Another sad story of a university putting athletics ahead of academics in the name of winning has led to a big name school getting hit with major sanctions: 3 years probation and twelve sports banned from postseason play in 2012-13; one of the biggest blcks of sanctioning handed out by the NCAA in years.
Which school? Must be in Florida … at least an SEC school …. must be some school in the Old South … always putting football over academics.
Nope …. the California Institute of Technology
CalTech, noted school that looks down its nose at Stanford while not even acknowledging the existence of public jockocracies like UCLA, USC, or Berkeley has gotten smacked down by the NCAA, and smacked down fairly hard.
What could the biggest bunch of nerds either side of MIT have done to accomplish this act of brazen rule breaking?? Were they offering money under the table? Maybe free Maseratis for the basketball team? Free yachts to the sailing team? No, it was much, much worse!
CalTech, being a progressive school with lots and lots of fairly responsible smart people hanging around, runs an open-enrollment for courses each quarter … that is, students get to go test drive the class for three weeks before deciding if they want to actually take it for credit. When you have academically minded people who have a track record of responsibility, this is a great idea!
Unfortunately, that means for up to three weeks every quarter, all of their athletes are technically enrolled in zero courses, thus violating the NCAA requirement that students be enrolled full-time as students for a particular percentage of the year.
If you have more than 2 functioning neurons, you are at this point saying no, it has to be more than that! Nope it isn’tYou mean schools brazenly vioalte recruiting restrictions, with a dose of “lack of institutional control, and nothing serious happens. A school knowingly permits a pedophile access to their campus and caps with young kids, and >>nothing<< will happen. But a little common sense progressive education at an institution whose sports program no one cares about (except, you know, the CalTech community, and what have they ever done).
It is a classic example of poor leadership:
1. Make rules rigid and make so many of them that they are difficult to follow in the first place.
2. The rules apply to everyone, except where economic hardship may result (read: big important college programs), so that the rules ultimately don’t apply to everyone equally (very Orwellian)!
The NCAA, much like the superpowers wielding nuclear weapons, gave itself in 1985 the ultimate power to deal a death blow to an athletic program, the so called college athletics “death penalty”, where the NCAA sweeps down and completely shuts down your program for a year or two: no scholarships, no practice, no games, athletes are free to leave and go elsewhere, and once that is over, good luck recruiting because the coaching staff is gone (and blackballed by the NCAA show-cause penalty which penalizes schools for hiring coaches guilty of heinous offenses). The death penalty has been imposed only three times (once against a Division II school, and once against a Division II school). The first time they sent the codes to the silos was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University. No one is in doubt that SMU deserved to be penalized in the worst possible way: players were paid thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, they then received regular “salary” from boosters, rent-free private apartments, etc, etc. When the Death Penalty came down, almost the entire team jumped ship for other schools. After being a regular at bowl games, defeating Notre Dame in the Aloha Bowl in 1984, SMU didn’t get back to a bowl game until 2009. The effects of the Death Penalty were crystal clear: it didn’t wipe a team out for a year: it wiped a team out for the college equivalent of 6-7 generations. However, the NCAA (proving that the “Athletics” overrides the “College”) never accounted for the collateral damage.
With SMU out of football for two years, its conference rivals went scrambling for opponents (college football schedules are usually set several years in advance). In some cases, the schools couldn’t (keep min mind, one less game is a lot of lost revenue). Without SMU on television, the TV networks took a hit in ratings and revenue (you may not be aware but football is kind of big in Tessis). This said nothing of the impact on the local economy of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The entire Southwest Conference eventually folded as a result, forcing teams to go searching for new conferences.
Needless to say, the NCAA, like the United States or USSR, learned a lesson: if you are going to set off nukes, don’t do it in a populated area (like Hiroshima), do it in a place where no one cares (like Bikini). Despite some pretty heinous discoveries, the NCAA has been trigger shy about using severe penalties on big name programs, but has had less of a problem doing this to smaller schools with lesser known programs, or to non-revenue sports that don’t bring economic consequences. The result is that the football program at Miami or West Virginia knows that it can get away with a lot because the NCAA wouldn’t dare hit it with major sanctions: they are simply too important. CalTech on the other hand is a bunch of nerds whose basketball team finally won conference game for the first time in 26 years … who cares if they get slapped down. Besides, when the NCAA is ever asked “what are you doing to safeguard athletics”, they can point to successes like this and say “yeah, we caught ’em”.
With the possible exception of stained glass and the Catholic Church, the NCAA moves the slowest of anything. The NCAA is notorious for looking out for college administrators and not the student athletes. Common sense is virtually unknown when it comes to rules and most egregiously, their enforcement. The NCAA needs to wake up and understand that times change, and that not every university follows traditional methodology, and that there needs to be ways of creating exceptions to this. The NCAA also has to revisit its penalty system to make things fairer for all. University administrators are supposed to have institutional control over their programs. If things go wrong, hold the administrators responsible. Strip new scholarships, fire coaches, fire administrators, strip bowl attendance for a decade. Make the schools pay restitution to the conference and non-conference teams being inconvenienced. Hit the schools in the pocket book, and hit them big enough to hurt, while limiting collateral damage. This way, the Athletic Directors and head coaches of the big football and basketball programs will have to sweat and actually keep an eye on things rather than basking in the glory of a win, and taking the slap on the wrist later, while small schools and non revenue programs get blown up.
It should be about being fair to the students … and while that might be claimed as a priority, actions speak louder than words.
Not to mention, maybe some common sense on behalf of the NCAA would filter down and trickle into the high school associations that have their own track record of ridiculous and capricious rules enforcement.