The NCAA Unsuccessfully Defends Its Hypocritical Punishment System

terrelle pryor ohio state

Photo: AP

Responding to media outrage at the apparent contradiction in its handling of Cam Newton and Ohio State, the NCAA defended its punitive system in a press release today.Here’s a quick recap:

  • The NCAA didn’t punish Cam Newton because he didn’t actually receive any money and he ignorant of his father’s attempts at extorting cash. 
  • In no way does that encourage parents to seek benefits on their child’s behalf; as soon as they receive any impermissible benefit, their child is ineligible.
  • Ohio State players were punished because, even though they cited ignorance to the rules, they actually received those benefits.
  • Ohio State players were allowed to participate in the Bowl game because of pre-established regulations approved by the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet. Bowl games are unique events and evaluated differently from a punitive perspective.
  • Allegations that money is a factor in NCAA decisions are false. Bowl game revenue goes to schools and conferences, not the NCAA.

Those are all fair points. But the NCAA will get heat for its punishment system as long as it continues to heavily punish petty violations in the name of guarding amateurism.

The NCAA was true to that commitment in investigating the Cam Newton situation, because (regardless of whether you think NCAA athletes should get paid) had he actually received several hundred thousand dollars, he would undeniably lose his claim to amateurism.

However, punishing Ohio State players for selling Bowl paraphernalia that belongs to them does not compromise the spirit of amateurism. Neither does getting a free tattoo. By suspending them the NCAA is pushing them away from school and into the professional ranks, and that goes much further against the NCAA’s big-picture mission than any amount of free ink does.

Similarly, USC’s Dillon Baxter’s amateurism isn’t called into question by a free golf cart ride, and no reasonable person would question Georgetown centre Moses Ayegba’s amateur eligibility simply because a cousin paid for a flight to America some years back. 

We’re not asking the NCAA to allow schools to pay players, or to permit players to sign with agents. We’re simply asking for common sense. Scoring free tickets to a concert or free merchandise is a perk of being one of the most beloved athlete’s in town, not a calculated blow to the NCAA’s commitment to amateurism.

The NCAA will never catch all the insignificant violations that occur on a daily basis. If it wants to inspire belief that it can catch perpetrators and is right to punish them, then NCAA should only chase major violators. Golf cart ride benefactors need not apply.

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