Boise State gets NCAA penalties

Boise State finally got its answer from the NCAA, but it is not exactly what the Broncos wanted to hear.

Because of wide-ranging impermissible benefits given to incoming football players over a five-year period, the NCAA deemed the program must lose nine scholarships instead of the three the school proposed. They also must sacrifice a total of nine contact practices during the spring over a three-year period and remain on three years of probation as well. Boise State also is subject to repeat violator provisions for five years.

It could have been much worse, considering the NCAA charged the school with a lack of institutional control. Still, the violations that occurred in the football program were all secondary in nature. They involved incoming players sleeping on couches or the floors of guys already on the team. Maybe even a meal at a fast-food joint.

Those violations pale in comparison to what other schools across the country have been charged with. Boise State does not dispute that it broke some rules and should be held accountable. Athletic director Gene Bleymaier has been fired, and the compliance staff reorganized.

But why were the proposed three scholarship losses not enough for the NCAA? According to the Committee on Infractions report, Boise State received a competitive advantage when its incoming student-athletes arrived on campus early.

In the sport of football, the violations occurred over a lengthy period of time and involved a large number of prospective student-athletes. Further, even after the institution was notified of the impermissibility of certain activities involving prospects arriving in the area during the summer prior to full-time enrollment, some violations continued. The committee concluded that, as a result of coaching staff members helping arrange housing for prospects who arrived on campus early, and in some of these instances, the prospects received discounted or cost-free housing and transportation, a competitive advantage was obtained by the football program. Such a competitive advantage was mentioned earlier in this report in the context of the 2007 West Virginia infractions decision. In that report, the committee wrote that, ". . .arriving early to campus not only gives prospects a head start on conditioning and practice but it also gives them a head start on acclimating to campus and getting to know teammates." This competitive advantage warranted additional sanctions as well.

I am not exactly sure how getting a few freshmen onto campus early is a competitive advantage. Nearly every school in the country welcomes their freshmen early in the summer -- some as early as the spring. The coaches violated rules in helping arrange for lodging before the semester started. Discounted housing and food is a no-no. But there was a misinterpretation of what coaches could and could not do. Boise State has educated its coaches and has corrected its mistakes.

"I was surprised by the findings. I am also disappointed,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “However, it will not have an impact on our on-field efforts. At this time we are completely focused on winning Friday’s game at Toledo.”

Petersen and the Broncos can put this case behind them. Taking away practice time and scholarships will hurt, but will not be a program back-breaker. Boise State had three fewer practices before the Georgia game and the Broncos still won. But the distractions have not come to an end just yet.

Boise State still is determining the eligibility of three players who were born in the Netherlands. Receiver Geraldo Boldewijn, safety Cedric Febis and defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe are being held out of games until those questions are resolved. The Idaho Statesman reported Tuesday that a student manager with ties to the three has been suspended, but the school did not comment on whether that decision is related to the players.

This case would not fall under the repeat violator provision because the investigation began before the start of the probationary period. Still, Boise State could be in trouble once again, depending on how that case plays out. What happened Tuesday is yet another reminder that the NCAA takes all rules violations seriously, no matter how innocuous they may seem.

Boise State was not hit hard. But it was hit harder than it expected. Now it has to keep up the vigilance or face bigger consequences.