In the wake of the NCAA's questionable decision and resulting punishment in the case of USC's football program, we await the results of the NCAA's case against Connecticut men's basketball for the alleged actions of a former manager. The issue for all of us to consider right now is which programs and coaches we are willing to call cheaters, why, and by what standard.
If we are willing to call USC a cheater based upon certain evidence, are we therefore required to call UCLA a cheater? If so, how do we process the allegations against UConn, UMass in the Marcus Camby matter, and Memphis in the Derrick Rose matter?
What are our standards, and how evenly will those standards be applied across the board?
Let's begin with the case against USC. As we all know by now, the NCAA came down hard on the Trojans in the Reggie Bush matter. The key to the harsh punishment in the Bush case was not whether Bush and his family accepted impermissible benefits. They did. USC admitted that Bush and his family received impermissible benefits from agents and sports marketers, and the school accepted certain sanctions related to those impermissible benefits.
The key to the imposition of the harshest sanctions was whether USC had institutional knowledge of those impermissible benefits provided by a certain "agent" to Bush and Bush's family.
[+] EnlargeNCAA Logo
G Fiume/Getty ImagesIt took several years, but the NCAA put the hammer down on USC when penalties were finally doled out.
The agent in question was an acquaintance of Bush from San Diego, from well before Bush had ever decided to attend USC. The agent is a convicted felon and former gang member that has served prison time and has never held a legitimate job. Upon his release from prison, the agent decided to start an agency and targeted Bush as a potential client.
NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206 requires the Committee on Infractions to find a violation of the rules only where the evidence consists of "credible, persuasive" information "of a kind on which reasonably prudent persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs." In other words, the NCAA apparently believes that this vague standard of proof gives it free reign to believe whomever or whatever it wants. In the Bush matter, it was a convicted felon with no credibility.
According to USC, the allegations made by the NCAA are weak and, on some issues, can be disproved. After reading the notice and response, it is hard to argue that point. As previously stated, the school has admitted that some penalties levied by the NCAA -- and USC itself -- are justified. But other than the agent's uncorroborated account, the only link between the "agent" and the football program are four cell-phone calls between the agent and a USC assistant coach (the longest call lasting two and a half minutes) and a single photograph in which the agent appeared to be in the background. That's it.
According to USC, credible witnesses discredited the agent's account, and there was no other evidence to establish a direct institutional link between the agent and USC. Clearly, the unsworn word of a convicted felon has significant credibility problems from the beginning, and it is hard to understand how -- even with the NCAA's vague standard -- it could ever be relied upon by a reasonably prudent person in the conduct of serious affairs (whatever that means).
When the NCAA interviewed the agent, representatives of USC were denied the right to be present, despite USC's repeated requests to be there. The only evidence of the interview is what NCAA reps chose to record. Representatives of USC were not allowed to cross-examine the witness, assess indicators of credibility, or otherwise challenge the statements procured by the NCAA.
In the several months before the NCAA allowed USC access to a transcript of the interview with the agent, the agent had done media interviews and had collaborated on a book. The idea that the word of a convicted felon, not subject to cross-examination and without corroboration, could convict USC offends any notion of fair play.
As an aside, and using as a backdrop this lame standard of proof and such paucity of credible evidence and corroboration to find an institutional link and convict USC football, consider also that Tim Floyd was not found guilty of anything in the NCAA's findings regarding the allegations surrounding O.J. Mayo. Not a single thing. That means the evidence that the NCAA had against Floyd was so flimsy as to be nonexistent. After all of that hand-wringing, finger-waving and high-horse posturing, Floyd was basically declared innocent of the charges brought against him by the NCAA.
Despite the clear problems with the NCAA's standards and the case against the Trojans, many would say, Good riddance, USC; you got what you deserved. Despite the lack of credible evidence, many would consider USC's coaching staff to be guilty and complicit in any wrongdoing because the head coach and coaching staff are always responsible for everything that goes on in the program. Always.
Well, if that goes for Pete Carroll, it goes for Jim Calhoun. And it goes for John Calipari, despite the fact that Calipari has never been named in an NCAA finding of wrongdoing (notwithstanding the NCAA's flimsy standards of proof). If you are in charge, say many, you are ultimately responsible, and there is no way that the head coach couldn't know what was going on right under his nose.
Well, if you are among those that feel that way, you just called John Wooden a cheater. And as blasphemous as it seems, you would have to call Wooden an admitted cheater, and the chief witnesses against him would be his former players.
Several of Wooden's players on his championship teams have admitted taking extra benefits from Sam Gilbert, an established representative of UCLA's athletic interests during most of Wooden's championship years, and have admitted knowing that such actions were illegal. In addition, Wooden himself is on record saying that he suspected that Gilbert might have been doing illegal things, and that Wooden may have been guilty of "trusting too much."
Yet the legendary coach's 10 national championship banners still hang from the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. Can you imagine the reaction if Carroll, Calhoun or Calipari put forth the defense that they were guilty only of "trusting too much"? Nobody would take it seriously, and everyone would move toward a "show cause" hearing and the death penalty for any such coach asserting such a lame excuse.
[+] EnlargeSam Gilbert
AP Photo/Reed SaxonWhat kind of scrutiny would Sam Gilbert receive from the NCAA if he were around today?
But if you accept the insubstantial evidence against USC football, it follows that you must also accept the mass of evidence against UCLA basketball. And if you label USC a cheater based on the evidence presented, you would seem required also to label UCLA a cheater. And by the standard that every head coach is responsible for what goes on in his program, you would also seem required to call John Wooden a cheater.
Perhaps you could hide behind the idea that Wooden didn't have direct knowledge of Gilbert's actions or couldn't really have been sure of the wrongdoing permeating his program.
However, we have all been told numerous times that Wooden would not allow Bill Walton to practice or play because his hair was not cut to Wooden's specifications. When Walton protested that Wooden did not have the right to tell him how to wear his hair, Wooden famously responded that Walton was correct; Wooden did not have that right. But Wooden told Walton that he did have the right to determine who played and who did not, and that they were going to miss Walton. The clear implication was that Walton would be dismissed from the team if he did not agree to cut his hair.
So are we to believe that Wooden could dismiss a National Player of the Year from the team for having long hair but could not threaten the same fate for any player who associated with Gilbert? That fails the straight-face test. If USC was supposed to know the details of Bush's dealings with an agent not associated with the program, certainly Wooden could have taken steps to ban Gilbert and monitor his players with a sanction of dismissal if any player had contact with Gilbert. To suggest otherwise would be absurd.
Make no mistake -- I am not willing to call John Wooden a cheater. But as distasteful as it is for anyone to do so, the standard by which the NCAA convicted USC requires it. And the standard that will be applied to Jim Calhoun and UConn because of the actions of a former manager may similarly require that Wooden be referred to as a cheater. And if we are going to refer to John Calipari and UMass as cheaters because of the relationship between an agent and Marcus Camby that led to the removal of the 1996 Final Four banner, then we must similarly call Wooden and UCLA cheaters, and call for the removal of UCLA's title banners.
After all, we have standards, and those standards should be evenly applied across the board.
Well I don't know about you, but I am not willing to do that. I am not willing to call John Wooden a cheater, and I am not willing to call for UCLA to be stripped of 10 national championship banners. Why? Because I understand that the world is far more complicated than the NCAA's rules make it seem. To hold member institutions to such ridiculous standards too often seems disproportionate to the issues at hand, and the punishment levied against alleged transgressors seems extreme.
That is, unless you are willing to call John Wooden a cheater, and to punish UCLA in similar fashion. Hands up, all who are willing to do that, and to do it publicly.
Not me. I'm not willing to apply the NCAA's vague standard to coaches when the rest of us would not tolerate such a standard in the conduct of our affairs -- a standard that NCAA college presidents and administrators fail to live up to themselves.
Oh, and while we are discussing standards, does it strike anyone as peculiar that the chair of the Committee on Infractions that slammed USC is Paul Dee, the former athletic director at Miami? Dee was in charge of the Miami program when the Hurricanes' football team was hit with some of the most severe sanctions in NCAA history.
Why is Dee, who presided over a cheating and scandalous program by NCAA standards, allowed to chair the Committee on Infractions, which sits in judgment of other programs?
Please, tell me more about the NCAA's "standards" …