How Much More Scandal Can College Sports Stand?
The epidemic of scandals in major intercollegiate athletic programs since the turn of this century forms a very depressing version of the current status of big-time college sports.
But colleges, universities and the National Collegiate Athletic Association would have you believe otherwise.
That is why the NCAA pays for the Madison Avenue propaganda ads of physically, mentally and ethically perfect student-athletes shown during both the men's and women's NCAA basketball championship tournaments, which concluded two weeks ago.
The truth is that too many institutional CEOs have lost control of their coaches, athletic directors, administrators, student-athletes, professors, tutors and entire intercollegiate athletic programs. This was indicated by a report by Inside Higher Ed, stating that 53 of the 120 universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A football) were found guilty of "major" NCAA rules infractions during the past decade.
Eleven of these universities were involved in more than one major infraction case since 2000, including such mighty sports programs as Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Southern California and Washington.
Inside Higher Ed is an Internet publication devoted to covering all aspects of American colleges and universities.
Four members of the Atlantic Coast Conference were major violators under rulings from the NCAA Committee on Infractions since 2000. Most prominent among them was the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which is a prime example of the extreme difficulties within modern intercollegiate athletic programs.
The Tar Heels have been severely punished for numerous infractions, the most serious of which involved academic cheating and professional agent gifts to undergraduate football players. Also, the head football coach lost his job.
Eight of the Big Ten Conference institutions have suffered penalties for major violations, while seven Big 12 Conference schools have been penalized for major violations in the past decade. The Southeastern Conference and the Pacific-10 have each had six such penalties imposed.
This all adds up to what is hardly a very pretty picture of intercollegiate athletics.
Whereas money and recruiting violations were always at the root of most college sports evils, more and more academic violations have surfaced in recent years. This stems from the NCAA's action placing a greater emphasis upon seeing to it that any athlete enrolled is making normal progress toward a degree in every year as an undergraduate.
That is where professors and tutors have been caught with their erasers in the cookie jar so they can keep athletes eligible for competition.
The University of Connecticut, which won the NCAA men's basketball championship a year ago, was notified by the NCAA just last week that it is ineligible for next year's national basketball championship tournament because it has graduated way fewer than 50 percent of its basketball players over the past six years.
Purdue University of the Big Ten and Syracuse University, moving from the Big East to the ACC, are also under scrutiny by the NCAA for similar failures to graduate a good number of their men's basketball players in recent years.
While academic misconduct is a bigger and bigger bugaboo in the mix nowadays, recruiting and money still loom large as serious problems.
After all, many of these athletes professing to be students are part of a large body of workers who make up a modern form of slave labor. They are paid absolutely nothing and, in many cases, cannot even afford decent meals from day to day under ridiculous NCAA rules of what it calls "amateurism."
Meanwhile, the NCAA and its member institutions of higher education are reaping billions and billions of dollars from football and basketball on the backs of this free labor. Coaches are paid multimillion-dollar yearly salaries to lead these teenagers and young 20-somethings to victory at all costs or else lose their big salaries, campus homes, fancy cars and other perks.
The NCAA makes about 80 percent of its annual income from the annual men's basketball tournament known as March Madness.
This allows the association to hire a bunch of sleuths who venture forth from Indianapolis headquarters to harass institutions and individual student-athletes without regard for the constitutional rights of those persons suspected of violating one or more of the thousands of ridiculous and petty rules in the NCAA's thick code of conduct.
Occasionally these NCAA "cops" come upon some serious rules infractions. This allows the all-powerful NCAA Infractions Committee to lower the boom on countless innocent folks on the same campus where one or two rules violators get caught. It reminds one of what is so often referred to as collateral damage.
The student-athletes aren't dumb. They see the money they are generating. No wonder they want to at least have money to put food in their bellies.
What may be the biggest case of money and other gifts to football players involves the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. Nevin Shapiro, a former Miami booster now serving 20 years in prison for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme, claims he provided money, yacht excursions, prostitutes, parties and other perks to 72 Miami football players and other Hurricane athletes between 2002 and 2010. The NCAA is investigating.
Reggie Bush, winner of the 2005 Heisman Trophy as the Southern California tailback, accepted considerable cash from an agent while with the Trojans.
But after he joined the National Football League, Southern Cal was penalized by the NCAA for Bush's actions, including a ban on postseason bowl play for innocent players still undergrads at Southern California.
The academic based penalty imposed upon the Connecticut men's basketball team prohibits post-season play for current and innocent athletes on the team because of what long-gone Connecticut basketball players failed to accomplish a number of years ago.
Such is the NCAA style of bringing its form of justice through an unjust imposition of penalties.
R. Jay Soward, a Southern California wide receiver, told Sports Illustrated months ago that he took money from a sports agent because he didn't have ample funds for food and rent.
"I would do it again," Soward said. "I have four sons, and if somebody offered my son money in college and it meant he wouldn't go hungry, I would tell him to take it."
Years ago, a Michigan college got in trouble with the NCAA because an assistant coach, leaving campus for the Christmas holiday, drove by an athlete walking near his dorm. The coach stopped his car and learned that the boy would not be going home for Christmas because he didn't have the money for the trip to Ohio, where his family lived.
The coach, heading that way, gave him a ride, and the college was punished for that.
Another stupid ruling by the NCAA came about in 1970 because Jack Langer, a Jewish basketball player at Yale, played on the American team in the Maccabiah Games in Israel in the summer of 1969. The NCAA did not recognize the Maccabiah Games back then and thus put Yale on a two-year probation. That was simply bigotry, with collateral damage to innocent athletes who became ineligible to play in the NCAA basketball tournament for two years.
Some athletes aren't even going to college to get an education. They are using college basketball or football teams as a way station before quickly leaving to play in the National Basketball Association or National Football League.
Coaches such as John Calipari of Kentucky know this full well and recruit numbers of these "one and out" players. But it paid off as the Wildcats won the NCAA basketball championship last Monday night.
Two of Kentucky's freshmen, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, will be leaving after this spring to enter the NBA draft, as will Duke's freshman guard, Austin Rivers.
Such questionable actions at institutions supposedly devoted to education - plus the horrors of the pedophile case involving a former assistant football coach at Penn State - make one wonder if intercollegiate sports will ever clean up its act.
Gordon White, a regular sports columnist for The Pilot, served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. He lives in Pinehurst.
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