In what NCAA President John Toner cited as "among the most serious infractions cases ever processed by the NCAA," the NCAA Council today denied an appeal by the University of Florida to reduce the three-year probation imposed on it two months ago.
The main thrust of the Florida appeal concerned a sanction reducing total scholarships from 95 to 85 for the 1985-86 academic year and to 75 for 1986-87, an unprecedented action involving a major football team.
In addition, Florida may give no more than 20 scholarships each of the next two years, 10 fewer than the rules allow, and will not be allowed to play on live television or in bowls for at least two years. (Florida was banned from bowl participation by the Southeastern Conference last season and that will count as one of the two years, the NCAA said).
Florida, which won its first SEC football championship after Coach Charley Pell was fired early this season, will be able to sign only 10-12 recruits for next season, Athletic Director Bill Carr said today after the NCAA formally announced the sanctions made public earlier under the Florida sunshine (freedom of the press) laws.
The SEC will meet in March to decide whether Florida will be able to keep its football title.
Carr also estimated that the sanctions would cost Florida about $2.2 million in lost television and bowl revenues and in legal fees, which he said are approaching $250,000.
At a press conference, Toner said affirmation of the Florida penalties signaled a new direction in NCAA enforcement. "Penalties must impact on the competitive abilities of a program to get coaches' attention," he said.
But Marshall Criser, president of the University of Florida, said that the impact of the reduction in total scholarships would have "a chilling effect on institutional self-correction in the future."
A reduction in total scholarships was backed by the ethics committee of the American Football Coaches Association in a letter sent to Toner Friday. Criser said that support played a major role in the NCAA Council denying Florida's appeal.
Today's strong stand by the NCAA Council comes at a time in which the NCAA President's Commission has called a special convention in June to discuss cheating, and only a few months after Executive Director Walter Byers said that at least 30 percent of the major football and basketball schools are involved in serious infractions of NCAA rules.
John Ryan of the University of Indiana, president of the President's Commission, said a number of proposals are being developed at that meeting. He said a proposal on the agenda here, making all funds used or generated by a school subject to institutional control, would be withdrawn for further study and discussed at the June meeting. Such a rule would place all booster club funds under university control.
Toner said the cap was imposed as a result of the severity of the case, not the NCAA's decision to use reduced scholarship caps as a deterrent in the future. Three basketball probations have included such reduced scholarship caps, and Georgia recently accepted a football penalty involving a reduction in total scholarships.
"It would be inappropriate to permit the University of Florida to retain any competitive advantage on the playing field that was gained through improper means," Toner said. "Accordingly, institutional sanctions . . . are intended to require the university's football program to rebuild through legitimate means before continuing to enjoy success at its current level."
In the five years that Pell was coach, the NCAA said 20 players involved in the 59 infractions played for the Gators, including five this season. Dave Berst, NCAA director of enforcement, said four or five players on the 1984 team were given immunity from being ruled ineligible in exchange for their testimony.
Berst said such testimony allowed the NCAA staff to uncover a scheme to sell complimentary tickets of which NCAA investigators previously had been unaware.
In addition, an Infractions Committee report supporting its penalties said that Pell had lied to NCAA investigators in four interviews, and that it was a result of this and other stonewalling that the NCAA investigation took 22 months.
The third year of the probation will be dropped if Florida remains in compliance with NCAA rules for the next two years and files the appropriate reports the NCAA will require to verify compliance
Specifically, Toner said the original decision to reduce the sanctions from three years to two "was an expression of appreciation for the decisive actions" by new university President Criser, who Toner called "courageous" in light of pressures to turn his head the other way."
But Criser was not satisfied.
"We believe these unprecedented penalities go far beyond the appropriate corrective actions considering all factors in this case, and, we believe, will have a chilling effect on institutional self-correction in the future.
"I believe in tough penalties, fairly and equitably applied," he said. "The University of Florida is a very serious case as far as violations are concerned, ones that the University of Florida should be penalized for severely. What we find, however, is that it has now been concluded that the past form of sanctions are not sufficient in the view of the NCAA because apparently they have not resulted in a sufficient reversal of the won-lost record.
"Despite the fact that you will lose millions of dollars, despite the fact that you are publicly embarrassed, despite the fact that you are placed on probation, it's now been determined that's not sufficient. We happened to be there when the thrust was determined . . . .
"If we can benefit others by what's taken place, then possibly the penalties in the long run will be worth it."