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Former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian once joked that "the NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it will probably slap another two years' probation on Cleveland State." The stereotype worked like this: Since the governing body of college sports really couldn't afford to punish its key revenue generators, it saved the real belt-whippings for the lower divisions. But it's one thing to crack wise about a stereotype. It's another thing entirely to back it up with numbers.

The Michael Buckner Law Firm, which specializes in NCAA compliance cases and in helping prep schools navigate the NCAA's certification requirements, published a study this week that examined the length of probation handed down for schools in different NCAA divisions since 2005. Not surprisingly, Football Bowl Subdivision schools got off the lightest, with an average probation of 2.58 years. All other schools averaged 2.86 years, and the historically black colleges of the SWAC and MEAC averaged 3.83 years of probation.

This study has a few flaws. The sample size is relatively small. Also, the firm included St. John's and Georgetown as FBS members. While those schools play big-time college basketball in the Big East, they are not FBS members. Also, the report's case study examines the case of Buckner firm client Alabama State. Alabama State's case is a particularly egregious example of academic fraud and lack of institutional control. Alabama State originally received five years' probation, but that was reduced to three on appeal. So Alabama State, convicted of academic fraud more serious than the fraud uncovered in 2007 at Florida State, actually received one fewer year of probation.

Still, the numbers offer a disturbing look at the disparity in penalties for the NCAA's haves and have-nots. Or maybe they don't. Maybe the NCAA judicial process is really no different from the American justice system. Unless you're Plaxico Burress, if you have enough money, you can always tip the scales of justice in your favor.

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