“So, 201 athletes, huh? And only seven of them we’re football players.”
I look up to see my Weekly cohort and award-winning “War on Dumb” columnist Kyle Whitmire saunter into my office and plop down on one of the two black Pleather chairs in front of my desk. I can tell that we are in the waxing phase of one of the spontaneous bull sessions in which the two of us engage from time to time. Some times we talk politics, other times religion or history, occasionally technology. Today it’s sports, specifically the recent scandal involving Alabama athletes and their textbooks.
“Well, really, only 22 kids intentionally did anything wrong.,” I say. “And seven of those 22 kids were football players.
“You see, it’s like this — most of the kids went to the bookstore and handed their syllabus over to one of the people that work there,” I explain, waving around a sheet of copy paper from my desk as if it were a syllabus. “The bookstore employee takes that and begins filling the student’s order. Now the problem is, the bookstore employee is not aware that the student’s textbook plan only covers required books for each class, not the recommended books that some professors list on the paper here. Those employees included some of those optional texts in the package and there’s your NCAA violation.”
“I see,” Kyle says as he ponders the scenario. “And the other 22?”
“The other 22,” I interrupt, “were just hooking up their friends and girlfriends.”
“But here’s what I don’t understand,” Kyle says. “In cases where the school is really not at fault…”
I interrupt again.
“But see, the school is somewhat at fault here. Each month, the bookstore sends a report to the athletic department and two or three people are supposed to review the charges and cut the bookstore a check. The problem was that these reviewers were observing these reports on a month-by-month basis, not comparing the current month’s reports to reports from previous months. Had they been doing that, then they probably would have spotted the same athletes going back to the store month after month and racking up big charges on each visit.”
“Well, what probably happened was a couple of kids did this, got away with it, told their friends, then they did it and got away with it,” Kyle says. “But what I don’t understand is how can the NCAA can punish a school for something that wasn’t really the school’s fault.”
“Well,” I say, a smile creeping across my face, “that’s the NCAA’s conundrum.
“You see, this is kind of a Lord-of-the-Flies moment for the NCAA. You’ve got allegations in Memphis that Derrick Rose and Robert Dozier had other people take their SATs for them. You have two situations at USC. You have their basketball coach resigning amid allegations that they paid O.J. Mayo to play there two years ago and you have persistent rumors that Reggie Bush was paid to play football there years ago.
“Then, you’ve got schools like Tennessee and Auburn, who are committing secondary NCAA violations left and right. And, because the NCAA doesn’t really punish secondary violations at all, some people are saying that these schools are committing secondary violations just to get attention.”
“Well,” Kyle says, “how does the NCAA differentiate between a major and secondary violation?”
And here’s where my ignorance begins to show.
“Well, that’s were it starts getting complicated,” I say. “That’s when you start getting into matters like ‘repeat offenders,’ ‘lack of institutional control’ versus ‘failure to monitor’… Basically the NCAA rule book is like this,” I say, holding my hands 10 inches apart. “It’s full of complicated, arcane bullshit.
“The fact is, you can’t monitor everything that goes on with the boosters, the players and all the hangers-on surrounding a program. It’s too much. You could have an Auburn booster in Mobile slip a recruit from Foley a hundred bucks and tell him that there’s more where that comes from if he commits to Auburn. Now how is that Auburn’s fault? It isn’t. But the NCAA would punish Auburn just the same.
“What it comes down to is this, either the NCAA starts punishing everybody the same way. Punish Alabama, punish USC and Memphis. Punish Auburn and Tennessee for secondaries. Or, make cheating legal and let teams compete to see who can out-cheat the next one.”
Kyle laughs. “They should be able to spy on each other,” he says. “They should make spying legal. Saban could hire G. Gordon Liddy to spy on Auburn. And this would give Ollie North something to do. You haven’t heard anything from Ollie North in a while. What’s he up to?”
“Fox News,” I interject. “He does a show for them I think.”
“You know what else they should do?” Kyle adds. “They should just pay the players.”
“Well, I’d like to see the players get paid something,” I say. “Think about EA Sports. Those video games make a ton of money using those players’ skills and likenesses. And the players don’t see a dime of that. And then there are jersey sales, T-shirts...”
“Then pay the players!” Kyle repeats. “Pay the players!”
“Well, it’s a Pandora’s box,” I reply. “You think teams are out of control now, just wait until there’s money involved.”
“Yeah,” Kyle sighs, “I guess so.”
Down the hall we hear our publisher, Chuck Leishman chime in.
“Pay the players,” he says incredulously. “You’d have every team trying to turn themselves into the New York Yankees!”
“Yeah, he’s right,” Kyle says. “I guess you can’t do that.”
“Nope, can’t do it,” I reply. “I do like that spying idea, though.”
“Upon Further Review” is the Birmingham Weekly’s sports page. Write to email@example.com.