NCAA missed the mark with SMU sanctions

When the NCAA announced sanctions for the SMU men’s basketball and golf teams, many around the nation chimed in, giving their opinion and analysis of the situation and the fairness of the penalties.

One such person was Pat Forde from Yahoo Sports. He published a column, “Bad Horseplay: SMU’s time as part of the NCAA should be over,” just hours after the news was released. In it, he took a hostile stance toward the university and particularly Head Basketball Coach Larry Brown.

He pointed out that SMU is now the most-penalized school in NCAA history – obviously not the national title we were looking for.

“Hang a banner for that, SMU. Have a parade. Stage a pep rally. Maybe invite Craig James and Eric Dickerson back to drive free Camaros around campus for nostalgia’s sake. If you’re a Mustang, probation is handed down like an heirloom,” Forde wrote.

He continued with his banter throughout the piece, seemingly amused by the whole situation and SMU’s long history of corruption. He eventually concluded, “To treat that issue, there’s one cure: Kick the school out of the NCAA. The Mustangs wouldn’t be missed.”

Then, in his daily podcast, “Wetzel to Forde,” he said, “Really it’s a day of celebration for SMU because they are finally number one at something. Would it be any worse without SMU, which has never won anything?”

I’m sure there are a host of people around the country who agree with Forde and an even bigger group that just doesn’t care because SMU doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. To me, this attitude highlights a major problem with the atmosphere surrounding the NCAA.

I am an SMU student and naturally, the news was disappointing. I’ll admit, I was mad at first. However, I am not a cheater and I don’t think there is room for cheating in sports (or any area of life for that matter). If it’s true, and it likely is, that Larry Brown and Josh Gregory, the former men’s golf coach, broke NCAA rules and then lied about it, they deserve every bit of punishment the NCAA can give them. The head coach and the university are responsible for what happens in the program and should be held accountable for whatever violations occur, regardless of whether they knew about them or not.

However, the “harsh” penalties that the NCAA handed down will hardly affect the people who broke the rules. For Brown, Gregory, SMU President Gerald Turner, former assistant Ulric Maligi and the entire SMU athletic department, these sanctions are just a slap on the wrist.

Gregory is long gone, having left the program in August of last year. Sure, he got a five-year show-cause order, but I’m confident that he will be just fine. What about the players he recruited and left behind? They’re not doing quite as well.

Maligi got off scot-free when the investigation concluded that he was not guilty of anything. He’ll return his focus to the job he got after leaving SMU amid the controversy.

The administrative assistant who took an online class for Frazier, thereby committing academic fraud, also received a five-year show-cause order.

President Turner will have to answer some questions, pay some fines and may lose some athletics revenue but, at the end of the day, the university will continue its multimillion dollar construction projects and enjoy its billion dollar endowment just the same.

Ironically, the least significant punishment was given to Larry Brown, the only repeat offender of the bunch. He was given a 30 percent suspension and a two-year show-cause, which means nothing to a coach who is 75 years old and already has a job. Let’s be honest, he doesn’t really need the money he will miss out on and may even enjoy an extended vacation from work.

In reality, the full weight of the punishment falls on the players and students of SMU who had absolutely nothing to do with or any knowledge of the rule breaking.

Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, SMU basketball seniors, will not have an opportunity to redeem themselves in the NCAA tournament. Instead, they will forever remember their March Madness experience coming to an end on a controversial goaltending call and think about what could have been if they had gotten another chance.

Jordan Tolbert, a senior who transferred from Texas Tech and sat out last season in hopes of playing in the tournament, will never have a chance to partake in March Madness — something he has probably been dreaming about his whole life.

Fortunately for the rest of the team, they still have time to achieve their dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament. That doesn’t make the situation all that better for them, though. All their hard work this season will ultimately go unrewarded, and the recruiting sanctions will negatively affect the quality of the teammates that they will have in years to come.

Bryson DeChambeau, one of the nation’s best amateur golfers and defending NCAA Individual Champion, will not be allowed to defend his title this season. No matter how successful he is this season, anything short of the repeat he had planned will be a disappointment.

After years of struggling in sports, the rise of the men’s basketball team gave the SMU student body new life. Being in The Mob and having something to cheer for became the highlight of the school year for many, including myself. Losing the opportunity to see our school succeed and take part in the NCAA Tournament hurts.

The saddest part of the whole situation is the lack of talk about Keith Frazier, the man in the center of the whole controversy in the first place. Sure, he was cleared to play this season, but isn’t it obvious that he needs help? No one has said a word about why someone needed to cheat for him in the first place. He clearly needs academic help and SMU has the resources to give it to him. His basketball career will only last so long and only take him so far. He needs someone to help him get his life on track for success off the court and for some reason, everyone in this situation is ignoring that.

This is why people like Forde need to rethink their view on the situation. These sanctions are affecting real peoples’ lives. They have consequences and in this case, all the consequences have fallen on the wrong people and taught the wrong lessons. Kicking the Mustangs out of the NCAA would only add to the injustice being done in this situation.

The NCAA focuses on punishment when it should focus on growth. It victimizes the players and doesn’t set an example of what it means to take ownership of personal mistakes.

Shame on the NCAA for letting Larry Brown get away with this again. Shame on Larry Brown for doing this again and pretending as if he is the victim. Neither actor is helping the young players and students at SMU learn the values of integrity, honesty and sportsmanship — the very values they should be committed to teaching.

At the end of the day, college athletics are simply games. They should be an experience that benefit the many student-athletes that will go on to careers with no connection to sports. To me, it’s sad that they have been reduced to nothing more than a money-making scheme run by an organization, the NCAA, which has lost touch with its mission.

Larry Brown and SMU might have a compliance problem, but the way the NCAA has handled this situation has shown that it too has a problem. Similar problems exist at universities across the country. That doesn’t make any of them right and certainly does not justify what happened at SMU, Syracuse or North Carolina.

We, as sports fans and as a society, should be committed to fixing these problems and creating an atmosphere in which morals and values thrive and student-athletes are equipped for long-term success.

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