Tech’s lost title might seem unfair but it’s not unexpected

This moment and Georgia Tech's ACC title win over Clemson officially never happened, according to the NCAA. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

This moment following the ACC title game officially never happened, according to the NCAA. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Eight months ago, the NCAA issued a report that suggested Georgia Tech had all the morals and scruples of SMU’s checkbook football program of the 1980s, or Barry Switzer’s outlaws at Oklahoma, and maybe just a dash of Snidely Whiplash.

NCAA investigators labeled Tech’s general counsel an “obstructionist.” They said officials “hindered efforts to get at the truth” and tried to “manipulate” information. They suggested players were tipped off to the investigation and therefore had time to orchestrate phony responses.

The report read like a Grisham novel. Of course, it was about that close to reality – which is to say, it wasn’t. Tech isn’t devious or corrupt. It just screwed up — bad enough to lose a conference championship.

When the Yellow Jackets reached closure with the NCAA on Friday, losing an appeal of their sanctions and therefore the 2009 ACC championship, it wasn’t a surprise. To conclude it’s unfair doesn’t mean it’s not deserved. It doesn’t mean school president G.P. “Bud” Peterson, athletic director Dan Radakovich or coach Paul Johnson are felons or Ponzi schemers. It doesn’t mean Tech isn’t trying to do things the right way. But this could’ve been avoided. They screwed up.

Tech’s since-retired general counsel, Randy Nordin, and since-departed compliance director, Paul Parker, gave poor advice. If you believe the NCAA, they also treated the investigator like a slop-covered pig walking on new white carpeting.

Did the NCAA’s punishment (forfeiture of the ACC title) fit the crime (one actually never was proved)? No. There never was a paper trail, a thumb print or a public statement from anybody that said former players Morgan Burnett or Demaryius Thomas had received improper benefits. So Tech felt comfortable playing them in the final three games of the 2009 season (Georgia, Clemson for the ACC title, Iowa in the Orange Bowl).

Tech president G.P. "Bud" Peterson has disputed NCAA's findings but admitted he and Dan Radakovich should've responded differently. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

G.P. "Bud" Peterson has disputed NCAA's findings but admitted he and Dan Radakovich probably should've responded differently.

But NCAA investigators believed Tech impeded the process, preventing them from getting to the truth.  Whether that’s accurate or not — and Tech officials vehemently deny it, debating with the Committee on Infractions for 12 hours in April — this much seems certain: The Jackets would still be 2009 conference champs had they not played Thomas and possibly Burnett against Georgia. Thomas had received $312 worth of new clothes from a party the NCAA suspected was an agent (Thomas said they came from his cousin’s roommate. He never wore the clothes, and when he brought them to school in a bag to show officials, the sales tags were still on.)

Here’s where hindsight leaves the Jackets doubled over.

Had Tech followed the logical process – declared Thomas and Burnett ineligible, then filed for reinstatement – the NCAA probably would’ve suspended them for one game (Georgia) and forced Thomas to supply $312 payment for the clothes. The infractions would’ve been viewed as minor. Both players probably would’ve been reinstated for the ACC title game against Clemson. Instead, the NCAA ruled that Tech violated policy by playing an ineligible player in three games.

Two of those games (Georgia, Iowa) were losses, but the other was the biggest win of Johnson’s tenure.

Back in July, the Georgia Tech coach ripped the NCAA for their actions. He said probably what every player and fan thought: “The NCAA can’t take away the memories or what happened on the field.” Later, he added, “I’ve been in this business a long time. You see all the things that are going on in college sports today, and you get slammed for this? I mean, come on now.”

He was right, of course. This wasn’t a case of academic fraud or a sports program run amok. It’s all kind of weird. Tech realized overturning the sanctions on appeal was a long shot, but as Peterson said in a statement, he felt he had to “defend the integrity of Georgia Tech.”

Integrity is intact. But Peterson has admitted that, in retrospect, Tech should’ve brought in more experienced advisers from the outset and responded differently. A few bad decisions cost them, and as a result there’s one less trophy in the case in the Edge Athletics Center.

Some lessons are more painful than others.

By Jeff Schultz

174 comments Add your comment

Sonny Clusters

March 9th, 2012
2:52 pm

Lost but not forgotten.

Big Ol Stinger

March 9th, 2012
2:52 pm

Yup, what Tech did was way worse than Ohio State, Miami, and North Carolina.

What a joke the NCAA has become. What are they supposed to do again?

rusty

March 9th, 2012
2:54 pm

The NCAA is as corrupt as every athletic program in the NCAA. Who cares what the NCAA thinks.

LawDawg

March 9th, 2012
2:59 pm

Meanwhile…GT fans will continue to accuse the Dogs of being “thugs” (because apparently engineers are not required to learn what words mean) over on the UGA boards while they are the only one of the two giving up a conference title for cheating.

Have fun with CPJ and the triple option the next year or two without the last guy’s recruits.

Herschel Talker

March 9th, 2012
3:01 pm

Schultzie:

Who cares? Tech is irrelevant except if you want to learn how to best use a compass and protractor or if you want to perfect your technique with a samurai sword or if you want to learn how to make moo goo gai pan.

HT

Bravesfan79

March 9th, 2012
3:01 pm

All true GT fans will remember we were champs that year regardless! The NCAA is a joke, starting with the corrupt BCS! If the way the national champ is determined is a joke, does that mean the entire sport of college football is a joke?? College Football will never be among the big boys of pro sports until they get a playoff system.

JB

March 9th, 2012
3:03 pm

THE key here was the treatment of the NCAA investigator at the Tech Campus. Piss off a cop, you’ll get a ticket. A judge, you’ll spend the night in jail. A NCAA dude, you’ll get the book thrown at you. Fair? No. But, the article is spot on.

Highlands

March 9th, 2012
3:04 pm

Don’t hurt yourselves coming down from that high horse, Yellow Jackets! You clearly can’t beat Georgia anymore on the field (and may never again), you no longer have your supposed “moral highground”, basketall team just absolutely stunk up the conference tourney last night…sucks to be you, I guess. Nothing new there, though, right?

Nothing right on North Ave

March 9th, 2012
3:06 pm

They’ve added Keith Brooking’s fraudulent loan cover ups to the list of Tech charges!

GTBob

March 9th, 2012
3:07 pm

sucks to be you, I guess. Nothing new there, though, right?

Please tell us about all of the positive aspects of UGA athletics right now. What exactly are you guys good at besides getting arrested?

ConeDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:08 pm

Jeff, why are you reluctant to admit the obvious? PJ is an arrogant jerk and the NCAA gave him his comeuppance.

GTBob

March 9th, 2012
3:09 pm

On topic. Yeah, we made our own bed here and i’m ok with the punishment. Although I do still think the NCAA is the most corrupt organization in the US today. DRad should either be fired or put on a very short leash from this moment on.

UGABugKiller

March 9th, 2012
3:10 pm

Couldn’t have happened to a more arrogant, humongous a-hole (Johnson), or a more pathetic group of fans suffering from little brother syndrome.

Hey, Paulie, you might “remember that it happened,” but in every book that will come out, in every wiki entry, on every website, and in actuality… it NEVER HAPPENED. It never happened because you and D-Rad are a couple of arrogant SOBs who thought you were to clever and too cool for school (the NCAA).

As someone else pointed out earlier, enjoy the next few seasons, Bugs, as Johnson continues to flounder with HIS recruits, not Chan’s.

And BTW, I thought Georgia and South Carolina shared the ACC Title in 2009 anyway? ;-)

Nothing right on North Ave

March 9th, 2012
3:11 pm

Yahoo Sports is becoming the place to find the good investigative sports journalism nowadays.
They suck on every other bit of news, but sports investigations, they’re right on.
Auburn scandal, Keith Brooking’s lies, etc.
They uncover the news while others report on what yahoo finds out.

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:15 pm

I don’t want to bash tech because of course they earned that title but this is a prime example of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that is pervasive in their fan base with a few notable exceptions. If they had just cooperated fully with the investigator like almost every other program in the country would have, the impact would have been miniscule and forgotten long ago. The NCAA wasn’t buying the holier than thou attitude that tech was shoveling and they paid a dear price for it. I abhor the NCAA as much as the next guy but just read Paul Johnson’s comments on pretty much any topic, they’re indicative of the tech culture that created this fiasco.

The obvious is easy, find the not so obvious.

March 9th, 2012
3:16 pm

They also were first to report about the Miami scandal, I believe.
Some sports journalists are starting to get really lazy in their reporting and need to get back to the basics of journalism school.

GTBob

March 9th, 2012
3:17 pm

Im not sure even if we cooperated that we were not going to get an overly harsh penalty. The NCAA was pretty mad at Ohio State and Miami so they had to take it out on someone.

Ghost

March 9th, 2012
3:19 pm

Happening while still on probation couldn’t have helped. Bob I agree with you Drad should be looked at closely.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:19 pm

Did any one of you dolts bother to read the report?

Division II coach can't play with the big boys on a regular basis

March 9th, 2012
3:20 pm

Paul Johnson will be gone within 3 years.

SWGADAWG

March 9th, 2012
3:21 pm

Always been told….when you are breaking the law, don’t break the law. A little thing becomes a big thing because you do something stupid. Personally, it seems the NCAA always majors in the minors. One player wants 180,000 he’s okay….another gets $312 or sells a $1000 jersey and gets punished. Yeah, that makes a world of sense.

GT Yellow belly cheaters

March 9th, 2012
3:21 pm

Bobby Ross still alive?

GTBob

March 9th, 2012
3:22 pm

Did any one of you dolts bother to read the report?

No, they all think we got the punishment because CPJ was rude to someone.

GT Yellow belly cheaters

March 9th, 2012
3:23 pm

How’d their basketball team do this year?

Dolt

March 9th, 2012
3:23 pm

Yep, it’s right here. Says that tech got put in its place and had it coming.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:26 pm

I’d be curious to see where it says that, Dolt. Can you provide a citation?

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:27 pm

It’s not the rudeness per se but the failure to cooperate with investigator instructions not to discuss the case with the coaching staff or players prior to the investigator’s interviews. Tech felt they didn’t need to follow directions and they created an atmosphere where there was an appearance of impropriety whether it was real or not. Failure of leadership.

Steve

March 9th, 2012
3:27 pm

Yea UGA has nothing going for them. Only a top 10 preseason ranking coming up in 2012.

it's over

March 9th, 2012
3:28 pm

They didn’t Engineer their response to the ncaa very well!

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:29 pm

That’s correct, GeoffDawg.

From a logical perspective, I’m interested to know how it would have been possible to sit Burnett and Thomas without the head coach knowing.

rest of the acc tournament

March 9th, 2012
3:36 pm

Go be nice hosts and watch all the other acc teams play b-ball in your back yard.
Hey Radakovich, Get me a ham sandwich and a beer while your up.

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:36 pm

I don’t remember the timeline of when the investigator planned on interviewing the players but as AJ Green learned to his detriment, it’s not always when it’s most convenient for their team’s success. I don’t think the AD even needs to give Paul Johnson a reason for sitting them since he has the authority to make those types of unilateral decisions. It might tick off the coach but sometimes being the boss means you have to make the tough calls.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:38 pm

That’s not the issue, GeoffDawg. The issue is that it’s impossible for the players to be told to sit without the coach knowing but the NCAA said not to tell the coach. I can’t square the two.

GT Fan

March 9th, 2012
3:39 pm

GT Yellow Belly cheaters…our team had a rough year..but ironically beat the Dawgs in Athens…funny how that works…seen any drunk TEs driving around lately?

Woof, Woof

March 9th, 2012
3:40 pm

Is tech good at anything besides cheating anymore?

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:42 pm

It’s also worth pointing out that the President and AD failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation by relying on their woefully unprepared internal counsel. Another mark of good leadership is knowing when you’re in over your head and a willingness to seek out someone with the appropriate experience and expertise.

GT Yellow belly cheaters

March 9th, 2012
3:42 pm

GT Fan…..I was wondering how long one of you nerds would get to that.
Well, the dogs are still playing. How’d your game go last night?

GT Yellow belly cheaters

March 9th, 2012
3:44 pm

GT Fan, playing your tournament in Atlanta….so much for your home court advantage.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:47 pm

Fair point, Geoff.

But I still can’t understand penalizing Tech for violating the directive from the NCAA not to tell the head coach that there was a pending investigation when the only way to comply was to sit the players.

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:47 pm

As the AD, you can direct the coach to sit the players without disclosing that it’s for possible NCAA violations. Even if you can make an educated guess as to the reason, you’re complying with the directive and demonstrating cooperation with the investigator. Most everyone has a boss of some sort and it’s not a foreign concept to be directed to do something that’s counterintuitive without an immediate explanation. Long story short, it’s need to know and PJ didn’t need to know.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:48 pm

We got the crap kicked out of us, Yellow belly.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:51 pm

Well, he knows it won’t be grades because of the timing and a criminal violation would be public knowledge. I can think no other reason to sit a player.

Ralph Freidgen

March 9th, 2012
3:51 pm

I’m flying a Georgia Tech flag right now.

George Stein

March 9th, 2012
3:53 pm

I would also disagree that he didn’t need to know, but reasonable minds can disagree on that point.

It seems to me, though, that part of Johnson’s performance is measured by the result of that game. Telling him he won’t have two of his best players would likely merit some kind of explanation.

Megan

March 9th, 2012
3:56 pm

Penn State “We probably should have responded differently” GA Tech “We probably should have responded differently.” While the magnitude of both is eons apart, its time that all schools start responding differently!

Ron

March 9th, 2012
3:56 pm

If I was Tech, I would make a duplicate trophy and put it in the case. Screw the NCAA.

GeoffDawg

March 9th, 2012
3:58 pm

There could be other reasons I suppose like a failed drug test perhaps or maybe allegations of academic fraud. I don’t recall the details of the original report exactly but didn’t DRad not only tell PJ about the investigation but also gave him the specifics of it? Even if you disclose that they have to sit for unresolved NCAA issues without giving them the nature of the investigation, then you at least limit the ability of the coach to potentially coach or direct the players in how they should respond to their interview questions.

BG

March 9th, 2012
3:58 pm

and

March 9th, 2012
4:03 pm

when this first came out out Jeff you ripped GT in the newspaper before you knew what the facts were. Upon learning the facts, you then stated in your column that we now find out GT didn’t really do much of anything..oh but now here we go, they are criminals again. Which is it?

Jim Allen

March 9th, 2012
4:07 pm

What really happened is that Tech got bad advice from counsel. Attorneys often take whatever tack they think their client wants and, this time, they took the tack of playing a dangerous game with the NCAA. Tech should have made it clear that it wanted the truth to be found and should have cooperated, instead of handling it as they did. A defensive client and a poor attorney are a bad combination.