Sometimes the NCAA’s policies, procedures and processes are so difficult, convoluted and nonsensical that it’s difficult to even begin to explain why they don’t make much sense. It took a little while, but we think we have a grasp on the latest chapter in NCAA idiocy covered. It all comes down to transparency (or the NCAA’s lack thereof). Quite possibly the biggest complaint that fans of schools investigated (or not investigated) by the NCAA is that the whole process — from how schools are targeted and chosen for investigation, reviewed, and ultimately adjudicated, is shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Sometimes college sports fans must feel like the NCAA is actually a poorly-functioning arm of the NSA given the way they operate. Some of the more notorious examples of what we’re talking about from the last few years are no surprise to anyone. For example:
- How does Corey Maggette not get Duke into hot water after the fact, but Derrick Rose does for Memphis?
- John Wall and Ryan Kelly, anyone?
- Eddie Sutton took down Kentucky over payoffs but Kelvin Sampson is banned for five years over phone calls?
- Why are some legal doctrines (strict liability) selectively used in some situations but not in others?
- Can anyone, anyone at all, explain Reggie Bush/USC?
There are many others, but those are a few off the top of the dome. Why do things seem so inconsistent? How does the NCAA decide to investigate, and when they do so, what are the criteria they use to make their findings? Do they use generally agreed upon principles of auditing, quasi-legal doctrine, administrative law, or something else they make up as they go along? How are penalties assessed and what are the mitigating factors that they consider in making those decisions? Is every single case a uniquely-judged “case-by-case” situation, making it all but impossible to draw generalizations about how the NCAA rules enforcement folks will act in a given situation? Or is that ultimately the point — to make it so confusing and inconsistent that any school can get in serious trouble for nearly anything (or the perception that you can)? Now that we think about it, we already go through this seemingly every year in terms of what the NCAA Selection Committee wants to see on NCAA Tournament bubble teams’ resumes — it shouldn’t surprise us that things out of this shop often seem wildly arbitrary and inconsistent.
So here’s the point of this post. Memphis announced today that it had learned what the NCAA’s response to its appeal in the Derrick Rose SAT scandal was, but according to some bylaw borrowed straight from the Soviet playbook, the school is not allowed to make the response public nor can it/will it (?) discuss these findings. Memphis is undoubtedly doing some grandstanding here, but it doesn’t change the absurdity of the NCAA’s rule keeping their logic and reasoning secret. So we now sit in Act III of theater of the absurd while we wait for someone at Memphis to leak the information contained within the document (which can only be viewed on a secret, read-only website administered by the NCAA — sadly, this is not a joke), or for an enterprising news organization to force the NCAA to release the document under open records laws in Tennessee (as recently occurred in a Florida State cheating scandal).
Does the NCAA not understand that operating in this manner in no way engenders public trust and faith in the fairness and equitable nature of the system? Do they not see that, regardless of the strength of their argument on the merits, John Q. Fan reads this and can only conclude that the NCAA is hiding the ball so as to get its way in the end? Are they too dense to realize that a simple and consistent application of rules and policies are the first step toward removing much of the thinly-veiled cynicism that those still following big-time college sports have for it?
It would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic. Kudos go to Memphis Athletic Director RC Johnson for telling the world that the NCAA has responded to his appeal, but sorry, we’re not allowed to tell you what they said or the logic they use for agreeing/disagreeing with it. That’s incredibly rich, and it gets exactly the right message across. Memphis is going to pay for this anyway — the NCAA has already cornered itself on the strict liability argument — but at least they’ll go down lobbing shots across the bow at the absurdity of it all.