Tulsa AD Was Admitted Gambler at Time of Hire — And Pres. Upham Suspends Parmlee With Pay

The NCAA was founded more than 100 years ago primarily to protect the safety of college football players, many of whom had been somewhat systematically maimed and even killed on the gridiron. Player safety has since plummeted out of even the Top Ten of NCAA core missions, with protection of the multi-billion dollar stream of NCAA entertainment income now No.1 at the top of the NCAA’s mission hit parade.

Nonetheless, if you’re a player these days, the first thing they hit you with when you walk on campus — and they hit you between the eyes with it — are scary exhortations about the NCAA’s zero-tolerance for ANY gambling-related activity.

NCAA Policy: A Pinch of Gambling Tolerance Here, A Pinch of Gambling Tolerance There:  Today’s news that University of Tulsa AD Ross Parmlee has been placed on administrative leave, with pay, because he has admitted to gambling “for years”, up through 2010, tells us that the NCAA’s vaunted “zero-tolerance” gambling proscription is, de facto, a policy of ‘a little tolerance here, a little tolerance there’ – depending on who you are.

According to news reports, Parmlee told the FBI in 2011 that he had placed bets on college and NFL games “for years”, before he [allegedly] stopped gambling in 2010. Parmlee also, according to those news sources, told the FBI that he had informed Tulsa officials in 2011 that he was cooperating with the FBI investigation.

If your eyebrows aren’t right now pushing up against your hairline, they should be. Parmlee was hired as Tulsa AD in January of 2012, having previously continuously served since 2009 as Tulsa’s Associate Athletic Director for Administration and Operations. So he’d been around. And at the time of his Jan. 2012 hire as AD, he’d already admitted to the FBI and Tulsa, it appears, that he’d been gambling “for years”, including years when he was working for the Tulsa Athletic Department!.

So it appears that Tulsa Pres. Upham hired an admitted gambler to be the new Tulsa AD eleven months ago. And an admitted gambler who admitted that the gambling took place while he served as an employee (in lesser capacity) of the Tulsa Athletic Department!.

So here are the questions which ought to pop into your mind:

1. Why in the world did Tulsa Pres. Upham hire Parmlee in the first place?

2. If Tulsa President Upham knew, at the time of placing Parmlee in the AD position, that Parmlee had previously been gambling while employed at Tulsa, and that Parmlee had admitted that to the FBI, did Upham ask Parmlee more detailed questions? How diligent and objective was the pre-hire process run by Upham?

3 Was Pres. Upham’s hiring of Parmlee directly in conflict with the NCAA’s “zero tolerance” anti-gambling stance?

4. Why has Parmlee been placed on administrative leave with pay? He’s admitted to having gambled while employed by Tulsa Athletics — are there not provisions in Parmlee’s contract which require immediate dismissal, upon admission to gambling? Or at least mandate that no more payouts flow to Parmlee?

5. Is the “with pay” proviso in Parmlee’s suspension evidence that Tulsa President Upham is not committed to an independent, entirely objective investigation and review, and that Pres. Upham is now enmeshed (as is not uncommon) in an effort to “save his own hide”, now realizing that he deserves significant blame for the method and terms of Parmlee’s original hire as AD?

6. Does Pres. Upham have any understanding of the notion that the presence of a gambling-influenced chief executive running a big sports operation presents a significant risk of extortion, double-dealing, and desperate behaviors on the part of all involved?

Finally, it’s not, in light of AD Parmlee’s prominence, unfair to mention here the rather disconcerting fact that Parmlee’s wife was apparently found murdered in his own home in 2010, and that that murder remains unsolved.

What we’re seeing unfold here is consistent with the following de facto rules of NCAA and big-time college sports administration:

Rule 1: Coaches and AD’s never lie or commit bad acts — players do.

Rule 2: If a Coach or AD is alleged to have committed some bad acts, then that person deserves compassion and understanding, and continued stream of income. Parmlee has been given way too much “wiggle room” here, when he’s admitted to having gambled. This is not unlike, however, OSU’s treatment of Jim Tressel: after emails were discovered showing that Tressel had defrauded everyone, he wasn’t even suspended, and remained an employee for six months.

Rule 3: Players, on the other hand, are subject to immediate suspension, upon suspicion of the slightest wrongdoing. See, e.g., the NCAA’s coarse language in its’ decree of July 2011, chastising Georgia Tech for its’ failure to immediately suspend the eligibility of two players merely accused of wrongdoing — to which confession had not been clearly given — which had to do with getting some free shirts.

Rule 4: Zero Gambling Tolerance is actually a flimsy (and as we see here, very flexible) cover which, like a noble toga, hides the NCAA’s mercenary primary goal of maximizing gross income college athletics.

The NCAA and the Tulsa Board should insist that:

A) Tulsa impose an an immediate suspension of Parmlee, without pay.

2) Because it appears that Pres. Upham’s hire of Parmlee 11 months ago was negligent, President Upham be entirely removed from any role in the Tulsa in-house investigative process, and the NCAA investigation, with responsibility for oversight of any such investigations being handed to a outside third party of unquestioned integrity and objectivity.

3) Those investigations be broadened to thoroughly review all details concerning Pres. Upham’s state of knowledge about these Parmlee gambling activities, and the competency or apparent negligence associated with Parmlee’s hire.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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