NCAA Football Scandals – Penalty Analysis

As we approach the end of October and UNX’s date with NCAA destiny, I wanted to do a little research on actual documented NCAA penalties to see if I could properly set my expectations.  There’s a lot of misinformation out there, things like “UNX had 9 major violations in the NOA – that’s the most ever”, and I wanted to find the real facts.


For the record, this study is compiled from publicly available data provided by the NCAA here.  Note: from my experience, getting data from this database can be frustrating.  As my dad says, “Son, sometimes you just have to hold your mouth right.”  You’ve been warned.

Also, there is no way I could find to extract the data in mass, so it was collected by painstakingly querying year by year and recording the results in Excel while saving off the file artifacts.  It is very possible that I made a typo or two along the way.  Caveat emptor.

I have limited the scope of this analysis according to the following constraints:

  • Only include schools currently designated as Division I FBS
  • Only include penalties that involved the football program (Note: there is no way to filter out “football AND other sports” as opposed to pure football cases).  If such is warranted, I may make this distinction in the subsequent analysis
  • Only include penalties associated with “major” violations, as defined by the NCAA at the time of the penalty.  In other words, ignore secondary violations.
  • Only include data from the years that the NCAA provides data, i.e. 1953-2011

Although the data set spans all years from 1953-2011, there are some facets of the analysis that will look at subsets of this data.

The NCAA provides the following information for each case:

  • The “public file” – a PDF file released by the infractions committee discussing in detail the findings and the penalties
  • A “summary” web page with information distilled from the public report

Note that each “case” represents an investigational unit of work.  Each case can therefore detail multiple instances of violations.  I don’t recall the offender, but in reviewing a couple of the individual case public files, I saw one instance with twenty to thirty major violations listed – giving the lie to the “9 major violations, most ever” drivel.  The likely driver of this comment is the fact that SMU had 8 major cases (each with multiple major violations), along with some understandable wishful thinking.

Part one of my analysis will focus on the “summary” pages:

  • TV ban (# years)
  • Post season ban (# years)
  • Probation (# years)
  • Additional imposed penalties: financial aid (scholarships), recruiting limitations, “show cause”, and vacation of wins.  In the summary data, each of these is a simple Yes or No.

In later analysis, I will try to extract information from the detailed “public files” to provide validation of the NCAA’s summary pages and to examine findings and penalties at a more granular level.  If it is possible to extract anything meaningful from this data, I will publish it at a later time.


Right off the bat, let’s see what we can learn from the raw data.  Some interesting points jump out:

  • Last time a TV ban was imposed: 1994, Ole Miss, 1 year
  • Last time a post-season ban was imposed (everybody reading this can probably answer this): 2010, USC, 2 years.  But significantly, the time before that was Mississippi State, 2004
  • First reduction in financial aid: 1974, Illinois
  • First reduction in recruiting: 1969, Texas A&M
  • First show cause action: 1987, SMU
  • First vacation of record: 1995, Alabama

“Superlatives” and Aggregates

Over the time period, a total of 195 major penalty cases have been issued to 81 unique schools.  Of these, 52 schools (64%) were penalized multiple times.  The worst 15 offenders (18.5% of total) account for 71 of the cases (36.4%).  These “Champions of Cheating” are:

Major Cases by School, Top 15

The overall “Champion” would depend on your definition.  In sheer number of cases, SMU reigns supreme, and the impressive total of 32 years combined TV, postseason and probation is also highest.  I tend to consider the TV bans and postseason bans to be the worst of the penalties: by this measure, the Champion is Auburn.

Conference analysis is difficult, at best.  Whole conferences have come and gone in the intervening years, and conference membership has been fluid as well.  But just for grins, let’s look at the current BCS conference definitions and see if we can see any patterns.

Major Cases by Conference

Since my old eyes cross when I look at tables of numbers, let’s visualize:

Conference Incidents and Penalties

Much better.  Some observations:

  • The common argument that the SEC cheats far more than anybody else is not supported.
  • Although the Big Ten and ACC like to brag about their clean programs (especially compared to SEC), there’s plenty of mischief going on.
  • The NCAA is overly fond of “probation” as their primary penalty.
  • Bear in mind that all of the TV bans were pre-1994.
  • Although this data doesn’t include the two likely worst historical cases of ACC cheating (UNX 2010 and Miami 2011), it appears the ACC cheats a lot compared to the degree of national “prominence” that has been attained (i.e. we can’t even cheat well…)

Comparisons across all time frames show clearly that the penalty mix has evolved over time.  We can see this by comparing aggregated data by decade:

Penalties by Decade

And visually, this looks like:

Penalty Total by Decade

In the 60s and 70s, a major penalty almost guaranteed a TV and postseason ban.  In the 80s and 90s, as television becomes a much larger part of the overall revenue stream, these penalties are increasingly de-emphasized.  By the 2000s, they are almost non-existent.  Also of note is the drop off in the 90’s of the number of incidents that were actually pursued.

So if there are no TV bans and precious few postseason bans, what exactly has the NCAA been handing out?  To analyze this, let’s consider only the penalties that have been handed down during the “BCS-era”, i.e., since 1998.  During this time, the NCAA has handed down penalties for 42 “major” cases.  In aggregate, these have resulted in:

  • 0 years total TV bans
  • 8 years total postseason bans – 6 cases (14%), min 1yr, max 2yr
  • 115 years of probation – 42 cases (100%), min 1 yr, max 5 yr
  • 26 cases (62%) with “financial aid” penalties
  • 19 cases (45%) with “recruiting” penalties
  • 19 cases (45%) with “show cause” penalties
  • 13 cases (31%) with “vacation of wins” penalties.  Note that these penalties skew heavily toward the latter years.

The distribution of probation years looks like:

Distribution of Probation Penalties


So what does this tell us about what may be in store for UNX?

  • There will be NO TV ban
  • There MAY be a post-season ban, but it is still very unlikely.  It all hinges on whether the NCAA considers this case to be one of the most serious of the decade.  Remember, it’s the NCAA’s opinion that matters here, not mine, not yours.  And I think they gave us a very big clue when they did not cite for “lack of institutional control.”
  • Bear in mind that in spite of the myriad “prongs” associated with the ongoing scandal at UNX, the NCAA will penalize only based on what they uncovered and/or what the school self reported.  They can open subsequent investigations, but that will be a separate process.

Resulting Prediction

Based on this (admittedly high-level) analysis, here’s my prediction for what we’ll see just before Halloween:

  • No TV ban
  • No postseason ban
  • 2 years probation
  • Possible show cause for former assistant coach John Blake
  • Likely “financial aid” penalty, resulting in loss of scholarships.  Insufficient data to estimate how many / how long.
  • Possible, but less likely, reduction in recruiting
  • Mixed bag on vacation of wins: call it a tossup

This should set the bar for the approximate magnitude of the resulting penalties.  Of course, as Mies van der Rohe famously said, “God is in the details”.  Of all these potential penalties, only the financial aid and recruiting hold any possibility to actually punish the program.  Any show cause will likely be limited to John Blake, who is already gone.  Vacation of wins means squat to a program that hasn’t won anything to speak of.  Probation only means that things will be worse for them IF they are caught again during the duration1.  The degree to which they are punished will ultimately depend on the number and duration of scholarship reductions, and the possibility of recruiting limitations.

Unless there are major flaws in this work (which I’m sure will be swiftly pointed out in the comments below), it all adds up to an anticlimactic slap on the wrist.  Maybe this is why the recruits keep coming.  Who says cheating doesn’t pay?

1Even this is questionable, since the preponderance of evidence suggests that the NCAA is loath to issue the TV and postseason bans.  In subsequent analysis, I will try to determine if any of the BCS era repeat offenders were on probation during the second offense.  The degree to which the NCAA increases the penalty (or not) should be enlightening.

About ncsu1987

Senior IT Manager for Fortune 500 company living in central NC. Grew up a basketball player and fan, discovered college football while attending college. Proud alumnus of NC State University since 1987.

UNC Scandal

35 Responses to NCAA Football Scandals – Penalty Analysis

  1. WTNY 09/18/2011 at 9:27 PM #

    Thanks for the analysis 1987. (’87 was a good year – me too!)

    It provides some backing for what many have feared: the penalties will not be as severe as they should be.

    I guess the devaluation of the “Carolina Way” is good.

    And perhaps the ACC will add some penalties.

  2. Cardiac95 09/18/2011 at 9:38 PM #

    A well-done, however sobering analysis…

  3. Wulfpack 09/18/2011 at 9:50 PM #

    Crap. Great work.

  4. highstick 09/18/2011 at 10:01 PM #

    I like your “Carolina Blue” theme in the charts and graphs…

  5. choppack1 09/18/2011 at 10:22 PM #

    I’ve been saying all along that the USC post-season ban is an outlier.

    The NCAA has had a chance to make it a trend, but has not yet done so. One of the many things UNC has against it is the appearance in McAdoo’s appeal.

    However, I don’t think you think you’ll see a post-season ban here -after all, it’s not nearly as serious as selling shoes and complimentary tickets.

  6. Flannel Avenger 09/18/2011 at 10:32 PM #

    It seems to me that unless the NC General Assembly, Governor, etc.. decides to interject themselves into this it is unlikely that their punishment will be in the same galaxy as what happened to NC State.

  7. jpack 09/18/2011 at 10:42 PM #

    The biggest penalty will be having to play by the rules having a magnifying glass on them while on probation. You can rest assured they won’t be getting another BMFD. The next hire might be a little difficult.

  8. pack76 09/18/2011 at 10:55 PM #

    Good work, 1987! This gives us guideline to consider. However there are things that details that we are not given that may factor into the penaties for UNX. Pray they are extreme!!!

  9. MrPlywood 09/18/2011 at 10:57 PM #

    They don’t have to get another BMFD. They still have the old one.

  10. Ashman87 09/18/2011 at 11:13 PM #

    The only thing I would add is a three year probation period, at least. UNC’s probably going to have to vacate all their wins in 2009, maybe 2008 as well. Remember, they have the FTM charge. (Failure To Monitor) By the way, this is REALLY GREAT WORK. Probably the best post I’ve read on SFN since I’ve started following in 2010. (I do have to admit though, that although I have done some archival reading as well, I haven’t done enough that I can really give some legitimacy to my claim).

  11. logarithm 09/18/2011 at 11:47 PM #

    The most severe punishment wouldn’t be mandated by the NCAA or any other body. It’d come as a result of the scandal itself AND the punishments. It’d be the loss of face for the university. And I just don’t think people care. “It was some rogue players/coaches/tutors/recruits/professors” is too easy an excuse to convince themselves is true and only their few intense fans will find a need to convince themselves of anything. The scandal’s not being reported enough for the casual fan to know much about it.

  12. whitefang 09/19/2011 at 6:38 AM #

    I think the bottom line is as long as UNC does not plan to commit “suicide” ala NC State / Valvano, then they pretty much do skate. At least a few people have finally seen them for what they really have been all along, but even that is small consolation and will fade over time.
    Of course the ACC will remain quiet on the whole matter and do nothing.
    One thing for sure based on their response to the whole thing is that at Carolina their reputation is not nearly the priority they pretended it was for decades.

  13. blpack 09/19/2011 at 8:44 AM #

    This is sad news and I hope it proves to be inaccurate. Good analysis btw. If they do skate, the NCAA might as well plan on going back to CH in a couple years. The Holes will not have learned their lesson as all we will hear is how they didn’t cheat because the penalties were not very harsh.

  14. db321 09/19/2011 at 9:10 AM #

    Hopefully they do get scholarship reductions and bowl bans…that would be immediate advantage to NC State. However, as someone above pointed out, the biggest item is that hopefully the playing field will now be leveled in that UNC won’t be cheating which might help NC State’s recruiting. In addition, the microscope on the African Studies program will most likely take away an advantage that UNC has had on keeping some of their dumbest recruits/players eligible. If internal controls are put in place and there is more monitoring in place to avoid any future NCAA problems, then UNC’s players will actually have to start doing work and UNC’s graduation rates might slip. Again, leveling of the playing field which will help NC State be able to compete in the long term. So, while UNC may get off without big NCAA penalties, hopefully the field will have been leveled to some degree.

  15. ncsu1987 09/19/2011 at 9:23 AM #

    Thanks for the nice words – makes a fledgling writer feel very welcome. The UNX program has already been punished in several ways: (1) Butch is gone. This is a bigger deal than some realize. You can point to his record and game day management, but he was absolutely building a recruiting powerhouse in Chapel Hill. (2) Uncertainty has slowed recruiting, but it’s still at a higher level than one would think. (3) My favorite: the death of the “Carolina Way”. Never again does an informed rival have to stomach this sh.., uh, crap.

    The FTM from the NCAA gives us hope, as does the continued NCAA presence on campus. But based on past history, I’m not holding my breath.

    In many ways, the NCSU administration 20 years ago was ultimately responsible for the depths to which the programs have plunged. I see similar things today in the NCAA offices. Because of a lack of courage and principle, they’ve been reduced to bystanders, helplessly watching their own catastrophic plunge into irrelevancy.

  16. TruthBKnown Returns 09/19/2011 at 9:26 AM #

    For me, I’ve felt all along that the only “real” punishment for them would be a postseason ban for a couple of years. Because only that would really hurt their recruiting that was undoubtedly “enhanced” by their rule violations. It’s nearly impossible to quantify their recruiting gains on paper. But with Black Santa recruiting, there is no telling what all went on. And with players getting illegal benefits, there is no telling how that may have “enticed” recruits to go there. Then the program made reputation “gains” by winning 8 games/year for a few years and going to bowls.

    The way I see it, their recruiting needs to be set back to compensate for their ill-gotten gains. The best way to accomplish that would be a postseason ban for a couple of years. It will be a shame and a travesty if the NCAA lets them skate on this. But based on this research, I believe they probably will.

    The bottom line is — it pays to cheat. They will be getting a slap on the wrist (probably).

    But losing their coach and top recruiter is a pretty huge penalty, too. But it may not matter. They are already rolling now, recruiting-wise. I was hoping something would set them back where they were a few years ago.

    Something else that cannot be ignored is the impact of probation. It may SEEM like nothing. But look at the players they brought in. They almost cannot help themselves. I can’t imagine them going six months without calling attention to themselves again, much less three years.

    So we may get our justice in the end. It just may take more time and more violations in the coming years. Question is, can they prevent that inevitability from happening?

  17. TruthBKnown Returns 09/19/2011 at 9:29 AM #

    Another consideration is that Carolina is in uncharted territory on some of their violations. I mean, has ANY school ever hired an agent/agent runner to be their top assistant coach and top recruiter?

    Things like that cannot be analyzed because there is surely no data with which to compare in previous cases.

  18. ncsu1987 09/19/2011 at 9:32 AM #

    ^TBK: You are correct – it’s important NOT to dismiss the importance of probation, especially as it’s defined on paper. The final piece of analysis that I’ll share in a future article is to examine the repeat offenders during the BCS era. If a program has a repeat case while on probation, does the NCAA “bring down the hammer”? We’ll see what we can find in the data. I’ll get the results posted as soon as I can find time for the analysis.

  19. ryebread 09/19/2011 at 9:56 AM #

    This is sadly what I’ve thought would happen all along. The one thing to keep in mind is that the NCAA changed leadership a year or two ago and a LOT more things are being examined now. Under the old leadership, unless it was Reggie Bush bad (and only then due to the hiring of Lane Kiffin who was a big part of the problem to begin with) was the NCAA going to do anything. Under that leadership, I’d have almost guaranteed that UNC was going to skate.

    The flip side to that is that Boise State just skated even with LOIC. That doesn’t bode well for those of us wanting UNC to get nailed. UNC’s big hush money payment to Butch may have ultimately saved them.

  20. highstick 09/19/2011 at 10:51 AM #

    Butch, gone? Where? He’s still sitting in the stands and don’t fail to consider that he’s got a wireless transmitter giving game tips to the coaches…

    Now with that being said, seems like that would increase our chances of winning 5 in a row which Butch “still coaching”.

    Wonder he he helps analyze game film?

  21. TruthBKnown Returns 09/19/2011 at 10:57 AM #

    ncsu1987, great work. I’ll be interested in seeing the results of your research into busts while on probation.

  22. TruthBKnown Returns 09/19/2011 at 10:59 AM #

    Butch, gone? Where? He’s still sitting in the stands and don’t fail to consider that he’s got a wireless transmitter giving game tips to the coaches…

    So there’s still a chance that UNX could have some lousy in-game coaching, even with a “new” head coach? 🙂

  23. db321 09/19/2011 at 11:37 AM #

    Yes, the NCAA could punish them and hurt them for a couple of years with a post season ban for a season or something. However, the biggest punishment could come from within…hopefully they put in internal controls that make it difficult for UNC to keep players eligible and graduating at high rates. UNC will have to tighten down to keep from getting another violation while on probation and my guess is the embarrassment to the university will also drive a lot of change over there.

    As far as coaching, UNC’s new head coach made several bold trick calls against UVA…most went his way…but if he keeps that up, they’ll eventually have some that bite them in the ass.

  24. logarithm 09/19/2011 at 11:40 AM #

    Another thing to remember is how the Athletic Department’s pocket book will look in the next few years. With such big payouts to outgoing coaches, possible fines by the NCAA a la GA Tech, reduced donations from the Ram’s Club thanks to a fractured, pissed off fanbase, hopefully no payouts for bowl games and fewer butts in seats, it can’t look pretty. And I’m not even sure if the Blew Zone is all paid up. Can’t pay a top-notch coach or AD with monopoly money.

    If we have some success on the field and with donations, I’m pretty sure Yow has said an indoor practice facility is next on the docket as far as facilities go. If we can get one step ahead in that regard, it’ll help with recruiting and hopefully help prevent some of these injuries.

  25. ncsu1987 09/19/2011 at 12:28 PM #

    ^stick, TBK: Joking aside, I really hope Davis IS providing gametime “guidance” during his visits amidst Kenan’s lefty pines. 1: that whole group is so arrogant, they might just be doing this; their arrogance will increase the odds that they get caught; and 2: it will improve our chances against them if Davis is making play calls (and we’re gonna need all the help we can get).

    “Lefty” pines – I kill myself sometimes.

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