LSU dodges the NCAA’s wrath, this time, but the bigger target remains

Neither D.J. McCarthy nor Akiem Hicks made much of an enduring impact during their brief tenures at LSU, and for allegedly "major" NCAA violators, they're not leaving much of one for running afoul of recruiting rules, either. As outlined in a 22-page report released Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers will give up two scholarships, serve one year's probation and face other minor recruiting restrictions as penance for "major" violations committed by McCarthy, a former wide receivers coach, on behalf of Hicks, a former defensive lineman, in 2009.

In all, LSU was cited for five "major" violations, including charges that McCarthy arranged impermissible lodging and transportation for Hicks during an unofficial campus visit and made nearly two dozen impermissible phone calls to Hicks. The verdict makes it the sixth SEC West program out of six found guilty of "major" violations at some point in the last 20 years.

In this case, the official adjective "major" richly deserves the quotations marks — not only because of the slap on the wrist in response to a series of not-very-shocking allegations, but also because the NCAA actually commended LSU's compliance department for its efforts to verify Hicks' living arrangements before it uncovered the violations. Hicks never saw the field and left after the 2009 season; McCarthy "resigned" at the end of that season, and took the brunt of the damage in today's report in the form of a show-cause penalty for unethical behavior. (More specifically, for concealing the existence of a second phone to make recruiting calls that could not be tracked by LSU and for allegedly lying to the NCAA about Hicks' housing arrangement during interviews.) His major college coaching career is effectively over, but the Tiger compliance office has proven again the benefits of cooperation. In the end, the NCAA largely accepted the milder sanctions suggested by the university.

For LSU, the sanctions themselves are far less ominous than the implications for the immediate future. The program is currently facing more scrutiny from the NCAA over a $6,000 payment it made to one Willie Lyles, the Houston-based scout who was paid a whopping $25,000 by Oregon for a shoddy, out-of-date scouting report he claims was meant to cover for the Ducks' efforts to improperly exploit his influence with several key recruits. Now, it's answering those questions as a program already on probation for a "major" violation.

To be fair, Lyles hasn't accused LSU of trying to buy his influence, and unlike Oregon, the recruiting materials he sold LSU appear to be legitimate. For its part, LSU doesn't seem very concerned, Willie Lyles-wise. But we are in NCAA Land, where the proverbial ham sandwich can be sold as a "representative of athletic interests" of a recruit if necessary, and a $6,000 payment to said representative can conceivably bring down the hammer — and bring it down significantly harder on a school classified as a repeat offender. The Tigers may have avoided real damage at the hands of D.J. McCarthy, but they're not out of the woods yet.

- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.