Big-money sports football and men's basketball were involved in 83 percent of NCAA Division I major infractions cases from 1953 to 2014, according to the first study of its kind released Tuesday. Probation and public reprimand and censure were the most common penalties.
Temple University's Sport Industry Research Center prepared the study for the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions.
"The NCAA has never compiled all this data into one place and to run these types of analysis, so to look at all 554 cases under the former penalty matrix, we found it very informative to understand how often a certain infraction was occurring or how often a certain penalty was prescribed," said Jeremy Jordan, the research center director and a study co-author.
The release of the study comes three years after the Indianapolis-based NCAA moved to a system that metes out specific penalties dependent on an infraction's magnitude on a four-tier scale. Previously, infractions were considered either major or secondary.
The most common infractions over the 61 years analyzed were recruiting inducements (57 percent), impermissible benefits (54 percent) and other recruiting violations (48 percent). The most common penalties were probation (87 percent) and public reprimand and censure (86 percent). Recruiting restrictions were a distant third (50 percent).
Jordan said the type of penalty prescribed for certain infractions were predictable, but each case was unique. So penalties could vary depending on factors such as the magnitude of the infraction, how many people were involved and whether the school was a repeat offender or on probation at the time of the infraction.
Schools from the so-called Power Five conferences accounted for 40 percent of all major infractions cases since 1953. Jordan said there was no evidence those schools were treated differently in the penalty phase when compared with schools from outside the Power Five.
That finding busted a myth, said infractions committee chairman Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference,
"Some of the old thinking was that if a well-known school has done something, people got mad so they penalized a small school," Sankey said. "Among the autonomy conferences, there are a couple areas where the penalties by comparison are more aggressive, more severe, when compared to other aspects or membership sections of Division I."
The study revealed an atmosphere of compliance in athletic departments that has developed over the past three decades, with 48 percent of violations since 1984 having been self-reported. Prior to 1984, only 9 percent of violations were self-reported.
Generally, self-reporting benefited the institution when it came to the penalty phase, the study found. In cases involving football, self-reporting typically led to a reduced length of probation and postseason ban and a lower scholarship reduction.
Dave Ridpath, assistant professor of sport administration at Ohio University and president of the board of directors for the Drake Group, an NCAA watchdog, said the conclusions were statistically sound.
"But you have to look at the whole system," he said.
Ridpath said the study only looked at outcomes and not how investigations wind their way to the penalty phase. The most powerful schools are capable of mounting a strong defense, he said, and penalizing big-time football and basketball programs can hurt the NCAA and other stakeholders financially.
Ridpath pointed to two cases, saying the NCAA has seemingly been reticent to fully pursue the academic fraud case at men's basketball power North Carolina and that the organization caved to pressure in allowing Ohio State football players to delay the start of their suspensions for selling memorabilia and suit up for the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season.
"Oftentimes it's trying to work out the best situation that they can for the schools to benefit the (NCAA)," Ridpath said. "What I often see is if the NCAA has a way out where they don't have to sanction or investigate or have to come very hard with penalties, they will take that with major schools more often than not."
"I think the information and this research shows that there is a great deal of enforcement activity around maybe the more prominent institutions," he said, "which suggests some of those notions might not be exactly on point."