John Lithgow’s character in “Footloose” and the NCAA are weak. Simply put. They buckled under pressure, and now the floodgates are open.
Don’t get me wrong, I was all for Kevin Bacon busting it loose, and to see the innocent of the Michigan scandal – Tommy Amaker and his players – reprieved of all that they didn’t do was refreshing.
But, let’s face facts, the NCAA hurt itself by allowing Michigan to get the chance to be in the postseason this year.
The NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee used the seven factors that it had for the Mississippi decision in 1995 that banned the school from televised games to decide what should be done for Michigan.
The first factor was “the nature, number and seriousness of the violation(s).” It doesn’t get much bigger according to the NCAA.
“In total, this is one of the three or four most egregious violations of NCAA bylaws in the history of the association,” NCAA Infractions Committee Chair Thomas Yeager said at the time.
Then there’s this statistic: of 215 major infractions cases since 1985, there have been 27 instances where the punishment was for two years or more. Not to state the obvious, but if this situation was “one of the three or four most egregious violations” ever, then shouldn’t it be punished as such?
Factor two was “the conduct and motives of the involved individuals.” Given that this was a simple violation of the NCAA rule to accept illegal gifts, there is not much debate as for where the Infractions Appeals Committee could have stood on this matter.
For your record, that puts Michigan down 2-0 at this point.
The University does gain one back on “the corrective actions taken by the University” (factor three). President Mary Sue Coleman, Athletic Director Bill Martin and Amaker were nothing but compliant on what was handed down and also had taken action with their own self-imposed penalties.
Factor four – which hurt Michigan originally – looks at “a comparison of the penalty or penalties imposed in other cases with similar characteristics.” Originally, the NCAA Infractions Committee compared Michigan to the 2002 decision on the Alabama football team. The appeals committee felt otherwise and gave another point to Michigan, even though it is essentially the same case. It was just never proven that any of the four Michigan basketball players convicted received money before coming to the University. Which was the reason the comparison between the two was dropped – something that would be debatable had Ed Martin ever given his full testimony.
Factors five through seven addressed the cooperation of the University, the impact on the innocent and the “NCAA policies regarding fairness.” To continue with the point system that I have invented to go with these factors, that would give Michigan points for five and six and a meaningless loss off factor seven.
Here’s my question: Why should Michigan’s theoretical 4-3 win be the deciding factor? Yes, this isn’t Alabama. These players didn’t get money in high school, like the convicted Crimson Tide players did. So what? If this was one of the worst violations ever, then it should be punished as so. Not only to punish Michigan, but also to have a reference point in case another school comes in with similar violations. The NCAA, using its seven-factor system, has left itself wide open for interpretations in any case down the road.
No infringement is exactly the same as another, and while it is fine to use comparisons to help with decisions, each situation needs its own individual look. This decision has set a new standard that the NCAA will have to follow when dealing with breaches of set rules that are not amongst the worst in NCAA history.
Like I said, I’m happy to see those who didn’t break the rules not get punished. I just hope the NCAA is ready for the fallout of letting Michigan essentially decide its own punishment and walk away with the wounds of just one lost season.
– Kyle O’Neill can be reached at email@example.com.