The NCAA works in mysterious ways

Four schools, four cases, four instances of schools operating in the dark, four different NCAA applications of justice.

That’s the subject of my Monday column. But I’ll be the first to admit, 550 words is hardly enough to lend any kind of depth to the subject. It’s merely a brief look at it, in fact.

The goal is to show how unevenly NCAA justice is administered. The question at hand is this: Is ignorance a viable excuse. And as we quickly see, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

The cases:
MEMPHIS: Everybody’s familiar with this one, because a ruling just came down. Please note, Memphis provided extra benefits to Derrick Rose’s family. Memphis admitted to it, acknowledged it violated NCAA rules by doing so. Memphis’ 2008 Final Four season is history, and will remain so, mainly because of this. But there’s the further issue of Rose’s SAT score, and that’s what I want to focus on.

Memphis, in its NCAA hearing, said it didn’t know whether Rose cheated on his SAT or not. The NCAA ruled that it didn’t matter. That the SAT testing service invalidated his score, and that it doesn’t matter if Memphis knew his SAT would be invalidated, or should have known. It just doesn’t matter. His score was thrown out, so the NCAA can turn back the clock and rule him ineligible retroactively.

Ignorance is no excuse. Or is it?

DUKE: Corey Maggette took money from AAU coach Myron Piggie prior to playing for the Blue Devils. He was ineligible the day he arrived on campus. He was ineligible for the entire 1998 season. He was ineligible when they went to the Final Four. This all came out in a court of law. It is part of the record. Piggie admitted giving Maggette the money. Maggette admitted taking it.

The NCAA’s tune on this, however, is different. David Price, NCAA director of enforcement, said in 2004: “After a lengthy investigation, we came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to determine that Maggette knew or should have known, and we believe firmly that the institution did not know and should not have known.”

You might think working for the NCAA is easy. But imagine trying to deliver that line with a straight face. Maggette had already admitted taking the money in court. Now, the NCAA maintains that Maggette didn’t know that made him ineligible.

Anyway, no penalty for Duke. Ignorance was an excuse in this case.

Now, an NCAA official likely would point out that the Rose case involved an outside organization making a clear-cut decision that made an athlete academically ineligible. And that Memphis also ended his amateur status by giving benefits to his brother. A two-pronged attack. Maggette had only one prong — the amateurism one.

But that’s not the public argument the NCAA makes. It says Memphis not knowing didn’t matter. But Duke not knowing made all the difference.

Moving on . . .

LOUISVILLE: Here’s a different kind of case. It’s not like the other three here, but the same principle is at play. U of L appealed a postseason men’s basketball ban for Scooter McCray’s misdeeds involving Nate Johnson’s dad and hotel bills. U of L said it hadn’t been warned that it could be facing a penalty as major as a postseason ban. And the NCAA agreed. It admitted that it didn’t follow its own rules in giving U of L proper notice. Calling it a “procedural error,” the NCAA threw out U of L’s postseason ban. Not knowing clearly made a difference for U of L counsel. As if it shouldn’t have known that paying for a player’s dad’s hotel room when you were already on probation was pretty serious stuff without being told ahead of time. Regardless, U of L got off on a technicality, and in this case, ignorance was an excuse.

MISSOURI: In 1994 Jevon Crudup led Memphis to the Elite Eight. Six months after the fact, he was found to have taken money from a sports agent. Missouri, which the NCAA determined had no knowledge of Crudup’s deeds, was forced to forfeit all of its tournament wins (but no regular-season wins), and pay back 45 percent of its tournament winnings.

Keep in mind, this was before the Maggette case. The NCAA had this precedent to go on, yet still didn’t sanction Duke. Crudup had even signed an affidavit swearing that he’d done nothing to harm his amateur status before the NCAA Tournament.

In this case, ignorance wasn’t accepted as an excuse. Frankly, I can’t find a single difference between this case and Duke’s. Yet there were opposite rulings.

It’s worth noting, as I did in the column, that the same agent that was giving Crudup money was funneling cash to Florida State football players. But the FSU football program got only one year of probation, and could not be forced by the NCAA to give up its $4.6 million in Orange Bowl money nor its national championship. (Yet another argument for the NCAA instituting a playoff and taking control of football’s postseason).

You can, no doubt, do a little digging and come up with any number of cases that fall on both sides of the spectrum.

What the NCAA can say is that every case is different. Each one brings little wrinkles that defy a general comparison. And yet, the organization has a problem because there are basic principles that don’t always fall the same way.

If not knowing is an excuse in one case, then why not in another?

The NCAA’s other difficulty, and this one is more of a problem, is that it simply lacks the resources to track all this down. It put a full-court press on Indiana’s phone call fiasco, mabye because it is in the NCAA’s own Indianapolis backyard, but it’s in no position to get to the bottom of Derrick Rose’s SAT, or Darrell Arthur of Kansas and his high school grades, or much else.

NCAA schools are expected to self-police. Occasionally, the NCAA gets on the trail of something and really gets after it. It latched on to Marvin Stone a few years back in a rare instance in which we could get an inside look.

Anyway, try to understand it all at your own risk.

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22 thoughts on “The NCAA works in mysterious ways

  1. I'm through "trying to understand" the NCAA. It's time this scumball organization is replaced. Your story on it was OK as far as it goes. You simply didn't finish it off with a real conclusion that changing out the old guard there is both necessary and highly desirable.davidm

  2. PS- The headline is also wrong, and I realize you don't write the headlines. But instead of saying the NCAA "works in mysterious ways" it would be far more accurate to say the NCAA doesn't work at all, period.davidm

  3. David — actually the headlines of the blog are mine. The headlines of the columns are not.Both of you are missing this point, I believe — the NCAA is working the way its membership has set it up to work.The rules are voted on. It's not some independent body forcing itself on college sports. It is a voluntary association willingly supported by its member institutions, who have no interest in having it subjected to outside oversight.Watch what happens when someone sues the NCAA. Who sends lawyers and files briefs to back it up? The member schools.Muhammad Lasege sued the NCAA to gain his eligibility, and U of L's lawyers showed up in court to file a brief on behalf of the NCAA.Jeremy Jarmon is suspended, and UK's athletic director in the end has nothing but support for the NCAA's consistent stance on banned substances.In general, the NCAA has worked just the way its members set it up to work. But it counts on its members to police themselves, and increasingly, that's a losing proposition.

  4. So, like big business' marriage with government, it appears that the member institutions have purposely set up their governing body to not govern them at all. Pretty predictable I suppose. It's easier to do what you want without clear rules to follow.

  5. The NCAA is reactionary. They do not consider "street agents" or "facilitators" until they appear. They do not understand foreign players and justify different cultures until they look at the case.The one and done rule is only a few years old.Nobody could see the results of this.The NCAA puts out fires depending on when and how the arise.And if it benefits them, they let them burn.

  6. Eric, you're the one who wrote the story pointing out the absurdity of the NCAA. If that wasn't the point of the story (that the NCAA rulings are often absurd), maybe you didn't have a good solid point to make to begin with. Anybody can write out a complaint and then say they didn't mean it to complain.Your point that the NCAA is all about the money is a fair point, but its by far not the only point or even the main point. I can agree that the NCAA is a loose "Association." It's been proven by your own column to be way more Parochial than National (favoring one school's treatment over another). There's not much collegial about the NCAA as demonstrated by their bizarre decisions, and everybody who is a real sports fan knows the NCAA isn't about athletics or about helping athletes. I don't think mindless rulings or inconsistent application of the rules has a place in college athletics. It sure seems like you either don't agree, or you're afraid to agree.Maybe you could get a bucket of whitewash and head up to Indianapolis to the NCAA building. They can always use another coat.davidmPS- to say the NCAA wor5ks in mysterious ways and then write a whole column detailing how it plain doesn't work, sure seems a bit duplicitous.

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