Opinion: NCAA Polices Shoes Over Academic Fraud

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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)


If nothing else, you have to give the NCAA credit for being on the ball when it comes to shoes.

The governing body that is supposed to "oversee" college athletics can't seem to bring itself to sanction sports obsessed universities that resort to academic fraud or their well-paid coaches who find a way to skirt a jungle of regulations, but the NCAA sure can bring down the hammer when it comes to shoes. We saw it firsthand here in Wisconsin back in 2000 when it was discovered that Steve Schmitt, the very active owner of Black Earth's well known Shoe Box, was giving Badger football and basketball players discounts on athletic shoes and extending them lines of credit if they needed. The contention was that the rest of the student body didn't get the same treatment, hence it was an infraction of one of the NCAA's convoluted rules ? rules against giving an athlete a ride to the airport, for instance.

It took less than 15 months for the NCAA's infractions committee to investigate and come to a conclusion that the UW was guilty as sin. To show just how seriously the NCAA takes shoe discounts, it slapped a five-year probation on Badger athletics and took away five football and one basketball scholarship for each of those years, plus levied a $150,000 fine ? payable, of course, to the NCAA.

Meanwhile, over at Michigan at about the same time, the association was in its third year of trying to determine if a wealthy alum's payments in the tens of thousands of dollars to some star athletes was an infraction.

More recently, after years of investigating, the NCAA couldn't find violations of its rules at North Carolina, where high-profile basketball coach Roy Williams and football coach Larry Fedora walk on water.

A learning specialist in North Carolina's athletic department revealed that the school had set up fake classes and for decades guaranteed passing grades for dozens of basketball and football stars. Turns out the players didn't even need to attend to earn credits.

When whistle blower Mary Willingham offered to prove to Williams that one of his former players couldn't read or write, Williams refused to believe it and then made the Trump-like comment that coaches aren't responsible for how their players do in the classroom.

The school itself, considered a top ranking academic institution, was originally mortified by the revelations and even called it "academic fraud." But when it occurred to them that a basketball championship might have to be vacated and suspensions meted out, university officials insisted the "academic fraud" comment was a typographical error. They had nothing to fear, though. While the NCAA agreed it was an academic scam, it couldn't find a violation of its rules, claiming that decisions on what classes are offered and how they're administered is up to the university itself.

Aha ? not so with athletes and their shoes.

Several football players have been suspended by order of the NCAA because they sold commemorative basketball sneakers they received as gifts from the University of North Carolina, some for as much as $2,500.

While North Carolina, like most major universities, basks in multimillion- dollar deals with the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, unpaid players whose talents make it possible for the schools to demand big bucks for themselves aren't supposed to do anything that might give the players a few bucks for spending money.

So while it took years for the organization to declare that UNC would escape any serious consequences for its tawdry academic scam, it didn't take long to come down on the awful shoe "scandal."

Football coach Fedora, who makes a salary of $1.8 million and has a side deal with Nike, was saddened by it all.

"My responsibility is to help grow them into men," he said of his suspended players. "So they are going to face the consequences of their action."

Basketball coach Williams, who makes $2.1 million annually and also has a side deal with Nike, didn't say much, but athletic director Bubba Cunningham was also "disappointed" by the players selling their shoes.

The coaches' Nike deals aren't public record; they're considered "personal." Their players don't have it so good. The NCAA makes sure of that.

[email protected] and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.

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September 6, 2018


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