The NCAA sent shock waves throughout college basketball Friday with its first ruling on one of several cases stemming from the sport’s bribery scandal.
Oklahoma State, pending an appeal, will be banned from the 2021 postseason, lose three scholarships until 2023, face several recruiting-related restrictions and face at least a $10,000 fine.
That was the verdict handed down by the NCAA’s infractions panel — a bombshell that caught the attention of officials at every school linked to the fraud scheme unveiled by the FBI in 2017.
Oklahoma State was the first in line. It got blindsided and flattened by the NCAA’s emphatic hammer.
Which leads to a pressing question locally: What fallout is headed Creighton’s way?
We’ll note that CU, a private school, has not commented on the details of its case or the progress of its NCAA investigation. It is unknown if Creighton received a notice of allegations.
Remember, too, that with NCAA infractions procedures, every case is different.
Mitigating and aggravating factors — including a school’s track record of compliance and its level of cooperation during the process — contribute to the outcome. It’s common practice now for universities to hire outside legal counsel to help them mount a defense, so that adds an unpredictable level of variance. There are multiple routes to the end point.
Some might view the flexibility as beneficial to the process, but it’s most often the biggest complaint about the NCAA’s adjudication system. The punishments are rarely congruent.
So be careful to jump the gun and assume every school associated with college basketball’s bribery scandal will receive a sentence equal to or worse than Oklahoma State’s.
That said, Friday’s announcement will raise some eyebrows.
NCAA officials spoke openly last summer about their intentions to harshly punish the rule violators uncovered by the FBI’s three-year probe. They meant business. And they wanted everyone to know it.
They followed through on that promise Friday. Granted, they had the perfect case to do that.
The NCAA enforcement staff could aggressively pursue an infractions charge against Oklahoma State because one of its former assistants, Lamont Evans, pleaded guilty to felony bribery and admitted in court that he took $22,000 in bribes to steer players to specific agents.
The second paragraph of the infractions committee’s summary of its decision referenced a specific quote by Evans at his sentencing hearing last year: “I thought it was an easy way to make money,” Evans said in New York City court.
That kind of evidence is not common in NCAA investigations. In fact, most of the ongoing inquiries associated with the bribery case contain considerable ambiguity, despite the existence of relevant bank records, wiretaps and court testimony.
With Oklahoma State, the crux of the case was gathered by the government and essentially gift wrapped for the NCAA’s enforcement staff.
Evans’ admitted actions were a severe breach of the coaches’ ethical conduct clause. That’s a Level I violation. No further debate needed.
But for Creighton, it’s not as cut and dried. A refresher on what we know:
» Three years ago in a Las Vegas hotel room, former Creighton assistant Preston Murphy received $6,000 during a meeting with aspiring sports agent Christian Dawkins, an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness.
» The government claimed it was a bribe but never charged Murphy with a crime. Dawkins said in court that Murphy didn’t keep the money and never intended to — but there were holes in the Dawkins’ testimony.
» Murphy resigned in November after spending eight months on administrative leave.
How will the NCAA interpret all of that?
Did Murphy’s actions break the ethical conduct rule? If violations are found, are they worthy of a Level I or II charge? Is Creighton comfortable with the committee on infractions determining its fate, or will it try to test the NCAA’s new independent review process?
Outside of Creighton’s athletic offices, those questions remained unanswered. And it might not be clear until after the final ruling is made, perhaps at some point this summer.
The one thing Creighton officials know after Friday’s developments: The NCAA does not plan to hold back.