The takeaway from the Mississippi State NCAA infractions case is not an original lesson, but clearly is one schools need to re-learn from time to time.
If you have a rules violation, face the problem early and do something about it.
The school was dealt only a light blow by the NCAA Committee on Infractions Friday for impermissible benefits received by a Bulldogs football player. The NCAA accepted the school's self-imposed sanctions, docking the football program two scholarships. Mississippi State also received a two-year probation and some other minor recruiting restrictions. Former assistant coach Angelo Mirando, who was cited for unethical conduct, was given a one-year show-cause penalty, which effectively will keep him out of major-college coaching until 2014 at the earliest.
Since Kentucky's forthright cooperation with the NCAA helped it narrowly avoid the death penalty in basketball in the late 1980s, the game plan has been laid out: Lie and deny at your own risk. Since then, failure to internally investigate, or to fully cooperate with an NCAA investigation, has often led to stiffer sanctions.
USC's hostile stance toward the NCAA under former athletic director Mike Garrett undoubtedly factored into the huge penalties the program was handed in the Reggie Bush affair. Jim Tressel's cover-up of violations by Ohio State players helped lead to his five-year show-cause penalty, and to a postseason ban for the Buckeyes.
In this particular case, Mississippi State wasted little time disassociating a booster, getting rid of an assistant and getting to the bottom of what went wrong.
"The university did a great job," Committee on Infractions chair Britton Banowsky said, "once they became aware of it, investigating it and looking internally for self-imposed penalties and sanctions. We wanted to go out of our way to let folks know we were very appreciative of the way the university responded. That's the way it should be."
The case, which Banowsky described as "narrow in scope," stemmed from multiple benefits provided to defensive back Will Redmond by booster Robert Denton Herring, who is now disassociated from the school.
Herring, who lives near Atlanta and is a Mississippi State graduate, befriended Redmond and provided him with cash and the use of multiple cars. According to the NCAA report, Herring "exchanged more than 100 phone calls with the recruit, assisted the recruit in securing a car to drive to a campus visit and provided cash to the recruit on multiple occasions. Additionally, the booster and his friend provided a car to the recruit for approximately $2,000 below the actual value of the car. Prior to taking an official visit to a different university, the booster told the recruit that if he did not take the visit, the recruit would be paid $6,000."
The competing university was Georgia, according to Redmond's Nashville-based seven-on-seven coach, Byron De'Vinner.
Last September, De'Vinner – who received free lodging and meals while accompanying Redmond to Starkville – explained to Yahoo! Sports in detail how Herring broke multiple NCAA rules in 2011 and '12 in an effort to land the four-star prospect out of Memphis East High School.
De'Vinner also told his story to NCAA enforcement representatives, who investigated the allegations jointly with Mississippi State's compliance department over the course of several months. In July 2012 the school sent Herring, who lives in Roswell, Ga., a letter informing him that he had been disassociated from the athletic program for "impermissible contact" with a recruit. In August, Mirando resigned for what the school termed "unforeseen personal issues," but sources told Y! Sports that his resignation was because of the NCAA inquiry.
Mirando not only knew about Herring's relationship with Redmond, he did not report it to anyone at Mississippi State. And when questioned about it, he lied in two interviews with the NCAA. That led to his show-cause order.
But Mirando volunteered himself for a third interview last September and admitted lying. He then appeared at the Committee on Infractions hearing this April, paying his own way to get there. His appearance and willingness to take responsibility for his actions minimized his punishment as well, Banowsky said.
Falling on a sword hurts. But where the NCAA is involved, it can also lessen the eventual pain.
Mississippi State learned that lesson in this case, and can move forward now with minimal penalties to show for it.
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