COLUMBIA, Mo. – The NCAA prides itself on prioritizing academics, well-being and fairness. That’s straight from the organization’s website.
Those values seemingly went down the drain Thursday when it handed out sanctions to the Missouri athletic department for academic fraud. Well, with the exception of academics.
The long, hypocrisy-filled gavel of the NCAA was kind enough to inadvertently provide MU a 101 crash course on avoiding sanctions: lie, lie, lie and lie some more.
Give unhelpfully vague information. Tell good ol' wanna be-Big Brother whatever you want. Just don't tell the truth, heaven forbid.
Long story short: A former MU tutor went rogue and did classwork for 12 students that are likely no longer part of Missouri athletics. The Missouri Athletic Department immediately self-reported the violation when it was first brought to their attention. And they got blasted for it.
The NCAA proved if you take initiative to do the right thing as Missouri did, it will penalize hundreds of athletes that have nothing to do with any of this, fine your institution, take away scholarships, pretend previous seasons never happened by vacating wins and even implement postseason bans.
All because no one from the MU athletic department realized one tutor was doing this. The NCAA's report even admitted the tutor was acting alone.
Now, let's be clear: academic fraud is a serious issue, and a tutor acting alone or not, there probably should have been at least some sort of penalty for Missouri. But the MU baseball, football and softball programs receiving one-year postseason bans for such an instance is baffling. It's flat out cruel.
But even that isn't as cringeworthy as trying to listen to chief hearing officer for the panel, Dave Roberts, fumble his way through a conference call with reporters trying to explain the NCAA's decision.
Roberts said Missouri "did the right thing. It self-reported. It acknowledged and accepted responsibility."
And because Missouri admitted wrongdoing, Roberts said there was no choice but to hand Missouri a Level I penalty. Well, I guess MU athletic director Jim Sterk or anyone in the athletic department are never telling the truth again the rest of their lives. They certainly have no reason to be transparent with the press on anything like this. Thanks a lot, NCAA.
Then Roberts completely contradicted himself. He was asked if schools are essentially encouraged to not cooperate with the NCAA on investigations.
“You can certainly make that argument,” Roberts said.
We all know by now the NCAA can't ever be counted on to get a decision right, but that doesn't make this verdict any less puzzling.
Meanwhile, let’s compare that to North Carolina basically getting caught with its pants down, admittedly making up fake classes and subjecting more than 1,000 student-athletes to an academic fraud case.
UNC was basically devising fake basket-weaving courses that never had an instructor and its athletes never attended/did work for, yet got credit anyway. But hey, the athletic department denied wrongdoing! So, of course the NCAA concluded there was no wrongdoing and no punishment is needed. Just asinine.
So, essentially 12 MU students cheat and three programs are set back for the foreseeable future, and a untold number of UNC athletes commit an unhealed level of academic fraud and the school gets away with it because it employs good liars. Politicians nod in approval.
Just read this statement from the NCAA trying to explain how that's fair and try not to cringe.
“The conduct at issue in this case is also distinguishable from the COI’s decision in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Among other differences, UNC stood by the courses and the grades it awarded student-athletes. In support of that position, UNC asserted that although courses were created and created by an office secretary, students completed their own work. Here, by contrast, Missouri acknowledged that the tutor completed student athletes’ work and, in most instances, this conduct violated its honor code.”
Apologies. I just sneezed because I'm allergic to insane amounts of hypocrisy and BS.
Regardless how unjust these penalties are, it's going to impact the MU Athletic Department. Sterk, as he should, has said Missouri plans to appeal the violations.
"Once these issues were brought to our attention in November 2016, the university moved swiftly and fully cooperated with the NCAA Enforcement staff to jointly investigate the allegations that were made. We are shocked and dismayed by the penalties that have been imposed today and will aggressively fight for what is right,” Sterk said in an emailed statement.
Good for you, Jim. But who knows how likely this appeal is to be successful. If the NCAA's infractions appeals committee document is correct, the best course of action for Missouri to get the postseason bans overturned is to argue the punishment was excessive.
In the meantime, who knows what the fallout is going to be. In its ruling, the NCAA recommended that players transferring out of Missouri should be waived the one-year waiting period, so it could be open season on the transfer market. Of course, the most immediate thought from Missouri fans shifted to transfer prize Kelly Bryant. Bryant had a handful of suitors before picking Missouri to play football for in 2019. When the sanctions were first announced, it was conceivable Bryant was about to text Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, "hey, u up?"
According to several reports, Bryant intends to stay at Missouri. So, at least there's one bit of good news. Who knows how many seniors eventually leave the program, or recruits de-commit and go elsewhere.
Since MU is appealing the postseason ban, and these things take FOREVER to get their day in court (at least a few months), the MU baseball and softball teams could have their postseason bans delayed a year.
Regardless of the outcome, Columbia and the University of Missouri won't forget the day the NCAA allowed hypocrisy to triumph in favor of more rational thinking.
– Garrick Hodge is sports editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.