The Ongoing Mess At UNC

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a reader with a link to an article in the Charlotte News & Observer dealing with the appearance that the UNC Women’s Basketball program will be the recipient of NCAA sanctions while the men’s basketball program and the football program skate with regard to the academic fraud situation there. Here are the salient parts of that e-mail:

“Perhaps this could be a rant topic for you.

“I’m a fairly cynical guy, so I can’t say I’m surprised that the two flagship revenue sports are completely clean, but women’s basketball is dirty.

“I’m also reminded of something I once read along the lines of ‘every time Auburn football has a bad year, they fire their basketball coach.’”

I suspect that the reader’s cynicism sensors have picked up a strong signal here but it is not clear to me where the responsibility for making UNC Women’s Basketball the scapegoat for the 20+ years of academic fraud perpetrated there belongs. I suggest that everyone read the report in its entirety to get a flavor of the current state of play. I will summarize it briefly here and try to identify some of the “bad guys” here:

    It is pretty obvious that UNC offered sham courses that provided academic credits – and high grades – to students who never met with professors or attended a single class. Stats show that an extraordinarily high percentage of the students taking those courses were football players and men’s basketball players.

    The fact that all students could enroll in these sham courses – and some non-athletes did – and could obtain credit for those courses means that the blame for the existence of those courses extends beyond the athletic department. The fact that the faculty and the administration of the university tolerated the existence of those sham courses is an indelible stain on the academic standing of the university itself.

    I do not believe that any of the head coaches in any of the sports at UNC suggested the creation of these sham courses nor do I believe any of them knew about them or worked to sustain them.

    I would not be shocked to learn that some assistant coaches and other athletic administrators/academic counsellors knew what was going on and that those folks actively kept information from head coaches to provide a sense of “plausible denial”.

Meanwhile, the NCAA finds itself in an interesting situation. There are no real “impermissible benefits” here; these sham courses were open to all students and these sham courses were used by the student body at large. No athletes had access to anything that was denied to any student enrolled at UNC. The NCAA mandates that students have a specific grade-point average and that they take a sufficient number of courses per academic year to be eligible. The NCAA does not – and they cannot and they should not – be an arbiter of what course content must prevail in each course taken by every athlete such that it is worthy of academic credit and inclusion in a grade-point average calculation.

However, the overriding purpose of all those NCAA rules and regulations is to prevent one school from having an on-field advantage over other schools. One way for a school to gain such an advantage is to use players who might not be really academically eligible and one way around that it to give those players A’s in courses that have no content.

Moreover, the NCAA faces the unenviable task of figuring out how to sanction teams that play for a school that is widely recognized and widely followed in both football and men’s basketball – where most of the money comes from. No matter what decision the mavens there come up with, there will be shrill voices of protest out and about in the land. That being the case, maybe the mavens will take this opportunity to get it right and punish as many of the ne’er-do-wells as it can find and to punish them severely.

The fact that I am 99% sure that is NOT what the mavens will do demonstrates my level of cynicism here…

Earlier this week, Jayson Stark wrote for about the delays caused by MLB’s replay rule(s). He provided data and made some suggestions. I would like to comment on them here:

    Replay delays in 2016 so far average 1 minute and 55 seconds. That is an increase over 2015 and 2014. Delays in 2014 were 1 minute 46 seconds and in 2015 were 1 minute 51 seconds. These delays are the costs associated with “getting it right”.

    So far this year, 42.5% of the replay reviews resulted in a change in the call made on the field. If the last overturned call benefited your favorite team, maybe you find that rate of return on the time spent acceptable. Personally, I do not.

    Stark suggests putting a time limit on the managers who pop up onto the top of the dugout step and wait for a signal from their “replay review mavens” with regard to the value of going out to protest. That is a hidden form of delay that precedes almost every replay challenge. I think the time should be zero. If the manager hits the top step, there should be a replay AND there should be a limit on the number of replays he can demand.

    Stark suggests that reviews should start before a challenge is made on close plays. MLB insists that is happening. Somehow, that does not pass the smell test because if it did, at least once you would see the umpire go over to the stands and put on the headset and hear the answer to the challenge immediately. He would then take off the headset in less than 2 seconds and make the ruling. Maybe MLB thinks it is happening and/or that it ought to happen, but I cannot believe it is.

    Stark suggests having a 5th umpire on every crew and that the 5th umpire would rotate into the review booth in that park for every game. Maybe that is a good idea and maybe it isn’t. I do know the umpires’ union would love the idea.

I think Jayson Stark’s best suggestion is that MLB stop reviewing “The Utley Rule”. He says umpires should make the call and that is it. That would eliminate a ton of replays all of which take a lot of time because the “slide play” and the “neighborhood play” are often ones involving inches and tenths of seconds. The reviews are lengthy and the number of challenges to base running plays at second base are significant. If MLB were to go along with that suggestion – and I think it is a good one – they could use their replays after the game to grade umpires on the correctness of their calls at second base on such plays. I can promise you that the umpires’ union would hate that idea.

Baseball games take a long time and there are too many segments of a baseball game where there is no action. Anything that will minimize – or get rid of – the 5-minute delays to scrutinize a replay as if it were the Zapruder Film is worth doing.

Finally, here is a baseball item from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“David Ortiz stole a base for just the 16th time in his career. He caught the second basemen and shortstop playing Words With Friends.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………