The lingering lesson from the NCAA’s 40-lashes-with-a-wet-noodle punishment of Oregon is this: College sports’ governing body is legislating itself into irrelevance.
And that’s a good thing. The sooner we can recognize that big-time college sports are ungovernable, the sooner we can realize that the system is beyond repair, then the quicker we can move on to a manageable system.
After more than two years of investigation and consternation and lawyerese, the NCAA demonstrated this week that the whole thing had been a pillow fight all along.
Despite “major violations,” former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was hit with a laughable show-cause penalty, just in case he wants to walk out on a $6.5 million-a-year NFL contract after one season; the program lost a grand total of two scholarships; and the Ducks were restricted on how many football recruits they can bring on campus.
To its credit, Oregon — the school that a few years ago allowed the inmate to run the asylum in the form of a booster elevated to athletic director — had been cooperative and contrite during the investigation.
That undoubtedly mitigated the sentence and allowed the school to avoid what would have been authentic punishment — a bowl ban. It’s hard to imagine Ducks fans sitting in the Rose Bowl for the BCS Championship Game come January saying, “Man, those reduced recruiting visits really hurt.”
But while Oregon fans are breathing a sigh of relief and the rest of Pac-12 is calling 9-1-1 for a waaaambulance, the real problem is the inconsistency of NCAA penalties.
This isn’t the typical and trite rant against the NCAA. The organization is, after all, a cartel established and overseen by the schools themselves. NCAA processes
and policies are approved by the universities, and the governing body is only as effective as it is allowed to be.
But it is an acknowledgment that the NCAA has an impossible job. USC lost 30 scholarships and was hit with a two-year bowl ban because Reggie Bush was paid some $300,000 by an agent; Penn State was hit with a four-year bowl ban, lost 40 scholarships, and faced a $60 million fine for allowing a pedophile to run rampant through the football facilities.
Oregon paid a recruiting service more than it should have, which isn’t in the same league as USC’s transgressions and isn’t in the same galaxy as Penn State’s. But trying to balance the punishments for such varied violations requires a modern-day Solomon.
The job is beyond the limits of the bureaucracy that is the NCAA, and it leads to questions about the future of college athletics.
A couple months ago, there was a story that a golfer at a West Coast Conference school was penalized for washing her car using the school’s hose and water. Nobody has been able to confirm the violation, but the absurdity of the current climate is evident in the fact that is was entirely believable.
Which brings us back to Oregon’s football program. Considering the violations in question, it’s surprising that the Ducks did not get hit with a bowl ban.
But as long as institutions of higher learning are best known in many cases as training grounds for the NFL or the NBA, the incongruity will be unending.
Let’s face it, the only way to clean up big-time college sports is to make them less big-time. Until there are viable minor leagues for football and men’s basketball, providing an alternative for athletes who view college as nothing more than a way station on the journey to the pros, then nothing is going to change.
That’s not going to happen any time soon. And because of that, the NCAA will be forced to continue attempting to do the impossible.