North Carolina Sanctions, Agentgate, and the Social Media Impact

Not exactly breaking news at this point, but the Agentgate scandal that dominated the 2009-'10 offseason has come to a close with the NCAA finally coming down on North Carolina, and we would be remiss not to discuss the implications that this will have for other programs. First, though, the specific sanctions imposed as are follows below, with the most relevant portions boldfaced, per the press release on NCAA.org:

  • Public reprimand and censure.
  • Three years of probation from March 12, 2012, through March 11, 2015.
  • Three-year show-cause penalty for the former assistant football coach prohibiting any recruiting activity. The public report contains further details.
  • Postseason ban for the 2012 football season.
  • Reduction of football scholarships by a total of 15 during three academic years. The public report includes further details.
  • Vacation of wins during the 2008 and 2009 seasons (self-imposed by the university). The public report includes further details.
  • $50,000 fine (self-imposed by the university).
  • Disassociation of both the former tutor and former student-athlete who served as an agent runner (self-imposed by the university).
  • Perhaps not as bad as things could have been for the Tarheels, but these are pretty severe sanctions, especially for a football program in a school and a state dominated by college basketball -- and given the fact that it allows all rising seniors on the roster to transfer to any other school without having to sit out a year. Also, former assistant coach John Blake picked up the show cause order, though everyone knew that was coming and his college coaching career was likely finished regardless.

    As an added point, you can probably take the above sanctions and establish them as a floor for the imminent sanctions to be levied against Miami in the fallout of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, and for what it's worth the 'Canes will likely receive punishment even more severe.

    The real takeaway for other institutions, however, is not so much in the sanctions themselves but in the following excerpt of the above release:

    “This case should serve as a cautionary tale to all institutions to vigilantly monitor the activities of those student-athletes who possess the potential to be top professional prospects,” the committee stated in its report.

    First and foremost this only further underscores the de facto Reggie Bush rule which has emerged in the past two years, which in sum and substance states that star players require much greater institutional and compliance scrutiny due to the implicit assumption that they are more likely to break NCAA rules. In other words, whatever attention a compliance department gives the nondescript starting weakside linebacker, they better give that and a hell of a lot more to the All-American cornerback. Many people don't like that policy, but for better or for worse it becomes well-settled precedent at this point.

    More importantly, though, moving forward this largely changes how member institutions must police social media networks used by student-athletes. Remember back to when the Agentgate scandal first came to light, how did it happen? It was exposed almost solely due to the fact that one person in particular, North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, posted countless photos and tweets detailing and showcasing all of the impermissible benefits he was receiving. In essence, a school with a rising football program potentially on the cusp of a BCS berth has two whole seasons torpedoed, has an otherwise successful coaching staff fired, and is levied with harsh sanctions, and it all comes crashing down because a star player wasn't smart enough to use Twitter in a responsible, non-incriminating fashion.

    For NCAA member institutions in the wake of this scandal, the compliance implication is clear: You are now required to actively monitor student-athletes on social media sites and discipline accordingly if any potential impropriety presents itself, because if you don't you'll be charged with failure to monitor by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, with its appurtenant increased sanctions, in addition to whatever the fallout is from the impropriety itself.

    At Alabama, Nick Saban has adopted the policy of allowing players to use social media sites at their own volition, and countless 'Bama players do have active Twitter and Facebook accounts, though in the past Saban has hinted that their online activities are monitored by employees within the athletic departments. Several other programs, such as Ohio State, have banned access to social media sites altogether. Either way, it's now clear that for member institutions social media sites can no longer be scoffed away, but instead that must be actively policed to ensure effective compliance with NCAA rules.

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