruben Patterson was found to have received extra benefits valued at $1,434. The Infractions Committee agreed about the restitution, but also imposed a 14-game suspension.

This is usually the way it works. Schools endeavor to provide the most positive possible spin, knowing self-imposed penalties may only be a starting point.

Yet recent case history suggests those schools that demonstrate a reasonable interest in reform are rarely subjected to severe additional penalties. The self-imposed sanctions proposed last year by the University of Arkansas were so extensive that the committee added only a requirement that the school continue to develop its monitoring and education programs concerning NCAA legislation. The UC case could be a little trickier because the Bearcats appear to be going for broke. The gulf between Goin's perception and that of the NCAA's enforcement staff is great, and the punishments he proposes are primarily symbolic.

Could be a lot worse

Reducing expense-paid recruiting visits from 12 to 9, as Goin proposes, does not limit the scholarships Huggins has available. Nor does a one-year embargo against recruiting junior college players prevent UC from fielding a full team. (It's discriminatory, but that's another matter.)

Requiring Huggins to spend more time on campus presumes that his presence will ensure greater compliance. Prohibiting incoming players from residing in Cincinnati before their enrollment presumes rights no university can claim. Preventing coaches from arranging summer employment for incoming athletes presumes the players can not find soft jobs for themselves.

Basically, there's no bite behind Goin's penalties. Maybe, that's the smart play at this point.

"The NCAA policy is damage control, it's not catching the bad guys," said Murray Sperber, the Indiana University professor who wrote College Sports, Inc. "It's an elaborate dance. You go along with them, and you get a slap on the wrist. You go Cincinnati's way, maybe you get two slaps on the wrist."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.