Attorney: “Difficult” for NCAA to Give Miami Death Penalty

Christian S. Dennie

Christian S. Dennie is a sports law attorney with Barlow Garsek & Simon, LLP.   Dennie focuses on intercollegiate athletics, league governance, collective bargaining, and the NCAA.  He previously worked for athletics departments at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Missouri.  Dennie advises clients in a variety of fields including NCAA compliance.  The Legal Blitz spoke to Dennie about some current NCAA issues.

The recent scandal out of the University of Miami is massive, especially for a program that has habitually had compliance problems.  Do you think the “death penalty” is appropriate? What factors should the NCAA consider when deciding this?

I don’t think anyone should rush to judgment just yet.  Although the booster at issue has made headlines with substantial allegations, everyone needs to wait and see what the evidence shows.  With that said, I think it will be difficult for the NCAA to hand out the “death penalty.”  As we know, the “death penalty” decimated SMU’s football program and SMU is still working to rebuild the program twenty years later.  Also, SMU was involved in back-to-back infractions cases, thus the cases are different.  When considering whether “death penalty” sanctions are appropriate, the NCAA will likely consider whether institutional control can be shown, the involvement of the administration, the compliance programs in place, whether the institution is a repeat violator, and a number of other possibilities.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said that if the allegation out of Miami were true, then it “is an illustration of the need for serious and fundamental change in many critical aspects of college sports.” What changes do you think he is talking about?

The NCAA is faced with requests for changes coming from multiple fronts.  I imagine President Emmert is considering more substantial penalties and more thorough educational programs.

Do you see the infractions in Miami as an example of why the rules need to be changed, or why the rules should be more strictly enforced?

Every school has a booster or boosters that provide cause for worry.  Obviously, this case is much more glamorous and opulent than other scandals.  I don’t think this particular case calls for sweeping changes to enforcement.  The most recent cases (i.e., USC, UNC, etc.) in total show a necessity to enforce more bowl and postseason bans.  I have seen articles by several economists calling for more financial penalties, rather than a loss of scholarships and recruiting opportunities.

Does the UM situation hurt or help the case for paying college athletes and why?

The public is going to look at this in a negative light, which will hurt public perception.  I don’t think it changes the NCAA’s viewpoint or that of conference commissioners and athletic directors.   Student-athletes will never be paid enough to afford a yacht.  Nonetheless, I think we will see (over time) some lessening of restrictions relating to the marketability of student-athletes.

Terrelle Pryor is now an Oakland Raider after being drafted in the supplemental draft

The NFL banned Terrelle Pryor for five games after allowing him to enter supplemental draft.  Is the NFL being hypocritical by punishing Pryor, while stars like Reggie Bush and coaches like Pete Carroll were involved in similar infractions with no league consequences?

Commissioner Goddell has mentioned on other occasions that he would consider penalizing a player for violations during his college career.  I don’t know if it is hypocritical or sign of the future.  I anticipate the NFLPA will have something to say about these penalties moving forward.

Do you think the NFL will try and implement more suspensions for athletes who break NCAA rules and then escape sanctions by entering the draft?

I fully anticipate that Commissioner Goodell will continue to enforce these penalties when the situation calls for it.

What role do you think sport lawyers should play in advising college-athletes about compliance, and how is this best achieved?

Student-athletes can benefit from engaging sports lawyers in certain situations.  However, it is important to note that student-athletes should engage sports lawyers with keen knowledge of NCAA rules and legislation.  Primarily, sports lawyers can help student-athletes during on-campus investigations.  As we saw with Dez Bryant, it is extremely important to tell the truth, because a NCAA 10.1 violation (unethical conduct) can cost a student-athlete a year of eligibility for simply lying to the NCAA.  Sometimes it takes a third-party to make the point stick.

If you were NCAA President Mark Emmert for one day, what is the first rule you would make to reduce compliance infractions?

I can’t chose one, but I will generally say legislation that does not correspond with reality and evolving technology.  Examples would include text message legislation, telephone call legislation, and limitations on viewing non-scholastic videos online.

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