The NCAA has handed down its sanctions against SMU due to issues of academic integrity and the possibility of academic fraud.
Ever since the ruling was released, talk on campus has been about the appeals process and what SMU will do in the face of such steep sanctions. But what actually does this appeals process entail, and why does SMU always seem to bear the brunt of the NCAA’s sanctions?
SMU has again drawn the unlucky straw of being the subject of new NCAA processes and sanctions. The Death Penalty was a somewhat experimental penalty that the NCAA gave us, and the fact that they have never done it again shows that they certainly wronged us to a degree. But what about now? Do we have a chance to influence the NCAA’s thinking and avoid penalties?
The short answer is yes, we do. The NCAA’s new process for sanctions and appeals starts with a new set of penalties and categorizations for infractions. The NCAA has published a list of penalty tiers ranging from Level I: Severe Breach of conduct (most severe) to Level IV: Incidental issues (least severe). Each of these penalty levels has associated pre-set penalties that go along with them.
Part of the reason why SMU’s penalties seem so severe is that in addition to creating this new ruling structure, the NCAA has increased the severity of these penalties. Therefore, being under a new system, pointing back to teams that have perpetrated academic fraud in the past and have not gotten as severe of penalties is not a wholly legitimate reason to reduce our sentence –as theoretically the NCAA will be handing out stricter sanctions for everyone moving forward. We are just one of the very first schools to fall under these new proceedings.
In addition to these strict penalties, the NCAA has put in place an appeals process by which schools may plead their case on why their penalties should be changed. The appeals process explicitly states that it is not a second chance to argue your case, but is a means by which schools can dispute the labeling of the findings, the interpretation of the NCAA’s rules, or that the penalties handed down were excessive.
In the NCAA’s list of breaches of conduct, “Lack of institutional control, academic fraud, and individual unethical or dishonest conduct” are all given as grounds for Level I violations. As we are being accused of academic fraud, arguing that our violations do not fall under the Level I penalties will be a difficult case to pass. Furthermore, as the appeals process is not targeted at disputing the evidence or overturning the appeals, any hope that we can clear ourselves of any suspicion of academic fraud will not be done through the appeals process.
So what case is left then? There are two primary things that SMU can argue throughout its appeals process: that the NCAA’s interpretations of the new regulations have been incorrectly applied or that the penalties imposed were far more excessive than the offence merited.
In particular, SMU can argue that the interpretation that all of the members of the men’s golf team should be banned from postseason play is unfair, and that Bryson DeChambeau should be allowed to defend his individual title rather than be unfairly prevented from doing so.
Additionally, SMU can argue that suspending the basketball team from the postseason is an excessive penalty considering the details of the case; the fact that the alleged academic fraud was perpetrated by one assistant coach (since dismissed) at the player’s high school makes it seem to many that banning the whole program is punishing far too many people for the transgressions of a very select few.
Pros of appealing:
Obviously the upside to appealing is that there is the possibility that SMU will get some of its penalties reversed. This could allow Moody Magic to be back in full force and help boost school spirits, along with all of the other good that our athletic programs bring to campus.
Additionally, the ideal of fighting an appeal to enable players, portrayed as unfairly punished, to get back their shot at postseason play, has a certain amount of moral righteousness to it that makes an appeal an attractive prospect for SMU.
It really is not hard to make the case for an appeal, with all that we have lost with the sanctions and what we stand to gain if even a fraction of them were repealed.
Cons of appealing:
While the prospect of reducing our penalties may be appealing, there is a certain amount of risk associated with dragging out what could be a very long and public process. SMU could possibly be portrayed as a school fighting to cover up or support academic fraud. Being seen as a university that is portrayed as willing to compromise academic integrity for athletic achievement is would not generate great press for SMU.
Furthermore, with our rocky past in athletics, people in the general public are likely going to portray us as corrupt. Some have even called SMU the “most penalized team in Division I history” and have advocated suspending all of SMU’s athletics entirely due to the new allegations.
While this is obviously an extremist opinion, the fact that our athletic history is rocky enough for someone to even think of this is not great for the university. This appeal could very likely be the latest scuff on SMU’s reputation if it is drawn out into an appeals process and not handled appropriately.
Also, there is a decent amount of uncertainty with the appeals process being brand new and untested. We will be forging ahead into a void of case law and precedent, left to fend largely for ourselves against the NCAA. With no history to refer to, it is unclear as to what chance an appeal has at succeeding and what the result of a successful appeal would look like if we did manage to win in the end.
It seems extremely likely that SMU will decide to appeal the sanctions –they were so severe that it is hard to imagine that they won’t
However, the appeals process will not be an easy road by any standards, considering the history that SMU has had with the NCAA and the new standards recently implemented by the NCAA.
All who enjoy SMU athletics, and indeed most of all the athletes affected, will be anxious for the next weeks, or possibly months as SMU works on reversing the sanctions that the NCAA has delivered. In the meantime, all we have left to talk about is the unfairness of the NCAA