Academic Misconduct Versus Academic Fraud

Anyone who has been a reader of these rants for a while now will recall my completely negative reaction to the academic fraud that was perpetrated at UNC where athletes were steered to sham courses where they would get high grades to remain academically eligible.  Those courses never met and required next to nothing in terms of “educational activity”; many such courses were created and perpetuated for about 20 years in one academic department and the head of that department left UNC once the existence of those sham courses came to light.

The NCAA huffed and puffed and presented UNC with no sanction other than the public opprobrium it brought on itself.  Moreover, to make matters worse, the NCAA and its members chose not to institute new rules that might prevent such an occurrence in the future at UNC and/or any other member school.  That action ought to tell you all you need to know about the concern that schools and the NCAA have for the “student” part of their favorite piece of word gymnastics, “student-athlete”.

And now we have a situation wherein the NCAA action seemingly is disproportionate when it comes to sanctioning another school for what it calls “academic misconduct”.  Even its own label points to the fact that what happened at Mississippi State in this matter is less serious than what took place at UNC.  Let me review the bidding here:

  • A student at Mississippi State was hired by the Athletic Department as a tutor for athletes at the school.
  • That tutor did some of the assigned work for 11 athletes at Mississippi State in an “online general chemistry course”, took some of the exams for the students and in a couple of cases did virtually all the work in the course for the student-athletes.
  • Based on investigations by the school and by the NVAA, it was determined that this “misconduct” allowed Mississippi St. to use ineligible athletes in various games.  Hence there needs to be “sanction”.

Let me be clear.  What happened at Mississippi state is wrong; it should be called out and punished here and at any other college/university where it takes place.  At the same time, keep in mind the UNC situation as a comparison piece.

  • This action was perpetrated by a student hired by the Athletic Department; the UNC situation involved faculty members and academic departments in conjunction with the Athletic Department and its personnel.
  • This action involved a total of 11 student-athletes (10 football players and 1 basketball player); the UNC situation involved hundreds of students and student-athletes over about a 20-year period.

Recalling that the sanctions in the UNC case amounted to not much more than having the NCAA wag its finger angrily at the UNC Athletic Department, here are some – but not all – of the punishments for Mississippi state:

  • A fine equal to 1% of the annual budget for football and men’s basketball at Mississippi St.  [Aside:  I presume that some of the offices on mahogany row at NCAA HQs need new furnishings…]
  • The football program loses 4 scholarships; the basketball program loses 1 scholarship.
  • Reductions in the number of allowable recruiting visits to the Mississippi St. campus for football and basketball over the next couple of years.
  • Three years’ probation.

Oh, and by the way the Athletic Department also has to part company with the tutor they hired who set all this in motion and that person now has a 10-year “show-cause order” meaning that if any other NCAA Athletic Department wants to hire him in that period, the school has to “show cause” regarding why he is the selected candidate for a job there and the NCAA can then approve that request or inform the hiring school of penalties it will face if the hiring is consummated.

I have no problem at all with what the NCAA did in this matter.  It is the lack of proportionality when compared to the entirety of the UNC academic fraud that I find offensive.

There is another situation developing involving big-time NCAA football that could become a hot mess.  A former team physician at Penn State has filed suit against the school and against football coach James Franklin and against the Athletic Director, Sandy Barbour for firing him as the team physician.  Normally, that would be an issue for a civil court to resolve or for the parties to accommodate one another with some sort of settlement and it would go no further than that.  However, in this case, Dr. Scott Lynch asserts in his lawsuit that coach Franklin ordered players who were still not recovered from injuries back onto the field.  Dr. Lynch reported that information and he asserts that his firing is retaliation for that reporting.

In addition to medical matters I would have no way to understand, this matter will also pivot on various NCAA and Big 10 Conference rules and regulations that pertain to injuries to athletes and their treatment for those injuries.  The thing that puts this matter higher on the food chain than it would have been 10 years ago is the heightened focus we have on player safety when it comes to football.  This could get very messy…

Finally, since I spent some time on the subject of college academics today, consider this entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Catatonic:  A state of extreme stupor.  Most commonly seen in college freshmen taking classes with titles like ‘Introduction to Semiotics’, the condition is also prevalent among local news anchorpersons in the smaller markets.”

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



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