The NCAA had a chance to do the right thing on Friday and, in a stunning turn of events, completely missed the mark.
Who saw that one coming?
The punishment that the Committee on Infractions handed down to Oklahoma State on Friday, a one-year postseason ban to go along with scholarship reductions and myriad recruiting sanctions, was wrong and should be utterly terrifying for the other programs that found themselves caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption.
Oklahoma State faced a single Level I violation. It was an unethical conduct charge levied at former assistant coach Lamont Evans, who accepted at least $18,150 in bribes from financial advisors in exchange for peddling influence over one player from Oklahoma State and one player from South Carolina, where Evans was coaching before accepting a job on Brad Underwood’s staff in the spring of 2016. Evans was also accused of giving Jeffery Carroll $300.
Evans provided no competitive advantage for Oklahoma State, unless you consider the $300 he paid to Carroll — who was already on the roster and suspended for three games as a result — a competitive advantage. Evans was lining his pockets. He was not doing this to benefit the basketball program. Technically speaking, the players Evans claimed to have the power of persuasion over were the victims of the crimes that got him sentenced to three months in prison on federal bribery charges. He steered them to financial advisors that were willing to shell out bribe money. He knew nothing about the people that he was telling these players to invest their money with. One of the men Evans accepted bribes from was Marty Blazer, who sparked this entire investigation to try and avoid prison when he was caught by the SEC embezzling millions of dollars from clients.
That’s where Evans was guiding players who trusted him.
The players were the victims.
Despite that, Oklahoma State was still hit with a one-year postseason ban. Evans has been gone for three years. Carroll has been gone for two. Neither the current head coach — Mike Boynton — or the head coach the violations were committed under — Brad Underwood — were mentioned in the Notice of Allegations.
“There were no recruiting or other major violations on the part of the institution,” Oklahoma State said in a statement in November. “There are no allegations involving current student-athletes or coaching staff.”
None of that mattered to the Committee on Infractions.
They dropped the hammer on Oklahoma State, effectively neutering what was the most anticipated OSU season since Marcus Smart returned for his sophomore year. So much for seeing Cade Cunningham play in the NCAA tournament. Hell, we may not see Cunningham play for Oklahoma State, period. He was offered the chance to join the G League prospect pathway program, reportedly for as much money as Jalen Green. If he’s not going to play meaningful games at Oklahoma State, maybe he reconsiders the offer.
“Whatever the best option is for him we’re going to support 100 percent without any reservations,” Boynton said.
This gets to the core of the problem when it comes to NCAA enforcement: They far too often punish players and coaches for violations that they took no part in. What did Cunningham, or anyone else on Oklahoma State’s roster, have to do with Lamont Evans accepting bribes from a white collar felon that had been flipped by the FBI? How was anyone associated with the Oklahoma State athletic department supposed to prevent one assistant coach from accepting those bribes?
“A postseason ban for a bunch of kids that were 15, 16 years old when a lot of this was going on? It’s completely, completely out of bounds,” Boynton said.
He’s not wrong.
A postseason ban is total overkill.
That is the most infuriating part is that the NCAA was actually able to punish the man responsible. That’s not usually the case. Evans received a 10-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA in addition to a three month jail sentence for pleading guilty. His coaching career is effectively over. He’ll never be a Division I head coach. He’ll never coach at a level where he is able to earn a couple hundred grand as an assistant. The person entirely at fault for this situation had his life blown up.
And Oklahoma State still got a postseason ban despite the fact that, as Larry Parkinson of the Committee on Infractions said, “the institution fully cooperated from the moment they learned about the circumstances.”
That should be a major red flag for everyone else caught up in this investigation.
USC, Arizona and Auburn all had an assistant coach plead guilty to similar charges as Evans. Louisville committed their violations while they were on probation from the last scandal the program was embroiled in. Oklahoma State faced one Level I violation. Kansas faces five, and they’ve made quite clear they aren’t going to be as cooperative.
If the Committee on Infractions has set the bar here, everyone else better be ready to catch the book that gets thrown at them.