In mid-June, USC coach Lane Kiffin will travel to Indianapolis to meet with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, faced with charges of a “failure to monitor,” as well a “failure to promote an atmosphere for compliance.”
The infamous white visor will be left in Los Angeles. The SoCal cool sunglasses will remain tucked away in the hotel room. And the swag will be kept in check.
A humbled Kiffin, if you can imagine it, will sit before a nine-member committee and attempt to prove his innocence during his 14-month tenure in Knoxville, Tenn.
A week ago, the Trojans’ second-year headman received a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding various recruiting improprieties committed under his watch as the coach of the Volunteers, as outlined by a 26-page report issued by the University of Tennessee on Wednesday.
A troubling sign in the recent ordeal, however, is that Kiffin specifically, and not the UT football program as a whole, was cited by the NCAA, which given recent rulings by college athletics’ governing body is a puzzling occurrence.
When the COI slapped USC with the lack of institutional control label in June 2010, it found the football and men’s basketball programs responsible for the actions of certain individuals, namely Reggie Bush and then-running backs coach Todd McNair.
Traditionally, as demonstrated by the case involving Bush and basketball star O.J. Mayo, entire athletic departments have been held accountable for violations committed by its coaches and players.
But in the recent Tennessee case, all allegations have been directed toward Kiffin. As of right now, the university has avoided the NCAA’s wrath. And as usual, with controversial issues, the attention is planted squarely on the shoulders of Kiffin.
According to the recently released report, Kiffin’s citation stems directly from two separate instances: impermissible telephone contact with five recruits (a total of 16 calls spanning 47 minutes over a six-day period) and the inclusion of a recruiting intern, Steve Rubio, on a recruiting trip to Florida.
Allegedly, the extra phone calls made to recruits on behalf of Kiffin’s staff from Jan. 3 through Jan. 9, 2010, prompted Kiffin to receive a citation for a “failure to monitor.” The calls, however, were made on University of Tennessee phone lines, which the school oversees. Again, presuming recruiting violations were in fact committed, either the compliance department failed to properly monitor the program’s activities or the university chose not to self-report the violations.
Similarly, according to the report, Tennessee’s director of football operations David Blackburn informed Kiffin Oct. 10, 2009, that he was unable to bring Rubio along on a visit to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Kiffin, instead, disregarded the warning and brought Rubio along anyway. Yet, he faced no disciplinary action from the school. If Tennessee knew its coach was in direct violation of NCAA rules, but failed to report it, how then, would it not be cited along with Kiffin?
In either scenario, the failure by compliance to perform its due diligence or the football program to self-report the violations remains increasingly difficult to justify, begging the question of why Kiffin alone is being ousted.
Whether he actually committed violations is irrelevant. Instead, if there’s any takeaway from this recent case, it’s that it serves as yet another incident of the NCAA’s selective enforcement and inconsistency in its actions and decisions.
At USC, the entire athletic program was held accountable. During the Cam Newton fiasco at Auburn, everyone, seemingly, was let off the hook. And at Tennessee, most of the blame seems centered on Kiffin. All these incidents serve as incidents of failed oversight on behalf of the schools’ compliance staffs, but in each case, the party found responsible differs.
Granted, there has been no final outcome in this specific investigation, but the mere fact that Kiffin, not the larger institution, is being targeted, directly contrasts the NCAA’s four-year case hinging on whether USC was in fact guilty of a “lack of institutional control.”
When the COI released its findings, USC’s understaffed compliance department bore most of the responsibility for being unaware of the actions of particular players and coaches. In essence, it was penalized on the basis of not reporting, and therefore, not responding quickly enough when rules were broken.
In the case of Tennessee, however, Kiffin became its scapegoat, and based on various events that have occurred in the Volunteer State over the past year, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Past precedent indicates that the NCAA’s report won’t impact the Vols’ recruiting practices significantly, for there will only be a loss of some recruiting visits and maybe a limitation on who is allowed to travel during certain recruiting periods.
As demonstrated by previous rulings, though, Kiffin, despite now serving as the USC coach, could be barred from off-campus recruiting altogether, anywhere from a couple months to a year, as was the case with Rick Neuheisel following his tenure at the University of Colorado from 1995 to 1998.
Despite being a Tennessee employee, Kiffin’s reprimanding from the NCAA won’t mirror that of UT. His recruiting practices have been more heavily scrutinized and the punishment levied will be more significant.
The witch hunt has already begun.
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