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Friday, August 19, 2011
Brief thought on the UM scandal

I doubt the allegations against UM's football team are that unusual as NCAA violations go, although the salacious details (prostitutes, strippers, and abortions) are irresistible to the media. The story is bringing into stark relief the basic disagreement over whether the NCAA and its regulations are worthwhile or whether they are the problem, as demonstrated by this exchange between Deadspin's Tommy Craggs and Charles Robinson, the Yahoo! reporter whose investigative work broke the story.

Several people, including NCAA President Mark Emmert, have suggested that the "Death Penalty" could be in play here.  I find it telling that we did not hear similar talk surrounding the recent investigations of The Ohio State University, USC, or North Carolina, or the fledgling investigation against Kentucky basketball last summer. And while I do not believe the NCAA would do that (and Emmert apparently has walked his comments back), the tone of the discussion is noteworthy. Why the difference? Advocates of the death penalty would argue that Miami is a blatant repeat offender; this would be the third or fourth major violation in the past twenty years, not to mention the unproven scandals (such as Luther Campbell's unproven Pay-for-Play) and the school's overall reputation as a bandit/thug school.

But let me suggest a different, less-principled explanation: Miami looks a lot like SMU, the only school to suffer the ultimate sanction, did in the 1980s. Both are relatively small (SMU has 12,000 students, UM 15,000) private universities that are new (or relatively new) to big-time college football. Both burst on the football scene, combining on-field success with a brashness that disturbed the NCAA establishment. Back in 1987, SMU lacked the political capital within the NCAA to resist the penalty; and, if you believe the 30-for-30 documentary, there was a strong sense  that the old guard who controlled the NCAA were also trying to make a special point by bringing the hammer down on the unwelcome interloper.

Could the NCAA's old guard again be gunning for the interloper, one whose style has long rankled? The NCAA backed off from really going after OSU and USC, two old-line football powers. Does Miami have enough political capital to resist, if the NCAA is determined to swing the hammer against it in a way it did not against establishment schools?


"Both burst on the football scene, combining on-field success with a brashness that disturbed the NCAA establishment."

Uh, there is one big difference in the "brashness" quotients: SMU was, uh, overfinanced for a short period of time, and the brashness rose at least in part from having bought the best. (Think University of San Francisco basketball with better coaching and support.)

Miami is an example of what happens when that short period is allowed to grow and fester. The violations accumulate, and it either gets easier to say "well, they've been doing this for a while" (the NCAA attitude) or someone stands up and says "No, A and B and C and D are not independent" (Yahoo!).

Miami is the best argument that the NCAA has been too timid since the days of the Mustangs. After they get less of a penalty than USC did, it will be clear to everyone that Kurt Vonnegut was correct in Player Piano, except that they rollover the players more often.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 8/19/2011 11:28 PM  

But the question remains why the NCAA comes down harder on SMU (and is talking about it as to Miami) than it has on OSU, USC, UNC, Kentucky, etc. Was SMU doing anything different in kind for that short period in the '80s than anyone else was and had been doing? Was Miami?

My question was less about the death penalty and more about the nature of its selective use.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 8/20/2011 10:38 AM  

Oh, well, if we have to play by those rules...

1) Anyone who talks about SMU starting everything has forgotten CUNY. Which is probably another argument for your basic theory, though I'm inclined to think of CUNY as closer to UM than SMU.

2) In general, working from your assumptions—basically, cheating is prevalent, everyone knows it, most do it—then it's really not a size question so much as a method issue.

Big schools can do things small schools cannot. So everyone expects things to be done in a Big School way: through long-established outside-donor relationships, local businesses who coincidentally hire star players for more than market wage in jobs that produce few tangible products, other local establishments that provide services or food and look the other way when the bill is due, etc. It's also a lot easier, especially as a matter of control, for the schools that "own" an area (think Columbus, Athens, Knoxville, Norman, Lexington, Ann Arbor, the rich side of Los Angeles) than it is in places where other things happen (Dallas, Miami, NYC).

So between "this is NOT how we do it" and the higher likelihood that local reportage won't toe the line, it's a lot easier to see why the schools that get caught do so. The don't do the right things, and/or they do them in places where they cannot control the message.

Short version: there are reasons the Big Schools are Big Schools. While long-term underperformance in Norman or Lincoln means staffing changes, a few bad years at a striving school means people getting unhappy about the relatively-new deal they've been supporting.

For a striving school, unless you can play on the level field, you're going to get caught--even in a city with the reputation of Miami. The result is a line that can be crossed with a lot of effort for a short period of time in the smaller sports (Butler, Gonzaga, the previously-referenced USF, Loyola Marymont), or where you can ride coattails and revenue sharing in the larger ones (Pitt basketball, TCU football) until you either crossover completely or fade back.

And the ones who choose not to fade back and try to stay up are the ones Most Likely To Be Caught, because they don't have the same "infrastructure" as the Powers That Be.

It's not that you choose to investigate small schools; it's that you investigate schools that cannot maintain control of the message and, to a lesser extent, the revenue stream.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 8/20/2011 11:42 PM  

SMU was a football power of the '30's so I don't think it falls into the category of having burst on the scene.what made SMU stand out was the sheer audacity with which the slush fund operated and the length of time it went on.

Miami is another example of difference in length and scope if not in kind. OSU, USC and UK were, at least as disclosed so far, relatively contained scandals. Did they deserve the relative slap on the wrist they received(or in the case of OSU, will receive)?of course not, but the scope is small compared to Miami.

UNC is a different matter. It is the largest case of academic fraud and improper contact with agents that the NCAA has faced in years. The usual penalties are not enough. Bring back the ban on television appearances and the post-season. Punish the school where it hurts the most - in the pocketbook. Plus give Butch Davis a show cause order.

Still, the scope and breadth of the Miami scandal is greater than any I can recall in decades. Miami deserves serious consideration for the death penalty as a result. It's not singling Miami out as an upstart;if anything, it's singling them out as a serial major miscreants. Until the NCAA bri

Blogger SportsBiz -- 8/24/2011 10:06 AM  

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