The Michigan Daily - Monday, May 12, 2003 - 17
PERSPECTIVES ON THE SANCTIONS
Unless otherwise noted, unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of
the Daily's editorial board. All other articles, letters and cartoons do not
The never-ending nonsense of the NCAA
BY JOSEPH LITMAN
Sports journalists who occupy their time primarily cover-
ing a single sport routinely cite reasons why their respective
area of expertise in the sports arena is superior to all others.
NFL advocates laud the unmatched panty of the league,
baseball writers tout the game's majesty, NBA observers note
the association's unmatched star power - you get the picture.
For a long time, college basketball proponents have pointed
to the excitement of March Madness while college football
pundits have cited the tradition that enhances the sport when
making their separate cases. Those who cover college football
and basketball should now unite and start trumpeting this
unique claim to preeminence: In no other sports do success
and opularity ensue in spite of the governing body.
xcepting the Bud Selig cynics, the "No Fun League"
comedians and the professional-style-of-basketball
polemicists, few could make a case that Major League
aseball the NFL or the NBA work to limit the growth
and prosperity of their games. In all three, the rules estab-
lished and decisions rendered mostly attempt to satisfy
fans and showcase the best of each sport. Even the NHL
- which at times appears directionless and out of touch
with the demand for its product - hasn't limited the bru-
tal fighting that likely attracts many fans to hockey. All of
those various league executives and presiding bodies
understand that satisfying consumers and appearing as
fan-friendly as possible is a crucial component to the equa-
tion for success. The NCAA, however, missed that memo.
For the sake of fairness and accuracy, one must note
that the NCAA is perhaps fundamentally different from
the cited analogs because the latter don't oversee ama-
teurs, yet there are also parallels to be drawn because the
NCAA, like its professional counterparts, is the organiz-
ing entity responsible for promoting the competition, and
that role has been willingly played to great financial gain.
Thus, there are necessanly more rules required to govern
amateurs, yet the ones in place often don't make sense
and have worked to detract from the products the NCAA
lucratively sells through television and merchandise.
Quite simply, the National Collegiate Athletic Associ-
ation has mastered self-vilification, diminishing its repu-
tation and appeal through sundry foolish decisions and
illogical rules that have seemed vindictive, myopic or
devoid of sensibility. In few areas has this propensity for
ineptitude and self-defaming behavior been as apparent
as in punishing schools and athletes that committed
transgressions of the rules, some sensible and some not.
The NCAA often makes punitive decisions that seem to
be informed by neither common sense nor reason. Why, for
instance, can't a high school kid live with a benefactor who
enables that athlete to graduate high school and avoid trou-
ble, two results that might otherwise not occur? That situa-
tion should not constitute a compromising of the kid's
amateur status. Or, could someone please explain why a
school can sell millions of jerseys featuring a star player's
uniform number, yet that athlete can't receive one cent of
the proceeds? That scenario seems exploitative. Really,
many schools and athletes in Division I athletics often excel
despite the best attempts of the governing body to thwart
competition and impede the lives of its dependent coaches
and players. There is no other way to think of the NCAA, an
organization that again put its flawed judgment and self-
defeating proclivity on display last week when it banned the
University men's basketball team from participating in any
postseason tournaments for which it may qualify n 2004.
The reasons for the ban stem from an array of transgres-
sions - mostly illegal payments totaling more than
$600,000 to Chns Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor
and Louis Bullock by now-deceased "friend" of the pro-
gram, Ed Martin - committed in the '90s by players,
coaches and an outside booster who have had nothing to do
with the University since 1998. Acknowledging that the
University made an earnest attempt to atone for its past sins,
the NCAA imposed additional punishments, placing the
University on probation for three-and-a-half years, mandat-
ing that the Umversity avoid all contact with the four players
involved for 10 years, stripping the basketball program of
one scholarship for four years commencing next recruiting
cycle and banning next season's team from postseason play.
The first three stipulations seem appropnate given the
egregious crimes committed and the nature of the punish-
ments - they will all hurt the school, primarily. The
postseason ban, however, while harmful to the institution,
mostly affects next year's coaching staff and players,
none of whom committed any wrongdoing according to
the NCAA. In effect, innocent people are being punished
for the crimes committed by others. Who cares? How
about Bernard Robinson, Jr., a man whose inspired play
last year was a major component in the teams success
and a rising senior who deserves better than a final year
of eligibility spent playing for synthetic goals and conso-
lation prizes. In more universal terms, why should an
infraction committed by a family member before you
were born commit you to a sentence in Pelican Bay?
The cry of injustice may seem hackneyed, yet it is apt.
More importantly, the NCA deserves to be taken to task
for its decision last week because the organization contin-
ues to misallocate blame, never learning from its previous
errors. At too may schools - Miami, Alabama, Kentucky,
Michigan to name a few - people have been unfairly
asked to atone for mistakes committed by their predeces-
sors. The NCAA should punish the programs and the
schools but spare people who have done nothing wrong.
The University will be fine; the program will persevere.
Likely, Coach Tommy Amaker, his sta and his players will
achieve success made to seem even greater by the adversity
they will be asked to negotiate. Just ask longtime basketball
coach Rick Pitino or University of Miami football coach
Larry Coker how that feels. However, the NCAA must now
look down and see if it has anything lgftto stand on, having
now shot itself in the foot so many times. Sports fans have
already heard a mighty chorus sing out in opposition to the
NCAA's ruling, and as football and basketball seasons
return next fall and winter, the sports will be followed by an
adoring audience who love the games and resent the mis-
guided organization that presides over them. Do not feel
sorry for the University. Instead, pity the endlessly inane
NC AA, which does not learn from history.
Litman is a University alumnus.