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NCAA’s North Carolina ruling devalues scholarship, ‘student’-athlete even further

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The uncomfortable truth in Friday’s NCAA ruling, the one where the association let North Carolina walk for a two-decade long academic fraud scandal that helped keep players on two national title-winning teams eligible, is that they probably got this right.

There is no NCAA by-law that would have allowed the Committee on Infractions to bring the hammer down on North Carolina.

In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The COI could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

That’s why this was tried as an extra benefits case.

That was the only way that the NCAA had a shot of getting North Carolina. That failed, mainly because this effort from doomed from the start.

North Carolina spent $18 million on lawyers and would have spent $18 million more to keep those banners from coming down, and there was nothing that three-and-a-half years of investigation could do to change it.

They were never going to win this fight, and frankly, the NCAA probably should have cut their losses a long time ago.

But arguing about whether or not this ruling was actually fair misses the forest for the trees.

Because the NCAA just admitted that they have no ability to enforce whether or not their member institutions are actually willing or capable of providing their “student”-athletes with the education that is supposed to be their compensation for playing their sport.

That is the fundamental argument for amateurism, correct?

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That’s the reason why all the sponsorship money, advertising dollars and TV contract revenue in college athletics goes directly to the schools, the administrators and the coaches, right?

“We don’t have to give them more, we don’t have to allow athletes to be able to profit off of their name or their likeness or their talent because we’re giving them this incredible opportunity to educate themselves for free!”

What good is a $212,000 diploma from the University of North Carolina if you do not get the education that is supposed to come with it?

What this ruling did, for all to see, was cede the NCAA’s control of that over to the schools. They have no power to punish a university that decides they care less about the quality of the education that their student-athletes receive and more about the grades those players get. Keeping them eligible is the priority. Always has been, always will be. Keeping them available for practices and games and midweek trips from Boston to Miami, or LA to Seattle, or Morgantown to Waco takes precedence over a lecture course that happens to be held when conference games are played.

That’s why you see athletes clustered within a major. It’s the easiest one to get good grades in and it makes scheduling practices that everyone can attend that much more manageable, and that’s to say nothing of online classes, where you can never actually be sure who is doing the work.

And frankly, that’s how college works. Everyone with a degree has a story or five about the easy class they took in college, about the way they finagled an ‘A’ out of a bowling class or the way they buoyed their GPA by taking a 100-level class on Coaching Basketball. It’s almost a rite of passage.

This isn’t the place to discuss the preparedness that these student-athletes have for taking college-level courses, either, although it is worth mentioning that part of the reason these athletes get funneled into easy classes in college is because far too many of them were funneled into easy classes at high schools that aren’t exactly known for their academic prowess to make sure they stayed eligible to play, eligible to accept that scholarship when it comes along. Using college courses as compensation, as a salary, creates a situation where players are being paid in a way that they are incapable of extracting value from.

It would be like NBC paying my salary in Raffi cassette tapes. What the hell am I going to do when that direct deposit hits?

But all of that is beside the point.

If possible, the NCAA proved on Friday that it is even more useless than we previously believed.

Amateurism is their rule, and by proxy the rule that these schools want. It exists because an education is supposed to be enough of a salary, but if the association doesn’t actually have any power to determine whether or not the compensation NCAA student-athletes receive from their school actually has any value, what the hell is the point?

We know amateurism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which means that we are going to have to trust that these universities are willing to police themselves, that they are going to prioritize an athlete’s education over their eligibility. North Carolina, which ranks as the 30th best university in America, according to U.S. News and World Report, and the 13th best non-Ivy League school with a Division I sports program, had 18 years of fraudulent classes result in a punishment from an accreditation agency of a one-year probationary period.

One year probation!

What’s more, North Carolina dodged punishment by stating that they were perfectly OK with the fake classes. The NCAA doesn’t have the authority to punish schools for academic impropriety, so while North Carolina admitted what they were doing was the opposite of what a university is supposed to do, all they had to do was say, “But we’re cool with it,” and they were home free.

Seriously.

Just read this.

“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.”

If that can happen at a school as highly-regarded as North Carolina is, what happens at the 338 Division I programs that are ranked below them?

If the NCAA doesn’t have quality control over the education, and an accrediting agency hands down that meek of a punishment for 18 years worth of fake classes, where is the incentive for a university to give those athletes the education that you all keep telling me is so important and is so valuable?

VIDEO: Providence coach Ed Cooley always needs a mic

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On Friday night at DePaul, Providence head coach Ed Cooley allowed himself to be mic’d up for a TV broadcast, and things got interesting.

Around the 36 second mark, Cooley starts talking about … vampires and bats and dracula?

Then robbing banks and saying thank you?

I don’t know. Just watch.

VIDEO: Kansas celebrates in locker room after West Virginia win

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After coming from 16 points down to knock off No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, Kansas had themselves some fun in the visitor’s locker room.

I’m not exactly sure what is happening here, but I do know Devonte’ Graham is having a hell of a time.

COLUMN: Kansas is back on top in the Big 12

My only question … where is Billy Preston’s shirt? He didn’t even play:

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

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1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

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Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.