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NCAA no longer big bad bully on the block

NCAA Facebook


In normal situations, the moment that the schoolyard bully is revealed to be all talk and no action is a celebratory one.

In that instant, the playground becomes an egalitarian utopia, a place where all children can run and play without fear of the noogie, the wet Willie or getting pantsed.

The NCAA has been likened in many circles to a playground brute that throws its weight around against hapless opponents, taking their lunch money without a trace of compassion.

We’ve learned twice in the last month that the NCAA may not be the force we thought it was. And that’s not a good thing for college athletics.

A scandal that threatens to rock the foundation of college basketball as well as the end of a seven-year investigation into academic practices at one of the prominent and prestigious schools in the nation combine to threaten the hegemony of the NCAA, college athletics’ governing body.

Three weeks ago, federal prosecutors revealed that an investigation of alleged bribe receiving, money laundering and kickbacks touched the men’s basketball programs at four high-profile schools, Louisville, Miami, Southern California and Auburn.

Assistant coaches at those universities stand accused of arranging under-the-table payments to potential recruits to get them to come to those schools, all of whom have athletic gear contracts with Adidas.

The culmination of that scandal added to other scandals toppled Louisville coach Rick Pitino, a Hall of Famer and one of the giants of the sport.

Meanwhile, the NCAA announced last Friday that it would not further sanction North Carolina, which was embroiled in a controversy going back to 2009.

That’s when reports emerged that Tar Heel students, including a significant number of athletes, were enrolled in sham courses. The NCAA admitted that it had no jurisdiction to police schools for their academic policies relative to athletics.

In both the Adidas and North Carolina cases, the NCAA’s relative impotence was exposed for the world to see.

For all of the talk of the bully power of the NCAA, it is, in the end, just that: talk.

Membership in the NCAA is voluntary and power in the organization rests not at its Indianapolis headquarters, but in the bigger schools and conferences.

North Carolina, for instance, reportedly spent $18 million to essentially tell the NCAA that it had no power to tell the school that student-athletes should live up to the first part of that compound word. And they won.

Meanwhile, the takeaway from the Adidas incident is that the NCAA doesn’t have either the investigatory force nor the enforcement mechanism to bring schools to heel if they step out of line.

Sure, the NCAA can take away championship banners or even reduce scholarships, but what does that mean?

What college athletics clearly needs is a real bully, namely a federal influence to keep the multi-billion dollar industry honest. That should have happened during the last eight years. It’s certainly not going to happen for the next four.

The college sports playground needs an enforcer. Sadly, the NCAA has proven to be a bully that can’t even keep its lunch money.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.