Opinion: NCAA Prez Emmert Should Think Before Speaking

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


For a salary of about $2 million a year, shouldn't NCAA president Mark Emmert choose his words more carefully than those he chose to utter this past Thursday at the annual NCAA convention?

Said Emmert: "Scandals that call into question our commitment to academic integrity make whatever praise we have of our highest graduation rates ring pretty hollow. And we have to recognize that we can't dance around those things. We can't make excuses for them. How do we respond? Well, I think first of all, by not retreating from it. By not getting under our desks."

Really? You just gave the University of North Carolina pretty much the free pass to end all free passes for what some have labeled the worst academic fraud scandal in history, hiding behind a bunch of excuses that basically sounded like you were hiding under your mahogany desks to retreat from all reasonable responsibility, and now you want to jump in everyone else's faces?

Are you an educated idiot or merely the most tone-deaf, pompous, self-righteous fraud the NCAA has ever seen? And that's putting you at the top of a very long list of tone-deaf, pompous, self-righteous frauds with past and current connections to college athletics' most powerful governing body.

Two quotes with which to bury Emmert beneath his own wobbly words:

No. 1, from former Kent State University president Carol Cartwright, who was on the infractions committee that heard the UNC case, as she discussed why UNC officials who had said in earlier correspondence with the school's accreditor that the bogus African-American Studies courses constituted academic fraud: "They pivoted dramatically (in the infractions hearing). They said that was a typo, it wasn't correct, that they believed the courses were legitimate."

No. 2, and much earlier, as this case involving nearly two decades of chicanery involving more than 1,000 athletes, a good many of them men's basketball players and football players, was still in its investigative stage, Gerald Gurney of the Drake Group — whose mission it is to, in its words, "defend academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports" — said: "I can safely say that the scope of the 20-year UNC fraud scandal easily takes the prize for the largest and most nefarious scandal in the history of NCAA enforcement. The depth and breadth of the scheme — involving counselors, coaches, academic administrators, faculty, athletic administrators, et cetera — eclipses any previous case."

Yet despite overwhelming evidence of both intent and execution, Emmert's group failed to deliver a single solid sanction against the Tar Heels, instead falling back on the phrase that while the NCAA was "troubled by the university's shifting positions" — as in, perhaps, admitting it had committed academic fraud before deciding that admission was a typo — there wasn't enough evidence for serious sanctions.

Folks, if Emmert's NCAA couldn't determine if academic fraud benefiting athletes was practiced at UNC, it couldn't determine if it's typically darker at midnight than high noon.

That's not to say that Emmert is wrong that the NCAA needs to quit making excuses and symbolically hiding under its desks about the rapidly changing face of major college athletics. One reason there wasn't more public outcry from NCAA member institutions about UNC's fraudulent courses is because almost every school in the country offers majors that keep academically challenged athletes eligible.

Just look at the listed majors of any football or basketball team, and if at least 35 percent of them are in a single major, there's your safety net for the guys who wouldn't otherwise has been admitted.

Nor is it just the majors. The Drake Group's Gurney has called some sports-friendly instructors "Jock Docs," and their mission is to keep athletes eligible, particularly in football and men's basketball, where the most risks are admitted.

Or as one former SEC athletic director once told me, "The key to winning in the SEC is finding out which professors like athletes."

And in the wake of the current FBI investigation into coaches pimping players to certain agents or paying them to come to their schools, Emmert knows academics isn't his organization's only concern. In fact, the FBI probe isn't really related to academics but rather athletics.

But given how horribly the NCAA handled the UNC scandal, here's an idea moving forward. In the interest of fair play, everyone in the NCAA but UNC gets one Get Out Of Jail Free card for the next five years regarding a major violation.

Doesn't matter if you bought a player, had him cheat on the ACT to get eligible, ordered up strippers to recruit him, it's all forgiven for one occurrence.

But only one. After that, the head coach is suspended without pay for one season, and the school forfeits all revenue earned during the time of the violation and vacates all victories and titles won during those violations. Period. End of discussion.

The one asterisk? The school can appeal to an outside jury of lay people not connected with college athletics to decide their fate if they aren't satisfied with the NCAA's ruling, though that jury must come from a region of the country not close to that school.

Now this has nothing to do with the FBI or any criminal investigation. That's the law. The NCAA is a somewhat voluntary organization. But before any of this happens, someone needs to tie Emmert to a desk until he sees the preposterousness of his own words before he speaks them.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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January 21, 2018


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