Now we know.
The mistake made by college teams that have been punished by the NCAA isn’t the actual infraction.
It’s the lack of inclusion.
By announcing Friday that North Carolina did not violate academic fraud rules because its bogus classes were available to more than just members of basketball and football teams, the NCAA basically threw it back to the school.
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It’s up to schools to establish academic guidelines, and because North Carolina offered the joke classes to regular students, student-athletes didn’t receive an extra benefit.
By that logic, the biggest error in the Louisville case that provided strippers for prospects was not allowing for it in the school’s code of conduct and inviting a few fraternity members along for the party. (Turned out, the FBI made stripper parties the least of Louisville’s concerns.)
The message to cheaters is to establish the most lenient guidelines possible and be sure non-athletes are involved.
This was the line of justification from Greg Sankey, chair of the NCAA infractions committee and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference: “While student-athletes likely benefited from the courses, so did the general student body. Additionally, the record did not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systematic effort to benefit only student-athletes.”
North Carolina was confident in its position all along because it understood the NCAA rulebook better than most. The school spent $18 million in legal fees and won over the infractions committee, which speaks to the weakness of the NCAA enforcement division.
It’s difficult not to think of something Mark Emmert said earlier this week when announcing the establishment of the Commission on College Basketball in the wake of the FBI investigation into fraud involving college basketball.
“While I believe the vast majority of coaches follow the rules, the culture of silence in college basketball enables the bad actors,” Emmert said.
There were plenty of bad actors here. North Carolina, one of the sport’s historically powerful and prestigious programs, skirted academic rules that created an advantage. Should it matter whose rules were broken?
This has been a rough few weeks for college basketball, starting with the FBI investigation that will reverberate for weeks, months. But Friday was a good day in Chapel Hill, N.C., and for Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who spent 15 seasons at Kansas.
For NCAA, however, Friday was a failure, and we’re left to question its power to enforce rules. No way to enforce academic fraud? That college basketball commission, led by Condoleezza Rice, should add this to their to-do list as it works to clean up the sport.