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The NCAA Wants You To Cheat

As dougall5505 pointed out in his diary, Oklahoma was forced to vacate all its wins from 2005, including its Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon.  The question I hear from a lot of Oregon fans is:  does this mean that Oregon has won the Holiday Bowl?  No, vacating is not the same as a forfeit.  But even a forfeit wouldn't be a "win" for Oregon.  We all know what happened.  Regardless of what the NCAA says, we saw with our own eyes that Oklahoma won eight games in 2005, including the Holiday Bowl.  Just because the official record book doesn't say so doesn't mean anything.  So, the question is, what exactly does this punishment mean?  And if it means nothing, why has the NCAA instituted it?

What happened, for those of you who don't know, was that two Sooner football players, offensive lineman JD Quinn and starting quarterback Rhett Bomar, were receiving pay from a car dealership that they didn't actually work at.  The dealership was owned by an Oklahoma booster.  Oklahoma was found guilty for lack of oversight.  The punishment levied by the NCAA was vacation of the 2005 season, loss of two scholarships, and two years of probation extending their current probation until 2010 (which doesn't really mean anything, must be "double secret probation").  This "penalty" is such a joke that Oklahoma even gets to keep their Holiday Bowl paycheck for that season.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that there is such a thing as a clean program in major college football.  In fact, I can guarantee you that every BCS school is guilty of some sort of violations.  However, there are varying degrees of this.  And it seems pretty evident that certain schools, schools with big tradition and a really rabid booster base, are much more dirty than others.  Judging from the last ten years, we can be fairly certain that Alabama, Oklahoma, and USC fall within that group.  Who else?  At this point we don't know, and we probably never will.

You may remember, once upon a time, when the NCAA was actually serious about cleaning up the sport.  Southern Methodist, a college football powerhouse in the '80s, was so run amuck with booster abuse that the NCAA gave SMU the death penalty--completely shut the program down for a season.  The carnage was so devistating for SMU that the program has never recovered.  The NCAA had its chance here to send a message and create a major deterrent to booster abuse:  you try to cheat, this is waht can happen to the program you love.  But the NCAA went a different route.  They decided that the result was so bad, they could never let this happen to one of their major programs again.  So the next time rampant booster abuse raged in a program, Alabama in the late '90s, the NCAA scarcely considered the death penalty a possibility.

Now, I'm not saying Oklahoma's violations warranted the death penalty.  Not even close.  Alabama's violations were far worse, and resulted in a two year bowl ban and the loss of 21 scholarships.  However, what Okahoma did warranted more than a slap on the wrist.  In effect, what happened to Oklahoma was nothing.  There is no deterrent in place to prevent a program from doing this in the future.  If the NCAA really wanted to stop this, they would have instituted some kind of tangible penalty.  I believe a one-year bowl ban wouldn't be out of line.  Is that fair to all the kids in the program who had nothing to do with this?  Maybe not.  But an example needs to be made, and the program as a whole needs to be punished.  Another penalty never considered would be to fine the university all its football revenue from the given season--a way to punish the university without punishing the kids.  However, the NCAA was so kind as to let the university even keep its bowl check.  What's even more disturbing is that the kids involved--who did what any young kids would do--were thrown out of school.  The university, responsible for oversight of its program, gets no tangible penalty.

However, all of this eventually goes back to the NCAA.  My challenge to Myles Brand and others in charge:  find out what your mission is.  If your mission is to simply make money, then do away with regulations all together and this isn't a problem.  If its to oversee amateur athletics, then you have to come down hard on programs who violate that pact.  But you cannot straddle the fence.  You cannot have rules that support the latter then fail to enforce those rules because money is on the line.  I think that colleges are a place of learning, and that a college scholarship and ability to pursue one's passion are what the reward should be for college sports.  But if the NCAA thinks otherwise, then so be it.  But at least be consistent.  At the very least, don't give the cheating schools an unfair advantage by failing to punish them.

In the near future, the NCAA will have another chance to decide who they want to be.  All accounts are that payments were made to Reggie Bush during his time at USC.  Will the NCAA have the balls to give SC a tangible punishment for their violations?  I wouldn't hold my breath.

Oh, and for any Oklahoma fans whining about the poor officiating in the game last fall, why don't you look at your own program before calling anybody else cheaters.