On The Bubble: Reggie Johnson’s Suspension And Miami’s GamblePosted by mpatton on February 27th, 2012
Reggie Johnson was suspended by the NCAA indefinitely for his family allegedly receiving improper travel benefits from a member of Frank Haith’s staff. It should sound like a broken record at this point: family receives impermissible benefits; school and player argue the player didn’t know about them. It’s the same defense that kept Cam Newton from missing any games at Auburn en route to the national championship; it’s the same defense that restored Ryan Boatright’s eligibility earlier this season; it’s the same defense that will make a mockery of NCAA rules if not addressed soon.
First, a disclaimer: I think that the NCAA rulebook is not fair to student-athletes. In this case, we’re probably talking about a coach paying for a plane ticket. Why shouldn’t coaches be allowed to subsidize transportation for families? Don’t give me the “it’s not fair” argument. Nothing is fair in college athletics. Is it fair that some schools sit next to huge reserves of local talent or that some schools can afford top-tier practice facilities, top-tier coaches, and prime time TV exposure? No. But that’s the way it is.
To evaluate Johnson’s suspension (or Boatright’s or Newton’s), we have to accept the rules. The fact of the matter is that the NCAA can’t have players claiming ignorance over violations. It’s unfortunate for those players who didn’t know any better, but actual knowledge is nearly impossible to prove one way or the other. That’s why if the NCAA doesn’t address this loophole in a serious manner, I’ll bet we’ll see countless athletes using the ignorance defense in the foreseeable future.
Based on recent precedent, Reggie Johnson’s eligibility should be restored soon. Unless there’s hard evidence tying him to the benefits, I don’t see how the NCAA can keep him off the court for long. That said, Johnson’s suspension is just a reminder of Miami‘s bigger gamble. Remember that earlier this season DeQuan Jones was suspended for allegedly receiving impermissible benefits tied to the rogue booster (and alleged Ponzi schemer), Nevin Shapiro. If you don’t recall the details, Jones hired a lawyer after his suspension. The lawyer requested that the NCAA make an immediate decision regarding Jones’ eligibility and that the Hurricanes reinstate Jones immediately. Jones was reinstated, but that reinstatement didn’t come with a guarantee. He still may be ruled retroactively ineligible, which would require Miami to vacate its wins and any positive outcomes that occurred while he was in uniform.