Pony Down?: SMU and the NCAA’s problem

October 1, 2015

The Sports Quotient

Ah, the NCAA vs. Larry Brown show continues. For the third time in his illustrious career, ol’ Larry has been sanctioned by Big Brother, this time because he “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he did not report violations and was not initially truthful during an interview with NCAA enforcement staff.” SMU’s basketball program faces penalties stemming from the effort to keep guard Keith Frazier academically eligible. The NCAA alleges that a Mustangs assistant coach “encouraged a student-athlete to enroll in an online course to meet NCAA initial eligibility standards and be admitted to the university.” Then, the report states that the assistant coach got the password from the student to the online account and did all the work for him. As part of the penalties, SMU faces a 2016 postseason ban, a 9 game ban for Larry Brown, a scholarship reduction, and three years probation. I suppose y’all don’t want to hear about the sanctions against the golf program, so I’ll utterly disregard them for the purposes of this story.

I have several issues with the NCAA concerning their practices, but let’s zero in on two that pertain to this case. One, and this is particularly relevant with this case, is that the timeline of the investigations does not allow players who have had nothing to do with the violations to transfer away to a school in time to start the upcoming season, where they would be able to play in the postseason and contend for conference and national championships. Think about seniors Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, likely preseason all-AAC picks and contenders for numerous awards. Is this the way they get to go out? By waiting until September 29th, or the last possible moment until the season starts, to announce penalties, the NCAA has effectively tied players’ hands behind their back.

But wait, the school can appeal the penalties, overcome this ruling, and still possibly qualify for the postseason, right? Yeah, good luck with that. Syracuse still hasn’t heard back on their appeals from last season, and I don’t imagine we’ll hear anything on their situation until Jim Boeheim has picked out this winner.

If the NCAA was serious about being fair in doling out punishments to those responsible, then it would have acted in a prompt manner, giving time to incoming and returning players to consider their future. Then again, this is the NCAA we’re talking about, so we’d be welcoming the arrival of Nicolas Moore III before we got a ruling on this appeal.

But there is a deeper, more troubling issue that the NCAA has, something that goes deeper than an assistant coach finishing coursework for a basketball player. When it comes to policing academics at its member institution, the NCAA has no say in the quality of the education the athletes receive. Read that sentence again. The organization can hoot and holler all it wants about the new penalty structure and how it now treats academic as a “Level I” offense, but this hardly changes anything. So if athletes, particularly major-revenue athletes, are not allowed to profit off their name in college, AND they’re getting “underwater basket-weaving” degrees, what exactly are they receiving? Even when North Carolina got hit with allegations related to the “paper classes” that many student-athletes took at the university, the NCAA replied said that it had no legal responsibility “to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student-athletes at its member institutions,” and that “the NCAA did not assume a duty to ensure the quality of the education of student-athletes.” Are you kidding me? We’ve known this for the longest time, but by saying this, the NCAA is admitting that academic irregularities exist at member institutions (most, if we’re being honest) and that there is nothing they can do to control it. SMU got pummelled because it was stupid enough to do something as blatant as have a coach do work for a player, but most, and I repeat most schools bend the rules with academic-athletic shenanigans on some level. The naivete and delusions the NCAA display are baffling, especially as they struggle to control a billion dollar enterprise they hold virtually no autonomy over. Well, unless you count arbitrary sentencings every so often, just to prove that “I am the captain!”

In short, I feel for SMU supporters and all who are unfairly affected by these recent developments. Southern Methodist should have done better research before hiring someone with a track record like Larry Brown, but that is still hardly a reason to warrant the level of compliance received from the coaching staff. The NCAA, on the other hand, continues to swing and miss with regards to the type of message they are trying to send. Sure, Southern Methodist cheated, but they are only getting the whip because they were caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. It is time for the NCAA to either live up to the rod they claim to represent, or to start sparing the children they have decided to make an example out of. Enacting the former would require a level of oversight that is not humanly possible, and ensuring the latter would make no sense given the NCAA’s history.

But hey, shooty hoops is right around the corner! Rejoice!

Santul Nerkar
Santul is the Voice's former executive culture editor and Halftime Sports editor. Follow him on Twitter @SantulN to become one of his rare few followers.

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