What is “malodorous” to a skunk? What is “disgusting” to a maggot? What is “too good” for a child molester? I pose these questions only to provide a context for the real question that is on my mind this morning:
- What is “shameful” or “embarrassing” or “humiliating” or even “contemptible” to the NCAA?
The announcement last week – in a Friday news dump no less – the NCAA announced that it would not punish UNC for about 20 years of academic fraud. Athletes in the “revenue sports” – and that phrase is VERY important here – were steered to sham courses in the African and American Studies Department where they all got good grades in exchange for no academic work so that they might stay eligible. After deliberating on this matter for about 5 years after being made aware of it by outsiders, the NCAA decided that behavior was not in their ambit and it was a “university issue”.
Here are some reasons why the NCAA threw up on its shoes last week:
- The minute the NCAA made the decision to “investigate” this matter as a potential violation of its rules on “impermissible benefits to student-athletes”, it was obvious that UNC would have to be found innocent because these courses were open to every student on the campus and students who were not athletes took those courses. That decision was made several years ago and yet the NCAA pretended to “investigate” and “deliberate” and “adjudicate” this matter.
- The fact that this involved the UNC football and basketball programs meant that any sanctions levied would have to restrict the participation of a major revenue generator – UNC – and so, there were significant economic barriers to finding any wrong-doing here.
- The NCAA overloaded the hypocrisy meter on Friday when it abandoned the individuals who comprise the corps of its most sacred class of people – the “student-athletes”. Dozens – maybe hundreds – of “student-athletes” came to UNC on “NCAA scholarships” in a deal that the NCAA says offers them a free college education in exchange for their athletic performance(s). By turning a blind eye to what happened here, the NCAA has told all the “student-athletes” that those scholarships may in fact be meaningless because schools can offer them courses that teach the “student-athletes” exactly nothing.
I have never been – and I am not yet – a proponent of paying college athletes to play football and/or basketball. I am not a Pollyannaish guardian of the ideal of “amateurism” in that position; I simply think that there are ways for athletes to be paid to play sports and that they should seek out those places if they do not want to go to college for the primary purpose of getting an education beyond the high school level. I am making no value judgements here; high school graduates are adults – or close to it – and they should be able to make those kinds of choices for themselves with the understanding that all choices have consequences and some consequences are good while others are bad. In and of itself, that is a life lesson – a molecule of “education” if you will…
I mention that because the NCAA has been violently opposed to paying athletes for the entirety of its existence; that is the core reason that they have come up with their multi-hundred-page rulebook over the years. What the NCAA has done here is to advance the case made by the proponents of paying college athletes for a simple reason:
- The NCAA position is that the scholarship is a thing of value and that thing of value is what is exchanged for services rendered. The scholarships provide opportunity to the “student-athlete” and he can seize that opportunity or not at his choosing.
- The real value of that scholarship drops like a turd into the bowl if the schools – with no fear of sanction – can steer their “student-athletes” to content-free courses by using “academic advisors” who are employed by (note the advisors are paid by) the athletic departments.
As all this unfolded, there has been a category of losers that have received little attention. These are the folks who graduated from UNC without inflating their GPAs by taking courses such as the ones the “student athletes” were steered to. Those alumni have had their diplomas devalued and defaced – and no one has done anything about it. The alums who are not fanboys of the basketball and football teams ought to be outraged by that and ought to be pressuring the school to do things to assure no further damage be inflicted on their diplomas. Somehow, I don’t hear those cries.
Similarly, the faculty at UNC should be outraged. In academic circles – the ivory towers of scholarly pursuit – there should be a level of contempt for courses designed from the outset to teach students nothing at all. There has to be “collateral damage” done to members of the UNC faculty where that sort of thing happened without anyone noticing for almost 20 years.
I have said before that the only reason to tolerate the existence of the feckless and hypocritical NCAA is because it stages the single best athletic event every year – – March Madness. My first thought last Friday was this:
- Once this passes over, maybe those goofs in Indianapolis can stumble through the months to March without any further incidents.
- Then I remembered the FBI investigations of “fraud” and “bribery” that are ongoing and realized that my hopeful vision for the next 4 months is an unlikely outcome.
Finally, let me leave you with this comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:
“What I love about college sports is the purity. That’s why I go to ESPN Classic and watch only games played prior to 1910. The hi-def sucks, but you can’t beat the purity.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………