There are a number of disturbing words that can be found in an NCAA news release. Booster. Agent. Academic fraud. The dreaded string: Lack of institutional control.
But this one ranks as one of the most troublesome: Manipulate.
If you believe the NCAA, Georgia Tech officials not only failed to cooperate with an investigation into possible impermissible benefits, they impeded, obstructed and tossed up road blocks.
The public infractions report reads like it was crafted by a performance-enhanced novelist. Claims that Tech attempted to “manipulate the information surrounding potential violations.” Claims that the school “hindered efforts to get to the truth.” Claims that former general counsel Randy Nordin, “adopted an obstructionist approach” to the investigation and referred to an NCAA staff member as “demonstratively untruthful.”
Maybe some of that is blather. But too much of it is truth.
Tech and its athletic department were slapped Thursday. They deserved to be.
While a case certainly can be made that the punishment is excessive – the Yellow Jackets effectively were stripped of their only ACC football championship in 2009 because one player received $312 worth of merchandise more than 20 months ago – a better case can be made that they had it coming.
Sorry. But a school whose title includes the words “Institute of Technology” should know how to read a manual.
In 2005, Tech went on two years’ probation because it used 17 athletes in four sports (11 in football) that it should have ruled academically ineligible. It lost scholarships and was forced to vacate rules. Now it has been hit with four years’ probation in football and basketball, fined $100,000 and must vacate records from the last three games of the 2009 football season (including the ACC title-game win over Clemson) because it acted stupidly when confronted with charges of using an ineligible player (Demaryius Thomas) and having a former basketball grad assistant involved with an on-campus AAU tournament.
Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson and athletic director Dan Radakovich both largely disputed the findings of the NCAA. (Tech had an official 53-page response to a 26-page infractions report.) But they were remorseful and Radakovich even apologized to the football team for the lost ACC title.
Paul Parker, the Jackets’ compliance officer at the time of the infractions, left the school in April to take a job at (ironically) Auburn. Radakovich did not publicly place any blame on Parker. But neither he nor Peterson were as kind to the school’s former counsel, Nordin, who has since retired.
“Perhaps we should’ve done some things differently,” Peterson said. “He didn’t have a great deal of experience in issues like this, and I believe if we had to do this all over again we would’ve hired an outside consultant to advise us and serve as legal counsel.”
He also cited the NCAA report saying that Nordin failed to inform the players of the consequences for lying. “Someone who had the experience working with the NCAA would know that’s their expectation,” Peterson said.
Actually, that seems more like common sense.
So is this: When the NCAA told Peterson and Radakovich not to inform anybody in the football program that an investigation was coming, that wasn’t merely a suggestion. But Radakovich told coach Paul Johnson. It trickled down from there. Radakovich said he never intended to influence the investigation, but he admitted it was a mistake.
Tech’s hearing took place at the worst possible time: the off week before the Georgia game, two weeks before the ACC championship. Thomas, a wide receiver, and safety Morgan Burnett both were the focus of the investigation into the football team. The Jackets rolled the dice. That was a mistake. (Georgia, in a similar situation last year, held out A.J. Green in the season opener before the NCAA suspended him four games for “Jerseygate.”)
Peterson was led to believe the players were innocent. He now says the school should have at least declared Thomas ineligible and then appeal for his immediate reinstatement. (Thomas denied the clothes were given to him by former Tech player Calvin Booker, whom the NCAA considers a runner for an agent. There were no findings with Burnett, but the NCAA blames Tech for letting the players know that investigators were going to ask them questions.)
It all may seem way too convoluted and the punishment too severe for what the NCAA admits ultimately could be a secondary infraction. But the mess is Tech’s doing.
“We could’ve done better,” Peterson said.
A tough lesson to learn.
By Jeff Schultz