Rutgers football is not very good (at violating NCAA rules)

CBS Sports has been running a series on NCAA infractions recently, and one of their information tables was a little eye-opening.

Zero major infractions since '87
Conf. Schools
ACC Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest
Big East UConn, Louisville, South Florida, West Virginia
Big Ten Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
Big 12 Iowa State, Missouri
Pac-12 Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
SEC LSU, Vanderbilt

The whole compliance issue is under increased media scrutiny lately. Part of that is the result of it currently being the dregs of the offseason, but with the recent rash of high-profile investigations there may well be a serious push to tackle this topic in earnest.

It's not exactly a surprise that most SEC and Big XII schools have run afoul of NCAA regulations at some point of another. Pitt can be excused as runoff from the Jackie Sherrill era, and Syracuse once employed Ed Orgeron. But how the heck did the Rutgers football program ever commit even one major NCAA violation? Boston College didn't get a black eye for betting on sports, so how did RU manage to land on this ignominious list?

For an answer, let's consult the NCAA's Legislative Services Database.

Institution: Rutgers, State Univ of New Jersey, New Brunswick

June 17, 2003

Improper certification for financial aid, practice and competition,; ineligible competition resulting from failure to fulfill credit requirements; ineligible competition resulting from failure to earn minimum percentage of credits for satisfactory progress during academic year; ineligible competition resulting from errors in designation of degree program; improper certification of transfer student-athletes; exceeding grant-in-aid limits (football) and a lack of institutional control.

Public reprimand and censure; two-years of probation and annual compliance reporting requirement.

From 1953-2011, the LSDB contains one single major infraction from Rutgers-New Brunswick. Unfortunately, it occurred during CBS's 1987-2011 timeframe.

Actually, this story seems somewhat familiar. Let's dig through and see what the media reported at the time.

Tom Yeager, chairman of the N.C.A.A. Committee on Infractions, said today in a teleconference: ''Most of the time when you have this number of eligibility issues, there is a real attempt to circumvent the rules. This could have been far worse than it was.''

Rutgers will be on probation for 9 more months and will lose 14 more scholarships over the next two academic years. The hardest-hit sports, men's basketball, lacrosse and soccer, each will lose two scholarships in the 2003-4 academic year in addition to two scholarships lost previously. Baseball will lose one scholarship in each of the next two academic years.

...

''This was not a case of an institution playing fast and loose with the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage, bordering on academic fraud,'' Yeager said. ''It's fair to say, it was a flawed process that had people involved that were not up to speed,'' he said. 

Might as well consult the official NCAA report.

This case concerns a serious breakdown in the student-athlete eligibility certification process at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, involving at least 40 student-athletes in 15 sports during the period beginning with the 1997-98 academic year and concluding with the 2000-01 academic year. Specifically, violations were found relating to NCAA bylaws governing both initial and continuing eligibility certification, financial aid, and, as a result of these violations, a lack of institutional control. The committee did note, however, that a significant number of these infractions were "administrative," in that many of the involved student-athletes would otherwise have been eligible if the university had followed correct administrative procedures relating to certification of eligibility. The committee further noted that no coaches were involved in these violations.

Some twenty years ago, the institution implemented a plan for certification that failed in theory and practice to create adequate procedural guidelines for the individuals charged with certifying student-athlete eligibility.  The system resulted in three groups, each supporting a separate aspect of the certification process, but with no overall coordination among the three groups.  In the end, the compliance officer and academic support staff were unclear of their respective duties and responsibilities, which further weakened the inherently flawed system.  The committee acknowledged the complexities of the curriculum that exists within each college at the institution; however, this institutional arrangement should have heightened the institution’s sensitivities to the increased possibility that certification errors might occur.  One of the most troubling aspects of this case was the lack of knowledge regarding NCAA initial-, continuing- and transfereligibility legislation.  A former assistant registrar, who was the individual primarily responsible for all continuing-eligibility decisions, had not participated in any form of continuing education of the relevant legislation in the last 10 to 12 years he was in the position.  Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the academic support staff received its instructions regarding the application of eligibility legislation, in part, from the former assistant registrar.

That counts as a major infraction? If SEC and Big XII teams aren't considered to be trying if they haven't bought half a roster by lunch on any given day. If RU's reputation was going to be sullied like this, you would hope they could have at least gotten their money's worth. After all, the NCAA's incentives are clearly set up to encourage cheating, with the collective yawn response to West Virginia's self-imposed sanctions last week only the latest example of why it pays to break the rules.

What essentially happened was a prelude to the Star-Ledger's spurious investigation in 2008, which is honestly endemic to the entire university (if anyone cared enough to do even cursory research.) By the way, this incident also helps highlight how ridiculous it was for Rutgers to take decades to merge its separate colleges. No one intended to do anything wrong; they just happened to be not very good at their jobs. Rutgers athletics wouldn't have been hellbent on radical change over the past decade if everything was going swimmingly. There just was, as there still is now in many respects, a great deal of institutional stasis and inertia. Any prospective reformers have to swim against that tide.

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