Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Closer: NCAA Infractions Roulette: Saint Mary's College Edition

The scene: Member schools of the NCAA are represented by a person with their sacrificial apple (Saint Mary's College) balanced a top their head. The NCAA infractions committee stands 100 feet away, with a bow and arrow, set to deliver their punishing blow. How close will they come to the core of the apple? Will they just hit the apple or will they damage the entity it is rested on? So many questions...

On Friday, March 1st, the NCAA hit Saint Mary's College with the following sanctions, stemming from violations of unethical recruiting and "failure to monitor and promote an atmosphere of compliance":
  • Head Coach Randy Bennett was given a five-game suspension for the beginning of the 2013-2014 season
  • Bennett cannot recruit off-campus for the 2013-2014 season
  • Basketball scholarships are reduced from 13 to 11 for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 season
  • No foreign tour until 2017-2018
  • No multi-team event until 2015-2016
  • No skill instruction in the preseason for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015
Saint Mary's head coach, Randy Bennett
The violations, though mostly committed by a former assistant coach (rumored to be former assistant Keith Moss), were apparently known and not stopped by Bennett and possibly other University officials. With the current influx of international recruiting, especially at the mid-major level, these sanctions are precedent setting, considering there has never been an international recruiting scandal as prominent as this one.

Although losing Bennett for the first five-games of next season will be tough on the team, it may not make a HUGE difference depending on their early season schedule. The current assistant coaches, led by Rick Croy, have worked under Bennett for 2 full seasons each (will be 3 come 2013-2014 season), meaning that they should have no problem maintaining the team's chemistry and style of play during Bennett's absence. Nonetheless, anytime you are missing your head coach there is a lot of room for error.

With Gonzaga being ranked #1 in the country, the West Coast Conference is getting more national press than ever before. The fact that SMC will lose 2 full scholarships for two seasons beginning in 2014 is possibly devastating to their recruiting efforts and will really hurt them in the race to keep up with the Zags.
In my opinion, the most devastating sanction set is the last one in bold. As quoted directly from the NCAA's press release: "The men’s basketball team may not receive skill instruction during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons." Since, the wording has been taken to mean "pre-season skill instruction". The idea that the players at SMC will not be able to receive skill instruction from their coaches during TWO FULL PRE-SEASONS is just blasphemous. Yes, I understand that Bennett and the culture of SMC were wrong, but sanctioning the players from receiving coaching from their own coaches is ridiculous. This sanction should not even be an option for the NCAA Infractions Committee.

These sanctions are just another example of mid-major's being overly punished for infractions committed by former coaches/employees. The rationale given by the NCAA that because the coach and administrators knew about what the former coach was doing, is correct and should be recognized. But using that same rationale to hinder player's ability to be coached is just inane.

When compared to recruiting scandals of greater magnitude, such as the one at Kansas in 2006, you can see why these sanctions are off-base and inconsistent. At Kansas, nine student-athletes (seven football players and two basketball players) were given improper benefits, before, during and after they were enrolled in the program, by team boosters, with the knowledge of athletic department personnel, that totaled in the thousands of dollars. Not only that, but a Graduate Assistant coach for the football program gave two players the answers to test questions that enabled them to stay eligible. Despite the fact that these infractions were much worse than anything committed at Saint Mary's, SMC received a one-year longer probation period, one more scholarship removed, the loss of their head coach for 1/6 of the season, and the lack of ability to coach their current and former unaffiliated players.

The NCAA's arrow hit the Gaels right in the core, but that arrow took so many turns and flips on its way. No wonder the NCAA leadership has yet to sanction itself for its missteps over the past decade...maybe they should start using a boomerang; that way they will at least be respected by fans, athletes, and the media.


Kevin Murray is a sophomore Sport Management Major at Drexel University. He is originally from Havertown, PA, a small suburb of Philadelphia. He worked in the Drexel Sport Management Department as a Research Assistant focusing on the Penn State scandal, equity in collegiate sports, and Title IX.  Currently, Kevin is the SMTSU Treasurer and Drexel Athletics Marketing Intern.  You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinj_murray.

Connect with Kevin Murray on LinkedIn.


  1. I must say, this is so NCAA. How can you even take away practice time? Pretty sure they just made that one up. Either way, I think the no foreign tour and the fact that Bennett cannot recruit off-campus are huge. St. Mary's loves to bring in Aussies and to my understanding, Bennett is a big piece of that process. This could really hurt them and it's barely defensible.

  2. The thing about the off-campus recruiting is that he has such a strong hold over multiple club teams in Australia that the he will able to still recruit hard without leaving campus.

    Though, I do agree that the foreign tour will hurt them 5-7 years down the road.