|Places Syracuse won't be. See also: Greensboro, NC.|
Today was an unusually busy afternoon for me. I didn't have time in between cases to check out twitter's typical drivel. I stayed at the office later than usual, returning phone calls, writing emails, consulting with coworkers. So when I finally made it home around 6:25pm and put on the local news, they were just starting the sports segment. "Syracuse men's basketball has self-imposed a postseason ban, amid the ongoing NCAA investigation into the school's self-reported infractions," reported the sports director. I'm not even sure what my initial reaction was -- other than "Why didn't I already know this? I don't actually get my news from... the news."
A quick perusal of twitter got me up to speed pretty quickly. Then I noticed emails in my gmail inbox from Dr. Daryl Gross and Chancellor Kent Syverud. What struck me more than what those emails said, was what those emails didn't say.
The NCAA has a confidentiality clause (come on, a gag order) regarding what institutions under investigation can say about the investigation. The NCAA would argue it's to "protect the integrity of the investigation." Common sense would say it's so that the NCAA can control the message, the public perception, about its own policies and procedures.
From a competition standpoint, collegiate athletics needs a governing body; one to monitor uniformity of the rules for each sport, determine eligibility, administer tournaments, and award championships. And in today's media-heavy society, that governing body needs to market its products, ensure distribution of its profits, etc. So, don't take this article as anti-NCAA, because I believe it has a purpose and needs to exist to continue to make college sports that thing we all love. But the NCAA, as it currently exists, falls well short of my expectations of an effective governing body for collegiate athletics.
The issues, to me, are its investigatory and punishment functions. Being a public defender, I have a pretty intimate familiarity of investigatory and punishment functions of, you know, reality. Of things that really matter: people's lives. With the NCAA, we're talking about sports at the end of the day, not how long a convict spends in prison or how a victim will be compensated. But college sports effects a lot of people: the student-athletes, the coaching staffs, the athletic departments, the facilities staffs, the local economies of the schools' cities, Nike, Under Armour, etc. College sports is some people's realities. And for that reason, the investigation and infliction of punishments within the framework of college sports must have integrity, must have due process, must have fairness.
Not constitutional protections. Not statutory protections. These aren't penal law crimes we're talking about.
We're talking about infractions of rules, policies, and standards of the governing body of collegiate athletics.
I think we're basically at the point right now where the Penn State case has run its course. I won't recount all of that history here; you know it all, and if not, you're currently on the internet and can access it with a quick Google query. But what did the NCAA do to Penn State in light of the Jerry Sandusky tragedy?
When all was said and done, Penn State lost out on a bowl game and scholarships. They're now back in full standing -- full scholarships, full postseason eligibility, restoration of vacated wins. Why? Because the NCAA acted recklessly in determining the school's responsibility in the infractions, imposing its punishments, and Penn State sued the NCAA. And because the NCAA knows it messed up, they had to settle the case. What a precedent!
I'm not saying Penn State didn't deserve punishment, and I'm not saying the settlement is fair or unfair. It all is what it is.
What I'm saying is that the structure of the NCAA allows for circuses like that to happen. Where is the structure and transparency of NCAA investigations? What are the acceptable forms of punishment once an infraction has been proven?
More and more, the NCAA seems like a "make it up as we go along" type of organization. Roger Goodell and the NFL are receiving similar criticism for its unequal treatment of domestic violence and substance abuse violations.
I'm used to things like statutes of limitation, being advised of the specific charges against you, a speedy and public trial, and a clear set of possible sentences based upon the proven crimes. These are basic tenets of the criminal justice system. Why can't the NCAA have a similar system?
Take the case of Syracuse. What we know, for sure, are two things: Syracuse self-reported possible violations of NCAA rules as early as 2007, and Syracuse self-imposed punishment today through this postseason ban. Obviously, schools need to report potential or perceived violations -- and I don't equate this to criminals knocking on the door of the local precinct to turn themselves in and confess to their sins. This is sports. But once that infraction is reported -- by the school itself or through the NCAA initiating something -- the process needs structure and transparency.
The Syracuse investigation dates back to 2007. It has expanded in scope: backwards to the early 2000s in the football and basketball teams, and forward to the Fab Melo & James Southerland issues of 2012. All the while, what has the NCAA been doing? We thought things came to a head when hearings were held in Chicago in October 2014, where coaches, administrators, and other relevant witnesses appeared before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. But we were given no indication of when the NCAA would issue its rulings -- on whether alleged infractions were substantiated and what, if any, punishments the school would received.
And now, with no answers more than three months later, Syracuse University decides to take matters into its own hands.
Now do I believe that's actually the case? No. I think it's the school's response to a threat from the NCAA that without a self-imposed punishment, the NCAA's hand would come down in ways the school would not want to consider. Longer postseason bans? Substantial scholarship losses? Significant reduction of practice time? Vacation of program wins? Including the 2003 National Championship? We've all heard various rumors, and who knows what the NCAA may have threatened. But I can't imagine the school imposes a postseason ban without any direction from the NCAA that such an action would be in the school's interests.
Though I also don't think Syracuse was a longshot (or even out of the discussion) at making the NCAA Tournament -- IT'S FEBRUARY 4, PEOPLE! -- deciding to exclude itself from postseason play this season was a good move for the school. Even with the Penn State settlement as precedent, an NCAA-imposed postseason ban for this season -- or even longer -- would still take time to be settled or adjudicated in court. So by Syracuse taking this action now, in hopes of avoiding worse penalties when the NCAA finally decides to make public its decision, it allows for the possibility of more clarity on how the school moves on from these infractions.
A school -- which, let's remember, is a MEMBER INSTITUTION OF THE NCAA -- should not be left in the dark for nine years. It should not be subject to an investigation which continues to expand in scope without resolution of the initial allegations. It should not be held mute to discuss the process. It should not be denied the opportunity to defend itself to the public -- and to the students, parents, and fans who support the institution. Due process and constitutional protections exist in the criminal justice system because our founding fathers had an inherent distrust in the tyrannical government it separated from -- and the transparency and public nature of the criminal justice system was an attempt to create public confidence in the system that governs the people.
Because when you're playing by the book, when you're ensuring fairness, why would you keep that secret?