I have a friend in town — an understandably defensive North Carolina grad — who has informed me that he wins a free beer from a different friend any time I mention UNC's 16-year academic scandal in a column. Or something like that.
If the NCAA keeps handing down the same obtuse, inconsistent rulings over academic fraud that it did Tuesday in denying a Notre Dame an appeal of an earlier forfeiture of 21 football games from 2012 and 2013, my friend may not have to buy a beer for the rest of his life.
Really? Notre Dame loses its appeal for basically having a strict honor code while North Carolina — hate to keep bringing up the past — pretty much skated on 16 years worth of academic fraud involving more than 1,000 athletes, many of them football and men's basketball players?
Perhaps the Fighting Irish should have hired whatever lawyers UNC paid over $18 million to hold tight to its 2005 and 2009 NCAA men's basketball titles.
Or maybe we should all lean back in a comfortable chair, take a deep breath, then carefully listen to and ponder the words of ND president Fr. John Jenkins, who wrote in a letter to the school's alumni regarding the denied appeal:
"Our concerns go beyond the particulars of our case and the record of two football seasons to the academic autonomy of our institutions, the integrity of college athletics and the ability of the NCAA to achieve its fundamental purpose."
He also wrote: "The NCAA has not chosen to ignore academic autonomy; it has instead perverted it by divorcing it from its logical and necessary connection to the underlying educational purpose."
Later in the letter he appeared to reference the North Carolina case (wonder if my friend can finagle a free beer for any probable UNC reference) when he added that the Irish's case stands in "striking contrast with another recent high-profile academic misconduct case."
The two cases are similar and they aren't. The ND case involved a handful of football players and a single student trainer who was later found to be, in the NCAA's opinion, an employee of the university though ND argued against this interpretation because the woman in question was at least a part-time student.
As for the Tar Heels, full-time UNC faculty members oversaw overt academic chicanery for more than a decade in order to keep academically challenged athletes eligible. And, yes, regular students also benefited from this embarrassment, which somehow helped the school avoid any and all sanctions.
Because of that, only pretzel logic would seem capable of penalizing the Irish while exonerating the Tar Heels.
Yet that's also where we seem to be regarding the NCAA. Up is down; day is night; wrong is right. To make all this worse, each individual school is the NCAA. Each school has the power to launch a crusade against this stupidity, yet no one does.
Is that because each school hopes to use the UNC case as a loophole if it faces similar charges? Is it because, to some degree, most successful athletic powers have some questionable academic major to maintain eligibility when needed for those athletes they can't do without?
Or is it because, deep down, most administrators believe the current NCAA is too broken to fix, so why bother?
Part of the problem with the current format is that the school has to self-report academic malfeasance for the NCAA to get involved. To that degree, ND — a private school that could have kept its issue to itself — was penalized for honesty and openness.
Of course, UNC was somewhat open and honest when its accreditation was at risk with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, reportedly admitting to academic fraud in the hopes that falling on its sword would save it, which it did, earning it no more than a probation.
But when that openness threatened to cause it problems with the NCAA, it supposedly backtracked, claiming that admission to be a typo or something.
Perhaps that's why ND's Jenkins wrote to his alums: "At best, the NCAA's decision in this case creates a randomness of outcome based solely on how an institution chooses to define its honor code; at worst, it creates an incentive for colleges and universities to change their honor codes to avoid sanctions."
All of this would seem to create an incentive to do away with the NCAA as we now know it. Get out of the rules business in favor of championship events production only. Allow an independent review board to handle any and all complaints whether they involve recruiting violations, academic wrongs or more serious concerns such as what Michigan State knew about the monstrous sexual predator Dr. Larry Nassar and when did MSU know it.
Yet that could also take awhile. Which means that not only are 350 of the NCAA's 351 Division I schools going to be angry about UNC's academic ruling for years to come, but each time they're unfairly hammered by the same organization that let the Tar Heels walk, my friend will continue to drink for free.
Bottoms up, Jeff.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.