Michigan should get further penalties from the NCAA in late March. It’s not fair to Tommy Amaker or his current players, but I believe that is the way it has to be.
Years ago, the Michigan basketball program avoided severe punishment for “the late, great Eddie L. Martin” scandal. Those actually guilty of the crime survived because of a technicality.
“We can’t prove anything,” was the collective cry from the University’s investigators.
Actually, Michigan allowed its basketball program to foster a culture of deceit that abused the NCAA rules and got away scot-free thanks to the powerful silence of collusion.
While the University deserves credit for going to great lengths to find the truth – name another school that leveraged the power of the FBI to uncover NCAA violations – it is still guilty of one of the most egregious infractions in the history of college sports. More than a few people looked away because this bastardization of amateurism brought untold millions of dollars to the University and $616,000 to the pockets of its college basketball players.
That is the cold, ugly truth. That is why the penalties are not over yet.
Thomas Yeager, chairman of the NCAA’s committee on infractions, grilled University representatives for five hours Friday. Earlier in the week, he said that there must be consequences that really wipe out the advantage Michigan gained.
I’m sure the University showed Yeager that it has reformed, when they met on Friday.
The moral fiber coursing through the veins of Michigan basketball may be decidedly cleaner now. But that doesn’t change the fact that the advantage has not been overcome.
Amaker still attracts recruits with glowing memories of the Fab Five, and the athletic department’s bank account is still full of cash that can be traced to black-sock-and-baggy-short-wearing cheaters.
Do the current self-imposed sanctions wipe out the advantage the athletic department gained? I don’t think so. They present further evidence that the current administration wants justice, but real justice in this case has been impossible for years.
Now it’s about more than fixing the problems inside Michigan basketball. It’s about making a statement to other rogue programs. The NCAA needs to come down strong and prove that you can’t delay a major scandal and get softer penalties as a result.
Michigan is fortunate that it doesn’t face charges of lack of institutional control or recruiting violations. But saying this was just a case of extra benefits is like saying the Minnesota basketball scandal was just a case of cheating on a couple homework assignments. There is no comparable case to Michigan’s.
I’m not going to play the guessing game about what the specific NCAA ruling will be. But the items on the table include additional years of probation, scholarship reductions, and further postseason bans. It may not be the most likely scenario, but missing another postseason or two could cost Michigan some of its top recruits, some of its best players or even its head coach. Players who leave a school on probation are eligible to play for another school right away.
If I were Amaker – a legitimate candidate for national coach of the year right now – or Bernard Robinson or Daniel Horton, I would be contemplating my options in the event that the Maize and Blue ship hits another iceberg.
Fortunately for Michigan fans, those men are much more focused and stronger-willed than I am.
Despite facing more distractions than the NBA’s Portland Jailblazers, the Wolverines are playing great basketball and sitting atop the Big Ten standings, even though no one else on Earth expected them to contend at all.
For another month, we can enjoy the clean and successful program that has been the story of the year. For another month, we can jump up and down and watch the team hold its opponent to 54 points one night and outscore the next team with a barrage of 3-point bombs.
But when the Madness of late March finally arrives, we will all be asked to rise and listen to the NCAA’s final sentencing in this case.
I think that will be another “day of shame.” Hopefully, I’m wrong.
Chris Webber has joined Gary Condit, the Ramsey parents and O.J. Simpson in the search for the real killer. If you have any relevant information on the untimely death of Eddie L. Martin, please send it to Steve Jackson at email@example.com.