Wiedmer: Unfairness of NCAA's UNC ruling now angers Notre Dame

Wiedmer: Unfairness of NCAA's UNC ruling now angers Notre Dame

February 14th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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 mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com