Last summer Caltech, my alma mater, was sanctioned by the NCAA for lack of institutional control. There was no shortage of coverage describing what happened: NY Times, Washington Post, and many, many others courtesy Google. Quoting the Washington Post:
“There are no athletic scholarships at Caltech — you have to be a student-scholar to be admitted.
So what was Division III Caltech doing wrong?
In the first three weeks of each trimester, students there are allowed to “sample” classes and “shop” for courses before registering for them.* These students are technically part-time until they enroll for their courses, and part-time students cannot participate in NCAA sports. This happened with 30 Caltech athletes in 12 sports between 2007 and 2010.
(*Here are some of the classes Caltech offers: “Optical Wave Propagation,” “Markov Chains, Discrete Stochastic Processes and Applications” and “Signal Transduction and Biomechanics in Eukaryotic Cell Morphogenesis.”
Caltech turned itself in.
What did the NCAA do? They threw the book at ’em.
(At least when you throw the book at Caltech, someone there can actually read it.)
Three years’ probation, a one-year postseason ban in the affected sports, vacated wins gained with ineligible athletes and a ban on off-campus recruiting.
The long arm of the NCAA law comically reached out to prevent Caltech from competing for championships it never wins and to cease recruiting it never does.”
Rewinding to the Google search above the third page returned, at least as of today, is this AP wire article preserved on the NCAA web site. It is a pissy little piece, first paragraph:
“At Caltech, where the laws of physics are understood, the rules of the NCAA apparently proved elusive.”
that eventually reveals:
“The NCAA blamed a lack of oversight and communication between athletic administrators, coaches and the registrar.”
More grievous is the layout of the page imbedding this article. One of the links in a sidebar: Enforcement. I don’t expect that this page will last long. I’ll be “printing” a pdf to embed here. Some highlights:
“Integrity. Fair play. Accountability.”
“The NCAA enforcement program strives to maintain a level playing field.”
“The mission of the NCAA enforcement program is to … impose appropriate penalties if violations occur.”
Appropriate? Was the playing field not level? (As an aside, Caltech already well knows my view of whether they should remain a member of the NCAA, for the principle here must be that academic regulations emanating from the faculty must always trump such silliness.)
Fast forward to today. An enforcement case where the stakes are much higher. Totally botched. Where does the NCAA lay blame for “a lack of oversight and communication?”
Today’s press briefing detailing the unethical, unprincipled, unsupervised behavior of its enforcement wing has put the ex-UW Big Dawg, present NCAA President Mark Emmert in a dicey position. So what will come of “Integrity. Fair Play. Accountability.”? VP for Enforcement fired. A committee appointed to review the enforcement processes. (Ironically the Enforcement page linked above highlights all of the changes coming to the process this summer under the guidance of University of Oregon President Ed Ray. Like I say, how long will this page last?)
Many sports columnists see hypocrisy here, that Emmert hasn’t exercised institutional control and should take the sword himself. May well happen, we’ll know in time. Certainly there is a basis for such a view in the new enforcement regulations that become effective August 1, 2013, especially the one concerning responsibility versus knowledge. Says the NCAA statement on October 30, 2012:
Penalties in the previous structure relied on whether the head coach knew of the violations or whether there was a “presumption of knowledge.” But under the new structure, rather than focus on knowledge or the presumption of it, the bylaw will be amended to presume only responsibility. Accordingly, if a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.
But learning from the Caltech sanctions some minimums: Three year probation: three year probation of NCAA administration. A one-year postseason ban in the affected sports: no attendance of NCAA administrators at post-season events. Vacated wins gained with ineligible athletes: recapture of salary of the responsible NCAA administrators. A ban on off-campus recruiting: Let’s skip the prohibition on outside recruiting so as to be able to clean house. These seem appropriate.
More appropriate would be also vacating Caltech’s sanctions.