I spent some time yesterday chatting with some UGA fans on various sites about Marcell Dareus and A.J. Green. Like many college football fans who have had something taken from them that they felt entitled to, they were bewildered and extremely critical of the NCAA's decision and many of them were outspoken about how they just couldn't figure out how Dareus only got two games while Green got four. I thought I'd provide a helpful summary of the key differences between the two.
First, some assumptions. I am going to assume, for the sake of argument, that absent evidence to the contrary, in every situation Dareus and Green are upstanding and ideal student athletes. I am going to assume that Green had no idea that the guy he sold his jersey to was an agent. I'm going to assume that Dareus didn't know money was flowing from agents through Austin.
Basically I'm going to give both of them as big a benefit of the doubt as the facts will allow.
Also, recognize that both of them, by rule, started at four game suspensions before the NCAA considered mitigating factors. So the question isn't "should it be four games", as that part is decided by rule, the question is "is there any reason to reduce it from four games?"
Now, for the facts.
Dollar Value and Repayment
The NCAA determined that the dollar value attached to Dareus's infraction was $1,700 and some change. Green sold his jersey somewhere in the immediate vicinity of $1,000. This might seem like it weighs in favor of Green, and to some small degree it does, but once the dollar amount gets over $500, it's all "big" to the NCAA. An absurdly large benefit might lead to increased sanctions (or, in the case of agent interactions, the complete loss of eligibility), but the difference between $1,000 and $1,700 is probably negligible in terms of penalty. They both fall into the > $500 category.
I've seen a number of folks cite Green's repayment as a mitigating factor. The simple fact is that both athletes repaid their benefits, but it's important to note that they were required to make that repayment inorder to gain eligibility back, that wasn't something either of them did to "do the right thing", it was required by the NCAA.
Intent and Knowedge
We've already stipulated that Green didn't know the buyer was an agent. However, he knew (or should have known) that the sale was impermissible without regard for the status of the buyer as an agent or booster. For us to assume that he was never told that this sort of thing is not allowed would be assume that UGA's compliance staff failed to inform one of the biggest stars on the roster about a rule that was enacted after (and likely because of) the 2002 situation where UGA players were selling their SEC Championship Game rings. Not telling your team about that, itself, would probably set off all sorts of alarm bells in Indianapolis, and would seem to me, as an outsider, as complete inexcusable, so I'm skeptical that Green wasn't filled in. More likely is the fact that this has been harped on every year, and probably reiterated before and after the bowl game if UGA Compliance is even marginally paranoid. No, Green didn't know he was selling to an agent, but he should have known that selling the jersey was against the rules, regardless.
From Dareus's perspective, he was getting a trip to a party in Miami from a long time friend of his to cheer him up because of his mother's long-term illness. That, alone, could be permissible under NCAA rules (depending on the context and circumstance). The problem was that the source of the money was an Agent. There's no reason to believe that Dareus knew that. As I also pointed out elsewhere, the circumstances probably also made Austin's sudden generosity much less unusual, and reduced the amount of skepticism he'd have had. Hindsight being what it is, maybe he should've been more skeptical and asked more questions, but it appears he was as much a victim of Austin's wrong doing as he was a rule violator here.
Honesty and Cooperation
This is always mentioned when the NCAA issues a sanction, especially one with reduced penalties, but I really do question how much it matters in terms of penalty reduction. After all, honesty and cooperation are required by rule, and failure to be honest and cooperate is, itself, an infraction for which the penalties are not insignificant. I assume that the NCAA played up Dareus's honesty and cooperation because it provides a nice incentive for future student athletes to be honest -- they think they might get a lighter sentence as a result -- the proverbial carrot to the suspension stick. I do not assume that Dareus was more honest or forthcoming than Green in any way that really mattered to investigators. If that's not accurate, it appears (based on the reports I've seen) that they found Dareus to be more honest (an odd statement to me, you were either honest or not, right?), so whatever that weighs (and, to reiterate, I don't believe it to be much at all), would weigh in his favor.
All told, I don't see much in the way of reasons to mitigate Green's sentence. Though certainly biased, I see this as a situation where Green was doing something he knew was wrong while Dareus wasn't. There are a million arguments that what Green did shouldn't be against the rules, or shouldn't be punished as harshly, or something else, but when it comes to the NCAA following their own rules and making sense doing it, this seems like a reasonable resolution. That's not to say that it would've been unreasonable to give Dareus four games as well -- I think it probably would have -- but in the end, what they chose to do makes sense to me.
To really make a case for Green, the key is not to compare the infractions of Green and Dareus, but to come up with reasons -- mitigating factors -- why Green's sentence should be reduced. "Because Dareus's was" isn't really a good one, though, as the two situations are vastly different in content and character.