The truest sign that your athletic program has reached the pinnacle of college sports has nothing to do with trophies, bowl victories, Final Fours or even flashy uniform combinations. Instead, it seems, it's all about the penal system.
Welcome to the club, University of Oregon football.
The Ducks and their 8,675,309 different ways to wear its highlighter yellow, green, black, white, silver and (eventually) full-color-spectrum unis, were issued a relatively harmless punishment by the NCAA on Wednesday for football recruiting violations from a few years back that more or less revolved around the use of a recruiting service. And for a player that never came to Eugene.
The nuts and bolts of the penalties: Oregon gets three years of 'probation,' which essentially means nothing in the eyes of high school juniors and seniors, who really only care about the street cred they'll get for having a helmet with wings on it; the reduction of one scholarship each of the next three years, which means that they'll be short a third-stringer for a few seasons; and some individual penalties assessed on coaches who aren't there anymore (how's the weather in Philly, Chip Kelly?) and who likely won't be in the college game again anytime soon.
What the penalty does not include, though, is any ban on the postseason, or the ultimate NCAA 'death penalty,' that being a ban on TV appearances.
That said, what really will come of this? Not much, it seems. It's not like USC, which couldn't participate in a bowl game two years ago, and as a result (along with an overall mismanagement of a gold mine of talent and recruiting base by coach Lane Kiffin) is suddenly a middle-of-the-pack program. That's not happened to Oregon, and as long as they continue to get a steady stream of Nike money and advanced Nike equipment and gear, expect the Ducks to shake off this 'punishment' with barely a few lost feathers.
Sadly, it appears that getting wrapped up in such a recruiting scandal, if you want to call it that, is par for the course in college sports. Arizona's closest brush with this came in basketball at the tail end of the Lute Olson era, when his signature on a letter sent out to prospective recruits who would be playing in an amateur hoops tourney at McKale violated some rule or another, but the extent of that situation was 'don't do that again.'
Nothing remotely like Oregon's situation has occurred with UA football, which might explain why the Wildcats have never been considered an elite program. Instead, Arizona football's history includes getting put on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1994 as a projected No. 1 team (insert SI Jinx conspiracy theories here) and not much else, other than some farcical sideline video of Mike Stoops losing his sh*t or John Mackovic famously saying 'at least they can't say I was a cheat' as he packed up his desk following a woeful 2 1/2-year stint running the program into the ground 10 years ago.