One of these days, the NCAA ought to get around to updating its rules and regulations. The gumshoes who administer law and order in collegiate sports seem restricted by an antiquated set of standards.
There was, for example, the egregious case of academic fraud that rocked North Carolina’s pastoral tobacco road campus at Chapel Hill in 2017. Because it involved the whole campus, the NCAA shrugged it off instead of penalizing the athletics program. The result: The Tar Heels won the NCAA basketball championship that year, a title that was delivered when North Carolina was in the tournament instead of sitting on the outside under suspension.
Fast forward to this year when the NCAA had to examine sexual assault charges, much of them involving the football program, that surfaced at Baylor University during the last decade. How bad was this scandal? Well it took down football coach Art Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and even the university president, Ken Starr. It was Starr, remember, who was the independent counsel in the investigation and subsequent impeachment of President Bill Clinton for his own set of sexual shenanigans.
Once again, the NCAA shrugged it off because this “campus-wide culture of sexual violence’’ was not limited to student athletes. So, in a classic case of burying its head in the sand, the NCAA nailed Baylor for four years of probation and a $5,000 fine. It was widely viewed as a slap on the wrist, given the violations that occurred on the Waco, Texas campus and it will not interfere with the university’s celebration of winning the 2021 NCAA basketball championship.
Baylor claims that it has reformed after criminal cases and convictions rocked it in 2011 and 2016 and that may certainly be true. What has not changed, however, is the NCAA and its tendency to shrug off serious charges. The proprietors of college sports used all the right words in its decision citing Baylor for “moral and ethical failings’’ in dealing with this episode. But, it said, those actions did not amount to violations of NCAA rules because the scandal was not limited to student-athletes.
And so open season continues with decisions bound by a century-old rulebook that allows the NCAA investigators to look the other way. The decision came with “tremendous reluctance,’’ the NCAA said.
The solution is to update the rulebook and hammer programs that not only break the rules but shatter them. North Carolina and Baylor would have been good places to start.