Coaching contracts

They say you can't legislate morality, but the UCLA athletics department seems intent on trying.

Football coach Rick Neuheisel recently signed a five-year contract with the Bruins, who host Tennessee in the 2008 season opener on Sept. 1. One segment of the agreement covers an issue that all contracts should address – cheating.

Years ago Neuheisel violated some NCAA rules while at Colorado that got the Buffaloes a two-year NCAA probation in 2002 and 2003. The coach cheats and the school pays ... not entirely fair, is it?

That's why UCLA included a clause in Neuheisel's deal negating any performance bonuses he might achieve if the Bruins are placed on probation or "subsequently sanctioned for NCAA violations in which coach was directly involved, that coach facilitated, condoned or ignored about which coach knew or should have known."

Congratulations, UCLA, for having the good sense to protect your program. Any coach caught breaking the rules should pay at least as stiff a penalty as the school that hired him.

It always seemed unfair to me that a coach who is caught cheating can move on to another job, leaving his successor (who did nothing wrong) and his recruits (who also did nothing wrong) saddled with NCAA penalties that could cripple the program for years.

Obviously, the school has some culpability. Any university that hires a coach with a checkered past must be held responsible for putting victory ahead of integrity. Otherwise, State Tech could hire a known cheater, let him buy a bunch of superstar recruits, fire him after his violations are exposed, then win a string of conference titles with illegally recruited players.

Obviously, players who accept illegal inducements should be cuplable, too. The person who receives the "extra benefit" is just as guilty as the person who offers it.

The thing I hate is seeing State Tech players who broke no rules suffer three or four years of scholarship reductions and/or bowl bans due to violations committed by a coach who is no longer around to face the music. Punishing the innocent along with the guilty may work, but it's still patently unfair.

That said, here's how things would work in my perfect world:

Coach A offers illegal inducements to Prospect B, so he'll attend School C. Once the NCAA confirms the violations, Coach A is banned from college coaching for two to five years (depending on the severity of his misdeeds). Player B is banned from NCAA Div. 1-A competition but allowed to continue his career at a lower level of football if he chooses. School C's football program forfeits two scholarships per year for two years. The program can still play in a bowl but it cannot accept any bowl revenue during that two-year period (even as part of a conference revenue-sharing plan). This penalizes the administration, rather than the players and the new coach.

To recap: Penalize the coach who cheats. Penalize the prospect who accepts illegal inducements. Penalize the athletics director who knowingly hires a shady character to run his program. But don't penalize the kids who were recruited legally. And don't penalize the coach who succeeds the cheating coach.

I think Rick Neuheisel's deal with UCLA is a step in the right direction. That's why I'd love to see the contracts of all major college coaches include compliance clauses. The benefits would be three-fold:

The coaches who DON'T cheat will be unaffected.

The coaches who MIGHT cheat will be dissuaded.

The coaches who STILL cheat will be nailed.

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