Ivan Maisel’s story on the USC football program got me thinking today: Did USC get what it deserved?
No bowl games until 2012. A big reduction in scholarships (that starts after next season, mind you.) Some bad luck and, as Maisel points out, the Trojans are looking at an NFL-sized roster and practices in which they do not tackle.
But is that what USC deserved?
The truth? We have no idea.
Why do we have no idea? Because the NCAA Committee on Infractions operates behind a curtain of secrecy.
Who comprises this end all-be all committee? Would it surprise you to learn that among the people on the 10-member committee is the deputy athletic director at Notre Dame, former AD at Miami, and a faculty rep from Oregon? Does that just reek of a possible conflict of interest?
Now, if a possible conflict of interest were the most questionable factor in the NCAA’s process of making decisions on rules infractions and punishments, I probably would not be wasting my time writing this post.
However, possible conflict of interest isn’t nearly the most ethically-questionable tactic of the law-and-order branch of the NCAA. That distinction belongs to the utter lack of due process in the investigation of violations, in the implementation of punishment, and in the consistency of both. The appeals process is completely ineffective and flawed at its core.
Former University of Colorado football player and U.S. Ski Team member Jeremy Bloom learned this firsthand when the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play football after skiing professionally (and taking sponsor money to do so.) In testimony before a congressional committee, Bloom said, “The NCAA internal judicial process resembles more that of tyrannical regime than it does a democratic process.”
Bloom was absolutely right.*
And because the NCAA is a private association, it has to answer to no one — even though courts have ruled that student-athletes are third-party beneficiaries of the contract between the NCAA and its member institutions.
Is this right?
The NCAA offers no due process, no innocent-until-proven-guilty, no burden of proof. Goodness, the hearings are even closed!
Sure, you can bring your attorney in with you — like Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush did, but that lawyer might as well be a dancing monkey for all the NCAA cares. You might not get the axe until the mountain of papers is shifted from one room to the next, and you might think your testimony matters. But, it doesn’t.
College sports, and football in particular, is a big-money business and the NCAA has all its hands on board to keep this business not just afloat, but cruising on all engines.
Did Notre Dame, Oregon, Miami, Missouri, the MEAC, and others have anything to lose by USC beating them — and most everyone else — the last several years? I can’t say for certain, but if Washington was at the other end of this investigation, what would your answer be?
This may not be a popular thought with Washington Huskies fans, but the fact is, we don’t really know what happened at USC. Could a good person, like Todd McNair, have become a scapegoat? Could a shady agent have been the real culprit? Did Pete Carroll know? How the heck do we know the real story? And I have a very hard time believing the deputy AD at Notre Dame read through tens of thousands of pages of evidence to find out what that real story was, as well.
Were rules broken? Probably. Any worse than at any other major football program in the country? Probably not.
The likelihood that anything will change is slim to none. But, something has to change because this pendulum swings every which way and can knock any program off at any time.
Washington president Mark Emmert will be taking over as the president of the NCAA before I return to Ohio. I realize his biggest issues will be television contracts, expanding tournaments and otherwise exploiting college football and basketball players, but I sincerely hope Emmert can reconnect with the educational mission for which he got into this racket.
I hope he can recognize the financial backwardness most college athletic programs are running in, that he can see the hypocrisy that all that money and all those senseless rules create. I hope he sees the enforcement of senseless rules is bad enough, and that the subsequent investigation and punishment can be even more senseless.
I doubt he’s asking, but if Emmert wants any suggestions on the process, I suggest the committee be made up of lawyers and former judges, not athletic directors or faculty reps from member schools. I suggest the process be open to the public and the media. Why hide it if it’s all copacetic? And, finally, I suggest that due process — the foundation of this country’s legal system — be employed at every turn and be rooted in any and every decision.
* In 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on Due Process and the NCAA. Here is a transcript of that hearing, which included Bloom’s testimony. One of the people who testified in this hearing was one of my professors at Ohio University, David Ridpath. His plight sounded eerily similar to the one McNair is going through now. Read here.