In the past year, the NCAA has been on a rampage.
It all started with the heavy sanctions levied against USC. It continued with investigations of North Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee and Ohio State. Various players from coast to coast are going through the ringer. God only knows which school will be hit next.
Through it all, the NCAA has been able to keep fans and media focused on the supposed wrongdoing of the member institutions it has lined up in its crosshairs.
The result has been a year-long feeding frenzy with no end in sight. But what has escaped scrutiny, for the most part, is the NCAA itself.
After all, almost everyone who follows college sports acknowledges the following:
1. The NCAA is Corrupt. To cite just one example, the scalping of Final Four tickets over the past 20 years or so by athletic department personnel to corporate entities and the laundering of that money through various red-haired AAU personalities has gone on with the full knowledge and approval of NCAA members and administrators. Since almost everyone had a finger in the cookie jar, this egregious corruption was ignored until recently exposed via the Kansas basketball scandal. However, there’s a good chance it will end up being swept under the rug and the NCAA–whose administration, after all, is mostly made up of former school officials complicit in the scandal–will get off scott free.
2. The NCAA Makes Up The Rules As It Goes Along — Much of the rationale for NCAA sanctions are based on post hoc reasoning that is nearly impossible for schools to navigate. Take USC’s case. One basis for the heavy penalties levied against USC was a ‘lack of a culture of compliance’ on its part. The small number of school compliance officers was cited as evidence to support this charge. But does the NCAA have a guideline in place in its bylaws stating how many compliance officers a school should have? Nope. Did the NCAA at any point beforehand tell USC “Hey, you don’t have enough compliance officers?” Nope. Only after a violation was found to have slipped through the firewalls of the compliance department did the NCAA conclude that the small number of compliance officers was evidence to support an overall charge of ‘lack of institutional control’. Is this fair?
3. The NCAA Is Selective and Biased In Its Enforcement – Just ask Jerry Tarkanian, whose long-running feud with the NCAA finally culminated in him beating the organization in court. From the Los Angeles Times story on Tark:
(Tarkanian) produced a dozen or so affidavits from players and others saying that NCAA investigators had threatened their careers if they didn’t cooperate, even suggesting that they lie. The players said NCAA staff vowed: “We’re gonna get Tarkanian . . . run him out . . . drive him out of coaching.” The affidavits portrayed the NCAA’s lead investigator, David Berst, as being obsessed with getting Tarkanian. Berst later testified that he sometimes called Tarkanian a “rug merchant,” referring to Tarkanian’s Armenian ancestry.
NCAA investigators relied on sketchy notes or, in some cases, only their recollections of what people told them. They said they didn’t record the interviews.
Internal files of the NCAA’s investigation of Tarkanian–later unearthed by the courts and Congress–revealed more skullduggery, as told by author Don Yaeger in his 1990 book Undue Process: The NCAA’s Injustice for All (Yaeger also wrote the Reggie Bush book “Tarnished Heisman”):
“This provided a unique glimpse inside the NCAA’s enforcement program,” wrote Don Yaeger. “Public records suggest (Tarkanian’s) case was the worst investigation ever conducted by the NCAA, rife with intimidation of athletes, bigotry . . . slipshod work, creative note-taking and untruth by an investigator and vindictiveness by a disgruntled former coach.”
In the end, the NCAA settled with Tarkanian for $2.5 million while refusing to admit it made any mistakes or without an apology to the former UNLV coach.
Sadly, the work that Tarkanian did to expose the workings of the NCAA has been quickly forgotten. Instead of it being an impetus for reform, no one even talks about it anymore. It seems that every case of malfeasance and corruption on the part of the NCAA tends to get buried in the sands of time.
It’s simple: Fans and Media can’t help themselves.
The media loves a good scandal and the NCAA is happy to give it to them. NCAA investigations give sanctimonious columnists a chance to pontificate about how a school lost its way, or about how a coach cheated, or about how a player betrayed his teammates. It riles up readers in every direction and gives investigative reporters a chance to ply their wares. Does the media really care about whether a school is truly guilty as charged by the NCAA? I don’t think so. Sure, there are some media members who are honest enough to acknowledge the NCAA’s faults, but how many of those who spent tons of column inches ripping Miami in 1995 or Alabama in 2002 or USC in 2010 actually read the full reports and the evidence they contained? Citing a cliff notes version is much simpler and allows for easy casting in the morality play that inevitably ensues.
The fans are even worse. It is a truism that followers of a school hit with infractions are intimately aware of almost every detail in an NCAA penalty report that concerns their beloved institution and that opposing fans who have not read the report will automatically assume that school is guilty without bothering to read it. Instead, they rely on the media–which also hasn’t read the report–to tell them what to think. It is also a truism that these same fans who once insisted their school has been unfairly treated by the NCAA will then make the same uninformed assumption of guilt when new sets of charges are brought upon a different school.
So, when Alabama was hit with NCAA penalties in 2002 and Tide fans protested over the investigation and its flaws, USC fans just assumed Alabama’s guilt and didn’t bother to read the report. Conversely, Alabama fans now assume USC was guilty of its infractions without bothering to read the NCAA report on the Trojans. As we speak, everyone assumes Ohio State is guilty. It’s like a circular firing squad. It might be fun for Michigan fans to rip Jim Tressel or for Tide fans to assail Cam Newton…but is it worth it? What is there to gain in the end?
Through it all, the one organization that fails to receive the scrutiny it deserves is the NCAA. Fans and media are too busy being played to notice or care and would rather hype the investigations than look at the root cause of the mess.
This is not to say that all of the concerns taken up by the NCAA are invalid or that rules don’t need to be enforced. It’s just to point out that the NCAA is too corrupt, biased and vindictive to be the valid judge, jury and executioner it claims to be.
Why don’t the schools just blow up the NCAA by leaving it? It’s a voluntary organization, right? Well, I think it would be an option, except the media would probably crucify the first school that did so. Who wants to go through that? The school would be painted as a petulant organization that couldn’t abide by rules of decent society. Nixon’s resignation would be taken more kindly.
There is an interest in keeping the status quo alive. Lots of money and careers are at stake. So we all just sit back and pretend the NCAA is a legitimate actor in these ongoing dramas.
But things would change if the magnifying glass of scandal was focused on the NCAA. Media outlets could refuse to do the bidding of an anti-competitive monopoly. They could do exhaustive research on the NCAA’s investigative methods and qualifications. Reporters could read these NCAA reports and see how shoddy and bereft of evidence they often are. The inanity of the NCAA bylaws could be exposed by legal experts. Congress and the FBI could look into where all that Final Four ticket money went and why no taxes were paid on it. Fans could ignore the temptation to crow over their rivals being investigated and instead empathize with their plight…after all, who knows which school will be put in the stockade next?
There is talk of Congressional investigations, but that’s been done before. Congress won’t act and, really, it’s got more pressing matters right now. Others have to step in.
It’s time to cite the NCAA for lack of institutional control. The evidence is clear. Let’s put a stop to them before another school is treated unfairly.
The death penalty is in order.
But it’s up to you to help pull the switch.