by Kent Sterling
When I was seven years old, my Mom asked what I would give up for Lent. My reply was “Asparagus.” My supposed cleverness did not please her, and she chose my sacrifice for me.
That is exactly how the NCAA should handle the laughable punishment Syracuse University levied upon itself this week as a consequence for academic fraud and allowing players who violated substance abuse protocols to continue to participate in practices and games.
The Orangemen have injury issues that have rendered their once formidable team quite mediocre, and their participation in any meaningful postseason frivolity – other than the all-inclusive ACC Tournament – was unlikely regardless of sanctions.
To call this a self-inflicted slap on the wrist insults both slaps and wrists.
A part of me wants to congratulate Syracuse for being this uncommonly transparent and bold, and another wants NCAA president Mark Emmert come down on Syracuse with the maximum penalty the rules allow. The self-imposed penalty is brazen, audacious, and uncommonly disrespectful toward a member institution that is supposed to protect fairness and the educational opportunities of student-athletes.
Anyone paying even a little attention to college athletics knows that the term “student-athlete” is a lie designed to provide legal cover to the nonsense of amateurism. Even the inventor of the term – longtime NCAA president Walter Byers – acknowledges that.
Syracuse trying to dance between the raindrops to avoid getting wet is futile, as long as Emmert and the NCAA take seriously their charge to hold member institutions accountable for their wayward acts against the mission of education.
But you can’t blame Syracuse for getting nervous as the NCAA continues to dilly-dally in bringing consequences against the school. The two-day hearing before the committee on infractions was held in October, and no word has come from Indianapolis as to what the tariff for these violations might be.
There are those who will argue that taking away privileges from players today because of violations that occurred prior to their enrollment is patently unfair – and it is – but what is the alternative? Allowing schools to hide, obfuscate, block, and delay inquiries until those athletes who were in school during a time of moral turpitude are gone allows the system to be further corrupted without answer.
What we rarely talk when discussing corruption in college athletics is that the NCAA is a member institution. It does not exist as an entity of oversight. The NCAA is itself overseen by the very institutions that comprise its membership. If the NCAA steps out to smite one of its members, the members themselves may choose to decisively act to communicate their displeasure.
When the boss is actually the clerk, and the employees are the actual bosses, business gets confusing. That’s why we are so frustrated with the NCAA.
Fans hold Emmert responsible for the corruption that is revealed to the public, but the blame for occasional miscarriages of justice belongs to the schools themselves. Until a school like Syracuse is willing to look itself in the eye and hold itself truly accountable, there can be no protection for student-athletes nor equanimity among athletic programs.
And as long as the public continues to consume college football and men’s basketball in record numbers, regardless of the academic fraud that occurred at Syracuse – and North Carolina for that matter – what is the incentive for ensuring the education promised as compensation for providing athletic excellence and success?
The athletes deserve better than what Syracuse provided, and so do the fans who believe amateurism to be a unique asset to college sports. For that matter, the NCAA enforcement staff deserves better than to be treated like a toothless cabal of middle school hall monitors by athletic departments.
Schools that prey upon academically weak, athletically superior young men who help perpetuate bloated salaried career of coaches and administrators while receiving nothing of value in return should be ashamed. Syracuse should feel a special brand of shame for blatantly thumbing its nose at the NCAA, refusing to accept meaningful responsibility for treating its athletes like cattle gathered as assets and turned loose after their use.