This hasn't been a great week for the BYU PR department. First, there was the indignity of getting dumped on by multiple conferences with scheduling, and now, an internal investigation about potential improper benefits given to BYU players...by a member of the BYU football staff. The former is an embarrassment, the latter, a potential real problem, since it could get the NCAA involved.
This is uncharted territory for BYU. You are, after all, the only team to win a national title and not get hit with NCAA sanctions. This process is unfamiliar, scary, and has led to some less than accurate statements thrown around the internet.
Luckily for you, this process is not unfamiliar to me! I'm an Ohio State fan, and I write a lot about Big Ten football across the SB Nation network. Welcome to the fraternity of alleged cheaters!
So what exactly is the investigation about here?
The full list of "what we know" can be found here, but in case that's a little TL;DR for you, the school is investigating claims of improper benefits given to football players. The benefits, in this case, are alleged to include free and/or discounted housing, free meals an iPads, but potentially others (like money). What makes the investigation particularly interesting is that the source of the alleged benefits does not come from say, a rogue booster, but from somebody close to the BYU program, former Director of Football Operations Duane Busby.
Well, "free meals" could be something really benign right? Like a player grabbing some leftover chips from a coach?
Well, technically, yes, and if that was the only improper benefit mentioned, it could be pretty easy to explain away. Discounted rent, free apartments, iPads, and the other stuff, that's a little harder to shrug off as a technicality.
Is this just a BYU investigation, or is the NCAA involved?
Right now, this is just with BYU, but that is going to change. Per Jay Drew of the Trib:
A source said BYU has either self-reported the results of its investigation to the NCAA, or is in the process of doing so. The school will propose self-imposed punishments to the NCAA that could possibly involve the suspensions of current players for one or more games in the upcoming season, the source said
Why would BYU want to self impose any punishments?
Like for most things, the NCAA believes that the coverup is typically worse than the crime. Since the NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, they want to give incentives to encourage cooperation, and self imposing a penalty and fully cooperating with the NCAA is typically a good way to both get a lesser punishment, and to get the specter of NCAA punishment off the back of the program. Uncertainty, or letting an investigation go on for years, can be a drag on recruiting, and hurt the program in other ways.
Does the investigation center on former players, or current ones?
It centers on both. No names have been released. For what it is worth, Busby apparently favored offensive skill position players.
Would the NCAA need to prove that Bronco Mendenhall knew about these benefits before punishing BYU?
Nope. If Bronco did know, BYU would probably be punished harder though.
Would the NCAA take BYU's past record of good behavior into account before levying a punishment?
Nope. This isn't the criminal justice system.
How could something like happen at BYU?
Because BYU has a football team that competes at a high level, and a lot of these NCAA rules regarding impermissible benefits are dumb. Look, just because BYU isn't in the SEC and there aren't tons of recruits driving souped up muscle cars around Provo doesn't mean that BYU has never had any involvement with any "bag men". That system exists for programs much smaller than BYU. It would appear that in this instance, somebody finally got caught. No need for any pearl clutching here.
How on earth would anybody prove these things happened?
Normally, allegations such as this are more difficult to prove, especially if the "bag men" in question are competent. Pretty much the first rule of Bag Men Club is "make sure your bag man doesn't work for the school", and that one apparently already went right out the window, so who knows what kind of evidence is out there? Handing out envelopes full of cash is a little hard to track, but benefits like say, apartments, tend to have more paperwork that leaves some paper trail.
The school will undoubtedly interview dozens of people in and or around the program to get more information. Remember, again, neither BYU's internal process or that of the NCAA do not line up with a court of law. The burden of proof necessary isn't the same.
What does past precedent tell us about a potential BYU punishment?
Not much, because again, this isn't the legal system, and the NCAA can freely decide to ignore precedent.
Real talk: based on what we know now, how worried should I be?
As far as the NCAA is concerned, not really. Unless this investigation expands dramatically in scope, I'd guess that the BYU would probably preemptively suspend a few players for a few games, and that the NCAA would look at that and decide "that's good enough". Perhaps the program would go on probation as well. I would be surprised, again, unless this turns out to be much larger in scope, that it would involve scholarship reductions, practice time reductions, or anything more serious. This certainly doesn't look like a situation like Ohio State or USC, for example, that led to bowl bans, especially if BYU is cooperating with the NCAA.
Loyal Cougars took a more detailed look at the NCAA Penalty Matrix to try and forecast a penalty. My thinking is that the alleged misconduct is more likely to fall under the Level II umbrella, but short of Bronco being in on this (highly unlikely) or the school not cooperating (basically impossible to believe), doomsday penalties don't seem to be on the table.
Now, that doesn't mean that the NCAA is the only interested party here, or that any disciplinary action would come with only the NCAA in mind. If, hypothetically, the discounted apartments were tied to honor code violations, BYU would probably want to know about that. The school could be free to issue additional punishments on players or staff members.
Aren't a lot of these rules pretty stupid, anyway?
Yes. Yes they are.