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Understanding the true meaning of an NCAA show-cause penalty

The NCAA rule book has mushroomed to the approximate size of the latest full volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It's pretty much impossible to commit it to memory and create mental shortcuts to understand that rules that govern college athletics. One of those common shortcuts is that a show-cause penalty for a coach is equivalent to a modern day scarlet letter, sending the offending party to wander the college sports wilderness indefinitely.

As this excellent article from USA Today shows up, that perception is false.

Take the case of Kent State head basketball coach Rob Senderoff. After serving as an assistant coach at Kent State from 2002-06, Senderoff joined Kelvin Sampson's staff at Indiana. He left Bloomington and returned to Kent State after being implicated in the Hoosiers' impermissible calls scandal that ultimately landed both Sampson and Senderoff with show-cause penalties, and was retained on staff even after his 30-month penalty was handed down. In 2011, Senderoff was promoted to head coach. Senderoff has led the Golden Flashes to a 57-41 mark with one postseason appearance in his three seasons as head coach. 

"Perception is always going to be there because these are high-profile cases," said Kent State athletics director Joel Nielsen, who promoted Senderoff to head coach three years ago. "Rob's was, as were the two others. Literally almost all of them are high-profile. I think that perception is always going to be there. You can't run away from that perception.

"It's just something you have to do deal with, feel good that you've done your background (research), due diligence on these individuals, that they've understood where they've gone and have done the necessary rehabilitation – whatever that is – to get back into the profession they love. We're a country of second chances."

In light of Sampson (at Houston) and Bruce Pearl (at Auburn) landing head coaching jobs after battling their own show cause penalties from the NCAA, USA Today's Nicole Auerbach examined what a show-cause penalty really means and how it affects the careers of those involved.

In short, a show-cause penalty is just that: a penalty requiring the employer of a penalized coach to appear before a committee every six months how and why said coach has stayed in line with the NCAA rulebook. It does not say a coach must be fired, or that he or she can not be rehired by another school. Pearl, for instance, is still on his working probation until August 24. He is not allowed to recruit until that date, but he can instruct current Auburn players, when the NCAA calendar permits it, of course. 

"You cannot read it, unless you misapply the English language, you can't read the show-cause bylaw that a person who is currently under a show-cause order … cannot be employed. That's not what it says," former NCAA Committee on Infractions chairman Gene Marsh told USA Today.

"Now, on a street level, it got to be known as that … a scarlet letter. In the minds of people, they thought well, if someone has a show-cause they can't be hired to work in athletics. More on a street level plus, the common man or woman kind of understanding – they thought well, jeez, there's a guy who can never be hired because he has or had a show cause. Well, that's also a misunderstanding."

The first step in dealing with a show-cause penalty is, of course, to not get a show-cause penalty. But in the event that you are slapped with a show-cause, understand that your career is not over. 

Read the full story here.