Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; General view of the Alabama Crimson Tide game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the third quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Alabama defeated Mississippi State 20-7. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Handling Recruiting Violations

Recruiting violations are going to happen. So long as the NCAA continues to try to maintain their false sense of amateurism, there are going to be violations. The question is how should we handle these violations once they occur.

It’s well known that Mississippi State is currently under NCAA sanctions because of Will Redmond’s involvement with a booster. The major sanctions were a two year reduction in scholarships in 2012-13 and 2013-14. The most serious sanction came against Angelo Mirando himself with a one year show cause, and to Will Redmond, whose red shirt season was wiped out and had to serve an additional five game suspension. The NCAA said one of the reasons that the penalties were relatively light is because of the University’s cooperation and swift handling of the case once the school was made aware of the infractions. Many people praised the school for their cooperation because it allowed the school to escape much more severe penalties.

There were some who were not so quick to praise the school because they believe that we are way too cautious when we commit violations. Instead of being cooperative, make it difficult for the NCAA to find the proof of the allegations, and if they can’t prove anything, then they can’t sanction you. It’s a fine line to walk, and there are pros and cons to each philosophy.

Playing It Safe

Pros: The pros of playing it safe are pretty well spelled out with what happened in the Will Redmond case. The NCAA has a history of giving out relatively light punishments to  schools when they are cooperative once an investigation starts. The more you cooperate, the penalty will be less stiff, or they might accept any self imposed sanctions that the school has already taken. With the exception of the Will Redmond suspension, this is exactly what happened when the sanctions against us were announced. The NCAA also added the suspension to Redmond, and thanks large in part to the number of scholarships that we have available due to minimal loss via graduation, the loss of scholarships are not going to impact us at all.

Cons: The cons are also pretty well spelled out with the Redmond case as well. If the NCAA can’t prove anything, then they can’t sanction us. Yes, we avoided hefty sanctions, but what’s not to say we could have avoided  any sanctions altogether? Why penalize yourself when you don’t know just how serious the NCAA is taking it? If we stop self reporting so much, we might have a chance of landing a more talented recruiting class, and that in turn means we’ll be more competitive in the rigorous SEC.

Throwing Caution to the Wind

Pros: If we say to heck with being cooperative, let’s try to cover up some of this stuff that we self report, then we would see a remarkable improvement in recruiting. Some of the less often mentioned self imposed sanctions that were instituted were less in person recruiting visits, and no free admission to recruits for the first two home conference games of the season. There has been a lot of talk about how this year’s recruiting class isn’t going to be as solid as the previous two that Mullen has put together, could it be because he and his coaching staff’s hands were tied more in the recruiting process this year? Why not take a risk and make the NCAA do their own investigative work and see how everything winds up in the end?

Also, losing Redmond’s red shirt season hurt. We went from having a talented DB for three more years after this year, down to two. The five game suspension for this season was a huge blow as well. In the game against Auburn, Nick Marshall inexplicably threw for over 300 yards. It was the only game that he came even close to putting up those kinds of numbers in SEC play. We had an inexperienced and thin secondary in that game, and it showed. Having Redmond could have helped. You could also say the same thing in the game against LSU. The State secondary was over matched by Odell Beckham and company, but having a talented player out there might have slowed them down, and could have left the possibility open that we don’t get the doors blown open in the 4th quarter.

Cons: Just as the NCAA has a long history of going easy on a school that cooperates when an investigation begins, they also have a history of bringing down the sledge hammer when schools don’t cooperate. If we hadn’t played along in the Redmond investigation, we would not have been bowling last year, and the number scholarships lost would have been much more significant. The possibility of no television coverage also would have been on the table, which is one of the key sources of income for any athletic program. Not being cautious is a high risk/high reward scenario and it can cripple your program if it doesn’t play out in your favor.

The Solution

It’s difficult to find one. I think we made the right move in the Redmond case because the NCAA had accumulated a large amount of evidence against us. I don’t want to start throwing people under the bus, but how that information came to light easily could have been avoided in some areas if you believe any of the rumors that are out on the message boards. The one thing that will always be constant in recruiting is cheating. Not just minor violations, but blatant giving recruits extra benefits. Everything I have ever read through reporters who cover college athletics tells me that it isn’t if a school is cheating, but how much they are cheating. We just have to find ways to handle it when it happens.

What is very arguable is how we punish ourselves when it comes to any violations that we commit. Bracky Brett, the director of compliance for Mississippi State, and his role in MSU athletics is a lightning rod topic among State fans. How much he is to be criticized is highly debatable (again, feel free to peruse the message boards). I do believe one way in which we have handcuffed ourselves when it comes to compliance is the fact that Bracky Brett does not have the legal background that many people at other schools have in his position. I don’t think that makes him an accurate evaluator when it comes to cases pending against the athletics department. Self imposing sanctions is a good way to keep the NCAA off your back, but if you can’t accurately evaluate evidence, how can you accurately assess the penalty to self impose?

Adding to the complicated mess that is compliance is how Mississippi State and Ole Miss notoriously go after each other. Every school has their rival, but no other schools like to tattle on each other like we do here in the Magnolia State. Alabama and Auburn hate each other so much that their eyes glow when they see the opposing team, but it’s rare that you hear the fans talk about turning each other in. Once again, everyone cheats. If they do, the last thing other schools do is turn each other in because they don’t want somebody else doing the same thing to them. They may report insignificant violations, but they don’t go after each other with the big stuff. For whatever reason, we don’t apply that philosophy in Mississippi. There are many times I believe that Ole Miss fans take greater enjoyment in seeing Mississippi State fail, than they do seeing their own team succeed. The opposite also seems to be true.

Whatever your view of how we handle violations, you have to realize how difficult of a job that Brett and the rest of the compliance department have. It’s one I certainly would never want.

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