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State of the Hogs:
There have been several attempts at spinning the NCAA's resolution to a 40-month investigation of the Arkansas athletic program. Those in Texas, still jealous that Arkansas left the Southwest Conference in ruins with its exit to the Southeastern Conference, have already tried to paint the Razorbacks as cheaters of the worst kind.
Actually, what got the Hogs in trouble isn't so much that a booster tried to circumvent the NCAA rules, but that he didn't keep enough records. Yes, he did sometimes pay $40 an hour for work, but it was the kind of nasty work that should have warranted that kind of pay. Most of the players that were interviewed by the NCAA insisted that they were not overpaid, but underpaid because of the difficulty of the work and the intense conditions that the work was done.
And, there wasn't one case of players getting pay without doing any work, despite what you might read in the NCAA report. Arkansas accepted the report so it could move on with its business and put this ordeal behind it. There is no one at Arkansas who believes some of the charges, and especially the players involved.
The central issue in the case hinged on the over payment of around $4,500 over 20 players through a multi-year period. Give me a break! That's almost nothing. Those players still insist that they were not overpaid given the kind of cleaning and hauling work that was done in 110-degree heat. They got those jobs because J&H Trucking's regular workers wouldn't do them.
The chairman of the Committee on Infractions even admitted in the media briefing that players did actually do the work. So, why does the charge say that the players did not work for pay. Thomas Yeager, the committee chairman, admitted that it was just a way of phrasing the report. He said if they determined that the players should be paid $10 an hour for common labor, that if they were paid $40, that they took that $30 over payment as "getting paid for not working."
To be honest, Arkansas will be lumped with some of its SEC bretheren as a cheater when there isn't a similarity. Arkansas did not have coaches on staff okay $200,000 payments by boosters to high school coaches. It did not have coaches deliver bags of money to prospects.
More than anything else, this was a case of a few hundred dollars paid to players for some nasty, difficult summer work that no one else wanted. Some of the players involved are mad that this was characterized as pay for no work.
Enough of that. What is most important is that it is behind the Hogs now. The clouds of uncertainty have been lifted. No longer can rival schools ... especially those in Texas where the Hogs have concentrated their out of state recruiting ... say that Arkansas is going to get the death penalty at the end of this investigation or that they will be hit with a multi-year bowl ban. That is what coaches at Texas A&M and Texas Tech were spewing forth and they were total lies.
Interestingly, Yeager said in his media briefing on the case that the Committee on Sanctions at no time considered this to be a post-season prohibition situation. Those penalties were never considered. Why? Almost always, those are the kinds of penalties assigned when coaches and school employees are involved. Arkansas coaches or employees were never mentioned in any of the charges. Also, this had nothing to do with recruitment of prospects, another area that the NCAA reserves its harshest punishment, as in the recent Alabama and Kentucky cases.
Indeed, the Arkansas penalties handed down on April 17 were significant in their mildness. The NCAA handed the Hogs only two more penalties. They extended the loss of scholarships for one more year. The Hogs will lose two scholarships in the next class and be limited to 83 total grants in that season. Also, they will be able to bring in 50 prospects on official paid visits, a cut in six. With a banner crop of prospects located in Arkansas for the coming year, the cut in visits may prove to be insignificant since the Hogs usually sign a high percentage of in-state recruits that come on official visits.
No doubt, the worst is behind the Hogs. They have been assigned a three-year probation, and all that means is a period of extra record keeping on its education practices with staff, players and boosters. School officials were already doing this in a heightened fashion of urgency since the start of the investigation 40 months ago. Derrick Gragg, the school's new compliance director, has been praised by both the NCAA and the UA chancellor for the way he's upgraded all of the education programs on NCAA rules.
The good news is obvious. This ordeal is over and the bowl bans and TV bans did not occur, as predicted by rival recruiters. In fact, the Hogs got little more than a slap on the wrist after all of these dire forecasts. If you listened to Arkansas coaches, the excitement of the future is hard to miss. They feel like the chains have been removed and the clouds cleared. They know their job has been made much easier by the resolution of this long investigation.
Yes, the sun shines brightly at Arkansas. Just check the sparkle in Houston Nutt's eyes as the Arkansas football coach heads on the recruiting trails for the spring evaluation period for juniors. He's got the good news that he longed for and he's ready for some fun.