SMU’s Alleged Academic Improprieties and How Scandals Still Follow Larry Brown

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 16th, 2015

Nearly 30 years since the NCAA lowered the boom on SMU’s football program by giving it the “death penalty,” it is time for SMU’s basketball program to take its turn in the not-so welcome crosshairs. It was reported earlier today that the school has received a Notice of Allegations from the the governing body that “includes accusations of academic improprieties.” Is anyone all that surprised that Larry Brown is once again in hot water with the NCAA? The allegations, or at least the one that sources are discussing, centers around sophomore Keith Frazier — a player who was declared ineligible earlier in the day and will miss the remainder of the season — and whether the school helped grease the wheels for Frazier’s eligibility coming out of high school. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Mustangs’ basketball, however, as several outlets were reporting about improper grade changes and the SMU coaching staff’s involvement as far back as January. But this story shouldn’t really be about Frazier, or the imperfect and semi-hypocritical academic standards set forth by the NCAA; it should be about the SMU basketball program and Larry Brown’s dedication to flouting NCAA rules everywhere he ventures.

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA, In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue

Larry Brown Is In Trouble With The NCAA. In Other News, The Sky Is Still Blue.

This is the third ineligibility issue related to academics under Brown this season alone. Star forward Markus Kennedy sat out the first half of the season because of his academic shortcomings and Xavier transfer Justin Martin‘s decision to leave school to play professionally reportedly had as much to do with shoddy academics as with his desire to take his game to the next level. Now Frazier has been ruled ineligible for the rest of the season and it turns out that the “personal reasons” that forced star recruiter and assistant coach Ulric Maligi to take an indefinite leave of absence were probably related to his seemingly hands-on role in helping Frazier become eligible. The willful misinformation that SMU is putting out there is strong enough to make us look like jerks and wonder whether Frazier’s absence from Thursday’s practice actually was related to a death in the family. It sounds terribly crass to even suggest such a thing, but the Mustangs have brought this type of scrutiny on themselves because of their efforts to mask the underlying issues within the program.

One of the big questions asked will be how much Larry Brown knew about Maligi’s alleged role in helping Frazier get eligible. But it shouldn’t really matter all that much because Brown’s track record speaks for itself. His decades-long hiatus from college basketball seems to have made everyone forget that, while his teams at UCLA and Kansas did a whole lot of winning, his staff also did a whole lot of cheating. In case you’re under the age of 35, both the Bruins and Jayhawks were sanctioned by the NCAA for rules violations under Brown’s tenure. UCLA was forced to vacate its 1980 Final Four appearance when it was discovered that Brown used two ineligible players, and Kansas in 1989 (with Brown conveniently already gone) became the first reigning champion to be banned from defending its title (and nearly received the death penalty) after Brown reportedly offered improper financial benefits to a recruit. Nearly 30 years later, another program he helms is staring down the barrel of the NCAA’s sanction gun and we should all be pretty tired of this act by now.

This doesn’t need to be a issue of morality. The NCAA has long lost and never really deserved the moral high ground on many of these issues, and Brown is not the first or only college coach to skirt NCAA regulations in recruiting. But aside from the Kansas issue in which Brown alleged to have only paid for round-trip airfare for a recruit whose grandmother had just passed away, these are issues that can’t simply be swept under the rug as the unfortunate byproducts of archaic and stupid NCAA rules. Playing ineligible players and allegedly helping fudge a recruit’s academic and attendance records to make him eligible are examples of outright subversion, something SMU clearly still has no problem with.

Frazier’s commitment to SMU was supposed to signal to the rest of the country that the Mustangs were headed toward national contention, and plenty of media types, myself included, heaped praise on the septuagenarian for using his wiles and charm to convince a McDonald’s All-American to play for a program with almost no basketball tradition. The second act was supposed to be the commitment of uber-recruit Emmanuel Mudiay and I shudder to think about the hot water SMU would be in if Mudiay had ever suited up for this team. Now it seems like SMU’s rapidly-built basketball empire is on the brink of collapse, and one has to wonder, given Brown’s track record of fleeing a sinking ship, how much he really cares whether he walks away. So don’t feel badly for him; instead direct your sympathy toward his players, the remainder of whom are leading the Mustangs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 20 years and now have to deal with this messy distraction as well as concerns about the future of their coach and program.

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One response to “SMU’s Alleged Academic Improprieties and How Scandals Still Follow Larry Brown”

  1. tallguy says:

    I wonder if it’s too late for Semi Ojeleye to choose to transfer to a different program…

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