September 5, 2012
As a consolation prize, maybe UConn can play in a make-pretend national basketball tournament for players who attend make-pretend classes and earn make-pretend grades.
Maybe UConn can retire Jonathan The Husky as its mascot and replace him with Harvey, the 6-foot-3 rabbit invisible to everyone except NCAA President Mark Emmert.
Maybe we call it March Delusion and put it on the Syfy network. Maybe we suit up Bugs Bunny and replace "One Shining Moment" with "I Believe I Can Fly."
Because, folks, believe this much: With the decision to clear North Carolina of wrongdoing in its academic scandal, the NCAA has turned itself into a cartoon character in the midst of real life and real problems. Just like in the movie, "Space Jam."
Cartoon jurisprudence. Right sometimes. Wrong other times. Blind in one eye (Carolina in this case, Auburn with Cam Newton) seeking vengeance with the other (Penn State). Seeming to make the rules up as it goes along.
It has grown clear now. UConn was bounced by the NCAA from its 2013 basketball tournament because it was stupid enough to turn in accurate transcripts of its players' grades. North Carolina, meanwhile, was cleared by the NCAA of running sham classes with fraudulent grades and credits. So many Tar Heel athletes were not held in NCAA violation because — get this — the sham classes were available to non-athletes.
Equal opportunity fraud.
Here's the message: If you do poorly honestly, you're out.
If you fake it, you're in.
"And the NCAA wonders why it's a laughingstock?" ESPN college analyst Jay Bilas tweeted. "Cue NCAA Prez to lecture on integrity …"
UConn athletic director Warde Manuel didn't have anything to do with the poor academic performance by the UConn basketball team, either. That happened long before he arrived. He has worked on NCAA committees for years. He has been part of the NCAA establishment. He only walked into UConn's dark hour.
Don't his words count for something?
"It is a double standard," Manuel said Tuesday, a few days after he said those four words to Sports Illustrated. But then Manuel said plenty more and when he was done, he chuckled and said, "Now I'm in trouble."
Not with the school president and certainly not with the state's fan base. After harshly criticizing UConn and Jim Calhoun for academic problems, I don't believe I'm being a homer here when I ask, "What in Tar-nation is going on?" Isn't the new UConn AD, the big man from Michigan, allowed to stand up and ask what the hell is going on here?
"I don't know all the intricacies of the North Carolina case at this point," Manuel said. "But for the NCAA to say there is nothing for them to do with this case does appear that there is a double standard in the way they dole out punishment for lack of academic success and supposed cheating.
"If that's what they are saying, we need to look at the rulebook. We need to determine what we should have in that rulebook that relates to academic fraud at institutions and the NCAA's ability to hand out punishment."
Honesty is the best policy. Don't be a fool. Stay to school. … Evidently those words are not among the 500 or so pages in the NCAA rulebook. Cautionary note: If you do decide to add those words, Mr. Emmert, credit me. I worked hard to get an A-plus in one of those phony Carolina classes coining those terms. OK, I lied. I didn't really coin those terms. That should clear me to cover the NCAA Tournament in March.
Manuel said he had not requested a fuller explanation of the North Carolina case from the NCAA. In the face of almost universal criticism in the past few days, wouldn't you think the NCAA would do it on its own?
"I just think if we're going to get into decisions about what level of academic success teams need to have then we should also be involved in determining what constitutes fraud and how we're going to deal with teams that fraudulently gain their academic success," Manuel said. "That's where we need to be.
"Look, I don't have a problem with the APR. UConn doesn't have a problem with APR as a measurement. But don't tell me we get punished because we don't meet an APR standard that was changed retroactively yet the NCAA cannot punish an institution or teams that have participated in academic fraud. That's a double standard to my mind."
North Carolina at Chapel Hill is its state's flagship university. UConn at Storrs is its state's flagship university.
North Carolina has three national basketball titles over the past two decades. UConn has three national basketball titles during that time.
Carolina basketball is a sacred cow in NCAA basketball. UConn is the mongrel dog late to the party. Every inch of me doesn't want to believe Carolina is getting a pass because — it's Carolina. But, man, this case has me shaking my head.
For Sports Illustrated, Michael Rosenberg wrote: "UConn should have given all its players a phony 'A.' Then the NCAA would say, "No violations here!" Instead, UConn was honest about its academic failures, and the NCAA banned the Huskies. Tell me again about those 'life lessons' the NCAA wants to teach."
And on and on it has gone on national websites. Folks, this isn't only the view of a columnist from inside Connecticut.
Julius Nyang'oro, who has been forced into retirement as department head of African and Afro-American Studies, was involved in the creation of most of the bogus classes. He was directly tied to all but nine of 54. There were courses with no required class attendance. There were courses with no accountability. The Raleigh News & Observer reported athletes, primarily football players, accounted for two-thirds of the enrollments. Some classes had all athletes. Two had one basketball player as the entire class. Big names were involved. Names like Julius Peppers.
The News & Observer revealed the transcript of football player Marvin Austin. He got a B-plus in an upper-level African summer studies class before he had even taken remedial writing as a first-semester freshman. Think about that.
UConn President Susan Herbst said she would let Manuel speak to comparative cases among schools since he had gathered the expertise working with the NCAA over the years. However …
"I have not changed my views at all since last spring and continue to believe that our current student-athletes are being punished for crimes they did not commit," she said. "I always think this is wrong, but especially for young people who still believe that fairness and justice are possible in this world. UConn was punished through the retroactive application of new rules, and I continue to be baffled by the way we were singled out. It is some form of performance and politics that I do not understand."
Calhoun told The Courant's Dom Amore on Tuesday, "I'm for the schools, for the coaches, for the student athletes. I never have any venom toward one school or another where I'd say 'They should have done more to them.' But you are, with some of the decisions that are made, puzzled sometimes."
Color Herbst baffled.
Color Calhoun puzzled.
Color the NCAA the cartoon judge it is.
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