I think it was Mike Phillips’ Michigan Review blog posting comparing last week’s NCAA sanctions against the U-M basketball program to reparations for slavery that pushed me over the edge. Although it might have been the heavily-handed, righteous editorializing against the punishment by the Michigan Daily (Title: “Unjust Punishment: New sanctions imposed by the NCAA go too far”) Whose editors apparently decided also warranted an inane (“Why, for instance, can’t a high school kid live with a benefactor who enables that athlete to graduate high school and avoid trouble, two results that might otherwise not occur?”) and lengthy viewpoint by former sports editor Joseph Litman. Indeed, nowhere I looked did anyone seem to think the NCAA sancations were fair and reasonable.
The major Detroit dailies weren’t much better – while the Free Press’ Drew Sharp sounded reasonable in his column “Justice served in case vs. U-M”, meanwhile the staff editorial minced that while “ … it’s not entirely fair for current U-M basketball players to pay the price of banishment from the NCAA tournament for another year because of the shameful conduct of a few of their predecessors,” but concluded they should accept the punishment and move on. The Detroit News was more forthwright, with their editorial titled “NCAA Punishes the Innocent with U-M Basketball sanctions”, while just a few clicks away was a story about the latest shenanigans by a U-M varsity athlete, and a basketball player no less: ”Robinson Jr. Gets year of probation in assault case”
The News’ Bob Wojnowski follows the lockstep pattern of defending the pampered (and many law-breaking) U-M athletes admirably in his column “Wrong people pay the price”: agonizing that “The NCAA, flawed in many ways, has no other viable method to send a stern message that cheating has repercussions,” although conceding the obvious: “Extremely strong penalties were warranted.”
Nationally, this vision of a tyrannical NCAA slapping ridiculous punishments on innocent, wholesome players is laughable. An article by syndicated AP sports columnist Steve Wilson reprinted in dozens of papers began: “College sports are so steeped in hypocrisy it’s hard to tell sometimes who is the most disingenuous: the NCAA, the university presidents, athletic directors or coaches. … They endlessly promote the illusion of amateurism while running a multibillion-dollar business that serves as a feeder system for the NFL and NBA.” And CNNSI columnist Mike Fish concludes “The more [NCAA] watchdogs, the better” in a column about a meeting a people interested in reforming the NCAA, which may result in a new oversight committee U-M will probubly be a member of.
The NCAA press release about the sanctions clearly implicates high ranking U-M officials in the length and severity of the scandal: “it was clear to the committee that [Martin] was not only a “bona fide” representative of the institution’s athletics interests under NCAA legislation, but prior to his disassociation in 1997, he clearly enjoyed an “insider” status.”
The NCAA infractions committee also observed “ … this case represents the largest acknowledgement of cash payments ($616,000) in the history of NCAA infractions cases. Further, these payments were made to some of the most prominent men’s basketball student-athletes of the era. … While some of the violations occurred several years ago, the actions of the athletics representative continued through most of the 1990s and constituted a continuing pattern of NCAA violations until 1999.”
Given the sorry state of college athletics nationally, and what appears to be the earnest efforts of a well-intentioned NCAA to try to prove they are capiable of meaningfull self-punishment, I think the penalties are reasonable. The ban on postseason play seems fitting given the role of Ed Martin during a period of U-M success, and while the reduction of one scolarship per year will require some careful planning by the coaching staff, doesn’t seem an undue punishment.