A show cause penalty -- usually with set duration -- may be handed down for a variety of reasons, but is most often used for coaches who commit NCAA violations relating to recruiting. For example, ex-Indiana coach was hit with a five-year show cause penalty stemming from improper phone calls made to recruits, and Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien faced the same penalty after making an under-the-table payment to a recruit.
Any school wishing to hire a coach under a "show cause" designation must appear before the NCAA infractions committee and potentially face new sanctions. No Division I athletic director has ever taken that step. As such, "show cause" usually amounts to a total ban from working at the college level for the duration of the penalty.
For example, California coach Todd Bozeman was hit with an eight-year show cause penalty stemming from improper payments made to the family of one of his players. Ten years elapsed before Bozeman was able to find a job at the college level -- he's currently the head coach at Morgan State.