The NCAA and the rule of law

There is a great piece over at The New York Times that should merit more attention than it gets.

It would be difficult to find a year in college sports that could better highlight the special treatment that major programs get and the extensive violations that occur. For starters, the Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, found himself in quite a bit of hot water after the NCAA started an investigation. Turns out that his father probably knew what he was doing and did it anyway. Jim Tressel of Ohio State has never really given a clear explanation of why his football players blatantly disregarded the NCAA by selling “branded” merchandise. They were punished, but the punishment was deferred until next season, after they had all competed in the Sugar Bowl (big money) and after most had graduated.  Jim Calhoun received a similar “punishment,” after the NCAA found out he lied, repeatedly, to investigators about 8 counts of recruiting violations.

It is against this background that makes the suspension of Baylor’s Perry Jones feel so….unjust. Jones, a freshman, was not allowed to finish his season and was suspended shortly before the post-season. Here is Sokolove, who wrote an excellent article on the situation:

According to a Baylor press release, his [Perry Jones’] mother accepted short-term loans from his A.A.U. coach while he was in high school to pay the family’s mortgage. Perry was unaware of the loans, according to Baylor. The loans totaled no more than $1,000, and were paid off, Lawrence Johns, the coach, told a New York Times reporter yesterday. Johns also was reported to have paid for Jones to travel from his Texas home to a preseason football game in San Diego while he was in high school.”

Sokolove then notes here that this case is very similar to Newton’s, who was allowed to play in the BCS championship game because he did not know what his father was doing. He continues:

“In writing Sunday’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine, I spent a lot of time around Baylor and Jones this season. At the risk of endangering my own status — that of strict journalistic objectivity — I’ll say that I liked him a great deal. He’s a sweet kid. His mother, the person who reportedly received the advances for her mortgage payments, without her son’s knowledge, manages a grade-school cafeteria and has a progressive heart condition that may necessitate a transplant. If you read my magazine story, you’ll probably come away thinking that Perry Jones is so sweet-natured that he might not fulfill his athletic potential and could easily become a huge disappointment if he jumps too soon to the pros.

What I did not anticipate is that he would not finish this season. Without Jones, Baylor got clobbered last night by Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament — excuse me, the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship. What exactly did Perry Jones do to warrant a harsher penalty than Jim Calhoun or the players and coaches at Ohio State? Was he more grasping? More brazen in his violation of the N.C.A.A.’s notions of amateurism? Did he personally withhold information about possible major rules violations — as Tressel, a lavishly paid adult, was said to have done?”

All good questions. Sadly enough, the answer to most of these questions probably involves both the fact that Perry is poor and Baylor is not a power program.

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