|July 19, 2007: There Are No Fixed Rules In Cheating Game|
With all the outside factors going on in the wonderful world of sports, has anybody else noticed how difficult it is just to get the scores and a few facts associated with them?
So much time and space is being utilized to describe the games being played in order to play the games that there is rarely enough time or space to explain exactly what it is, or was, that attracted our attention in the first place.
Apologies extended if that sounds confusing, but the bottom line is that sports, and the way we perceive them, are confusing.
We spend more time these days trying to figure out who is doing what than we do on the actual results. Is Barry Bonds an athletic marvel or a record-maker who will forever be tainted by suspicions of steroids? Are the mountain bikers in France doing dope? Are those 350-pound linemen physical freaks or pharmaceutical phonies?
In other words, we’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out who is cheating, to what degree, and when does it really become an issue?
Illegal stimulants are wrong. Any idiot knows that.
But if there’s no testing and you’re certain to get away with it, as was the case for a long time, a lot of people are going to go for the edge. Any idiot also knows that.
And then there’s always the trickle-down effect. Or is it trickle-up? Who knows where it starts? Or stops? It may not always be ethical, but individuals and teams are always looking for an edge, sometimes at the risk of breaking the rules. In other words, they are willing to cheat.
It doesn’t just happen in sports. In the real world, “gaining the edge” is often described as a “white-collar crime.” And at the college level -- well, who really knows what the NCAA considers cheating?
That august body hands out sanctions like Division I schools dole out scholarships, but sometimes you have to wonder what these people are thinking. They talk a good game about cleaning up programs that cheat the old-fashioned way -- with money. But they sometimes sure have a strange way of doing things.
Perhaps the hypocrisy of the NCAA was never more obvious than in its most recent ruling. The University of Oklahoma’s 2005 football team was found to be in violation of a rule that frowns on student-athletes being paid for jobs they don’t perform (a practice some might consider un-American, but nevertheless, a rule is a rule).
I’m not sure just how far up the penalty ladder this transgression ranks, but the two players involved ultimately packed up and left for Division I-AA schools (where they can resume their careers without interruption). The Sooners were forced to “vacate” (as opposed to forfeit, which means they don’t count as losses) their eight victories that year, leaving them with an 0-4 record. Coach Bob Stoops lost eight wins on his career resume, which presumably makes the rounds annually, but won’t be saddled with any additional losses.
So far, so gentle. But you have to go deeper to get a fuller grasp on the “severity” of the measures the NCAA handed out. The Sooners also had two years of probation added on to a previous penalty, putting them in “time out” until the end of the 2010 academic year. These guys were already in trouble -- they just get to stay in detention a little longer, without losing any grade points.
In addition, and this is the real kicker, the NCAA ruled that Oklahoma must give up two scholarships in the next two years. That’s out of a total of 85, mind you. Now, can’t you just imagine how that’s going to crimp Stoops’ recruiting style? Undoubtedly he’ll have to suffer through a couple of years with only five tight ends and nine defensive backs. Imagine the hardship.
You would have thought that the NCAA might want to make a statement here -- taking away enough scholarships to make a difference, say by making the Sooners only three deep, instead of four. Take two scholarships in successive years away from the basketball program and it’s a major impact. In football, where Big Ten schools routinely suit up 100 players for home games, it just cuts down on recruiting expenses.
With so much scholarship leniency being extended, you might have expected that Oklahoma would have taken a little financial hit. Not so. Just to make sure there were no hard feelings, the NCAA allowed OU to keep all the money it banked from the 2005 Holiday Bowl -- while giving the school some credit for the self-discipline it administered.
One of the stipulations that Oklahoma made was banning athletes from working at the car dealership where the transgression took place. Not forever, mind you, but until at least the 2008-09 academic year -- which, in case you lost your calendar, is next year. Not only that, but the athletes’ supervisor (the guy handing out the money envelopes for the jobs not performed?) was banned from being involved with the university’s program until at least August 2011. I guess that will teach him.
Do you wonder if maybe the school might have also said it will not take any contributions from the dealership until then? It’s just a wild guess, but I’m thinking that in the grand scheme of things at OU, the guy who owns this dealership is a major, major player whose season tickets aren’t anywhere near the end zone. Just speculation, mind you.
I’m also assuming (despite the risk of what that means) the penalty handed to Oklahoma was intended as a slap on the wrist for a minimal offense -- especially considering that OU was already in the NCAA’s version of reform school for a previous offense. But if so, it makes you wonder if all of this isn’t cause for serious concern.
Remember, this is the same ruling group that came this close to handing Maryland’s basketball program the dreaded death penalty almost two decades ago -- when one of the most serious charges involved an assistant coach driving a player to a summer school class! It wasn’t long after that the University of Kentucky’s basketball program faced some major league charges -- but somehow escaped with sanctions not nearly as severe as those handed to Maryland.
It makes me wonder sometimes if it’s the nature of the violations -- or the status of the programs involved -- that dictate how the NCAA responds.
It also makes me wonder why, as a society, we are more forgiving of cheating at the college level than we are at the professional level. After all, it basically comes down to trying to get that “edge,” which more often than not is just a fancy name for cheating.
Jim Henneman can be contacted at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Issue 2.29: July 19, 2007