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Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)

 

BYU may win an appeal of the NCAA's committee on infractions' decision to vacate as many as 47 games that Nick Emery participated in while receiving improper benefits. Or not.

But the damage is done. A big chink in BYU's historical plate of armor has been tarnished by this incident no matter who is to blame. BYU is now on probation for two years and loses a scholarship during that time, plus some recruiting restrictions and a fine. Vacating 47 wins is another argument entirely.

Although in BYU's official statement released Friday the university vehemently asserts it knew nothing of Emery receiving $12,000 in benefits over a two-year period, the school probably should have. Schools should not have to be in the babysitting business with their athletes, but, unfortunately, that is exactly what is needed if current NCAA rules are to be met.

Maintaining control is headlights on high beam all the time.

Head basketball coach Dave Rose has a staff of half a dozen full-time folks interacting with 13 scholarship players. Then there are administrators directly assigned to oversee the program. That's a great ratio of players to professionals to oversee what is happening with boosters.

Yet, things broke down, we are told. Even to the point where a booster can gain access to a locker and place in some coin.

In 2006, BYU asked national championship volleyball coach Tom Peterson to resign in an infractions case. Peterson declared he did everything in his power to oversee his program and obey the rules and have things approved and cleared by compliance people. In that case, he was fired.

It may be a different situation completely, but it was a precedent. This BYU basketball story dwarfs the black eye attention in comparison to that volleyball news. Dave Rose received a contract extension days before this NCAA thing broke.

Most schools in the country have boosters getting very cozy with athletes, and it is hard to control. The rumors of bonus money, signing cash, cars, electronic gifts, trips, golf, meals, stuff from clothing stores given to college athletes are absolutely the culture of what has become college sports' dirty little secret. I'd wager no school is immune, not even the Cougars, as proven in the Emery case.

I have a relative who is a high school coach, and one of his players returned from a trip to an SEC school where its players talked about the cash they got. When he returned home and mentioned it to his parents, they told him, "We don't talk about that."

ESPN's Jay Bilas calls these NCAA rules limiting player benefits a total joke. As for vacating 47 wins, Bilas told ESPN 960 BYU should just change their record book to losses handed opponents and nothing really changes. "It is really kind of a dumb penalty," he said.

BYU knows at least one booster in this Emery case extremely well. They've accepted his donations and provided close contact and access. Those associations are dangerous and can lead to serial infractions. The NCAA recommended BYU cut off that access.

What has the nation snickering is that BYU got tagged for a player being taken to Harry Potter World and having access to a Volkswagen, among other things. In comparison with what other schools' athletes get, it does bring a smile.

Wrote Barstool Sports college basketball blogger who calls himself Reas about BYU this weekend: "Big time college players are getting way better stuff than this. This just shows how dumb the NCAA is. The way they punish a school, pulling a scholarship, just costs a future player a chance for a scholarship. Obviously, I think vacating wins is the dumbest, but pulling scholarships seems to be the most hypocritical rule the NCAA hands out. Let's punish someone three years from now because of someone else! Amateurism!"

Former BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg, a former oil lawyer in Houston with international business acumen is shocked by the NCAA decision and penalty recommended.

"The punishment — based on ample similar infractions and punishments imposed by the NCAA COI — does not fit the crime," he told me over the weekend.

"On the side of institutional responsibility, BYU's coaches knew who and what Nick was and how he could be susceptible to the flattery of a booster. On the booster side, no university can assume that any booster is beyond the immature and selfish behavior on display here. So there must be culpability consistent with BYU's negligence and inattention to duty.

"But in any court of law or official inquiry, there is a vast difference between negligence and scienter (a fancy legal term for actual knowledge of wrong-doing or culpability, not just inattention to duty).

"BYU was negligent — sloppy and inattentive. But BYU was not cheating, or aiding and abetting, or trying to cover up or hide anything. To my knowledge, there is no precedent for such a severe and harsh institutional penalty as forfeiture of two years of wins, as mandated here — and there are ample similar cases involving high-profile programs and blue-chip athletes who has been far more maligned with rules."

Fehlberg said the NCAA penalty for BYU is tantamount to a major slap down, albeit for a defined, limited duration.

There are some major decisions coming down on some blueblood programs where an FBI investigation has indicated tens of thousands of dollars were given to athletes, coaches, parents, and other contacts to direct where a player would go.

Fehlberg asks, "Where does COI go from here to those cases when they have clear evidence of lack of institutional control, as has often been the case?"

He's got a point. If BYU gets this for a self-reported infraction, what will the NCAA recommend for blatant corruption of its rules by schools and their employees who had knowledge and facilitated money exchanges?

It has to be a nuclear option, right?

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com

TWITTER: Harmonwrites

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