Not long after announcing he will restore some of the scholarships Penn State lost as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, NCAA president Mark Emmert was quick to say the decision should not be seen as a precedent for other schools on sanctions.
Too bad, because the NCAA has made plenty of other missteps that it still has time to fix. Here are four punishments in particular that the NCAA should consider revisiting because each of the original penalties was too heavy-handed and severe:
1. USC football's unprecedented penalties
Issue: Star running back Reggie Bush received thousands of dollars in cash and gifts in 2005 from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The NCAA also attested that USC running backs coach Todd McNair falsely claimed he knew nothing of the improper benefits Bush received.
Penalty: In addition to forfeiting 14 victories, USC received a two-year bowl ban, four years' probation and the loss of 30 football scholarships over three years.
Why it was too harsh: USC certainly deserved to be punished for Bush's improper benefits, but there is no precedent before or since in a case like this one for a penalty as severe as the Trojans received. No program had ever endured both a two-year postseason ban and a loss of 30 or more scholarships at the time and subsequent extra-benefits cases at Ohio State and North Carolina have been met with greater lenience from the NCAA. It's too late for USC's bowl ban to be amended, but the NCAA could still restore some of the scholarships the Trojans are slated to lose. The thinning of the roster has been one of the causes of USC's recent slippage, leading to insufficient depth at key positions.
2. Memphis' vacated 2008 Final Four
Issue: Memphis point guard Derrick Rose's SAT test was ruled invalid in May 2008 as a result of questions about whether he actually took the test himself or not.
Penalty: Memphis’s trip to the 2008 national championship game was wiped from the record books and its 38-2 record was expunged because the NCAA ruled the school played an ineligible player.
Why it was too harsh: This penalty always seemed like one the NCAA handed down because it suspected Memphis of cheating under John Calipari but could only catch the Tigers with an ill-conceived technicality. Questions arose about the validity of an SAT test taken by Rose in May 2007, so the SAT security testing agency launched an investigation. When Rose did not cooperate with the investigation after he had already decided to turn pro, the agency canceled the test result in May 2008. As a result, the NCAA seized the opportunity to retroactively declare Rose ineligible for the previous season and hold Memphis responsible. The NCAA did all this even though it had cleared Rose to play before the season and it had no proof he cheated on the SAT or that Memphis knew about it.
3. Old Dominion guard Donte Hill's lost season
Issue: Hill played eight minutes in a closed-door preseason scrimmage in 2010 while at Clemson before transferring to Old Dominion soon afterward and sitting out the rest of the 2010-11 season.
Penalty: The NCAA ruled in June that those eight minutes counted as an entire season of eligibility. As a result, Hill will not be allowed to play for Old Dominion this upcoming season and his college career is over.
Why it was too harsh: It seems incredibly unfair to take a player's senior season away from him for something as minor as eight minutes in a scrimmage nobody was allowed to watch. Should Hill have been aware of the rule when he transferred? Yes. Would it be more fair to punish him with a brief suspension rather than removing an entire year of eligiblity? Definitely. The NCAA's ruling is especially surprising because of the precedent it has previously set. In 2011, the NCAA chose not to take a full year of eligibility from Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis for playing in two exhibition games during a redshirt year, opting instead to more justly punish him with a four-game suspension to start his senior season.
4. Kim Mulkey's NCAA tournament suspension
Issue: Mulkey made disparaging comments about the officiating during Baylor's stunning 82-81 Sweet 16 loss to Louisville. In particular, Mulkey was displeased with the aggressive manner in which Louisville players defended star center Brittney Griner, with a late charging call against Baylor and with a late foul on Griner that enabled the Cardinals to sink winning free throws.
Penalty: Mulkey received a public reprimand and will be suspended for Baylor's next NCAA tournament game, whether that's in 2014 or further in the future.
Why it was too harsh: In the past, NCAA tournament suspensions like this have been handed down only after altercations with a referee. Three UCSB men's soccer players received postseason suspensions in 2010 as a result of a confrontation with a referee who awarded Cal a late penalty kick in an NCAA tournament match. The NCAA also recently suspended UCLA men’s water polo coach Adam Wright after he confronted and verbally assaulted officials following a season-ending loss to USC. What's different about Mulkey's suspension is she landed in the NCAA's crosshairs because of a press conference – a controversial precedent made worse by the fact Mulkey had a valid point about the way in which Griner was defended. Said Mulkey, "I thought the game started out way too physical, way too physical. I thought that all three [refs], if they go past this round of officiating, it will be sad for the game."