Penalties: 'NCAA Wonders Why It's a Laughingstock'
One constant you can count on from the National Collegiate Athletic Association is its capricious way of handing down penalties against its member institutions.
Inconsistency is such an accepted modus operandi that when the NCAA refused last month to penalize the University of North Carolina for its recent academic fraud involving athletes, Jay Bilas, a respected ESPN college sports analyst, had one of the more cogent of many critical observations when he tweeted, “And the NCAA wonders why it’s a laughingstock.”
The hands-off approach to phony classes for football and basketball players at Chapel Hill comes only a few months after the NCAA came down hard on the University of Connecticut because the Huskies’ basketball team was not averaging high enough grades to meet a new NCAA academic standard.
As a result, Connecticut, a three-time NCAA national champion under coach Jim Calhoun (1999, 2004, 2011), is barred from the 2013 NCAA tournament.
However, some current and former Huskies basketball players who were the persons responsible for the low team grade point average were not cheating. They were just not doing satisfactory work as students.
New NCAA rules call for postseason suspension if the team classroom marks are below a certain standard. The NCAA has claimed great progress in mandating higher academic standards for its athletes by passing such rules in recent years.
On the other hand, North Carolina had a fraudulent operation going on within its Afro-American Studies Department, which handed out good grades to football and basketball players in some courses that those athletes may not have even attended. These corruptions, which were meant to keep athletes academically eligible to compete for the Tar Heels, led to the retirement (before he could be fired) of the department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro.
According to reports so far, there may have been 54 bogus courses in the department over a four-year period, 2007-2010.
Yet because a handful of non-athletes were also allowed to take advantage of some of these make-believe courses, the NCAA looked the other way. Apparently this all-powerful governing body of intercollegiate sports felt that the fraud was not committed solely for the purpose of helping varsity athletes remain eligible for Tar Heel teams.
Ergo, the NCAA is a laughingstock.
Where Is the Consistency?
If some athletes are posting poor grades the team is barred from postseason play like Connecticut, while if some other athletes and faculty members are flat-out cheating to get good grades the NCAA looks the other way. Where is the consistency?
This scandal led to a University of North Carolina internal investigation of academic fraud within the Afro-American Studies Department, along with a look-see by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and finally, an independent investigation by former Gov. Jim Martin.
Could it be that there was criminal activity? We await the findings by these various investigations.
The walk-away by the NCAA also comes just months after the association penalized North Carolina rather severely because a handful of its football players accepted gratuities from agents while they were still undergraduates at Chapel Hill. This penalty involved a whole different kettle of smelly fish and led to the dismissal of the head football coach, Butch Davis, 14 months ago.
The NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, gladly stood center stage to accept great praise and accolades when he and the NCAA came down extremely hard on Penn State following the conviction of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of sexually molesting 10 young boys for years. Sandusky, the pedophile, used Penn State facilities as a place for many of his horrible crimes.
Penn State’s once elite and highly respected football program, which may not fully recover for decades, was given a four-year ban from bowl play, a severe reduction in football scholarships, and elimination of all victories since 1998. The university must pay a $60 million penalty, with all moneys going to help abused children.
But Emmert, considered singularly courageous in handling the Penn State case, leads the organization that walked away from an academic cheating scandal that has rocked North Carolina for months.
The NCAA has made no statement concerning this decision to bypass the Tar Heel misconduct, although some former NCAA officials claim that there are no rules covering the North Carolina academic fraud case.
The NCAA has no rules related to pedophilia, either, but it still punished Penn State football players, past and present, who had nothing whatsoever to do with Sandusky’s atrocious criminal activity or the attempts to cover up the crime. Those players achieved 111 victories that are no more. What did they do to deserve that?
Florida State was punished by the heavy hand of the NCAA in 2007 because some of its athletes were wrongly assisted by academic tutors who even gave them answers to some quizzes. The Seminoles lost a number of athletic scholarships as a result.
However, some non-athlete students were also inappropriately helped during the same courses of study by the same tutors.
Yet the NCAA, which does just about anything it wants to do, did not punish the Tar Heels after punishing the Seminoles for look-alike improper conduct.
The Raleigh News & Observer has done a fine investigative reporting job on the long-running North Carolina athletic scandal and was responsible for exposing much of this academic fraud matter. In its story eight days ago with a headline “Athletes Not Found to Have Advantage,” the N & O included a classic excuse from the NCAA when it wrote:
“A former head of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, Joseph Potuto, said in a July interview that the NCAA typically looks for evidence that student-athletes get special breaks.
“In the UNC case, both student-athletes and regular students enrolled in the aberrant classes. That may have made the difference for NCAA investigators. Even if student-athletes are clustered in a class with a professor who gives out easy A’s, Potuto said, ‘That’s not an NCAA violation because that course is open to everybody else.’”
Following such NCAA logic, Florida State should not have been punished. Also, any institution that wants to make sure its athletes with shaky academic credentials remain eligible to compete may place them in easy courses “clustered” with non-athlete students.
It is just not easy to figure out how the NCAA, which sometimes appears to play favorites, will handle the next cheating scandal that comes along. And you can be sure that there will be one all too soon.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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