In case you missed it in during the course of Vanderbilt’s dramatic win over Marquette on Wednesday night, the Commodore’s junior forward Lance Goulbourne sat out as he completed a two-game suspension handed down by the NCAA.
Why was he suspended?
(Takes a deep breath.)
Goulbourne, who was a sophomore last season, bought a parking pass meant for seniors off of a team manager that was a senior. He paid full price for the parking pass. But since the team manager — who was a student at the school, mind you — is considered part of the coaching staff by the NCAA, this constituted an illegal benefit. Vanderbilt self-reported the violation to the NCAA (this only came to light because Goulbourne was double-billed for a parking ticket) and Goulbourne was suspended.
Now, I may be a bit out of line here, but this is so utterly, fantastically, and brutally ridiculous, I needed to digest the information for a day because it simply didn’t make sense to me that something as innocuous as buying a senior parking pass off of a friend constituted an NCAA violation that was worthy of a two game suspension.
(Takes another deep breath.)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the NCAA have much bigger fish to fry (cough, Cam Newtown, cough cough, Sugar Bowl, ahem, Taylor Martinez’s dad) than a kid that simply tried to pull one over on his school’s parking enforcement?
I could go on a rant here about the NCAA’s seemingly selective enforcement and inconsistency when punishing violators. I could bitch about the fact that a parking pass is worth two games while $6,000 in illegal benefits are only worth nine games. Hell, I’m sure if I tried hard enough, I could get something in there about Enes Kanter or Bruce Pearl or Tom Izzo.
But I’m not.
You’ve read those rants 1,000 times over in the last six months, and there is no need for me to regurgitate what every writer in the country has said because, in all likelihood, they said it better than I can.
My issue with this ruling has nothing to do with any other ruling the NCAA has made.
The goal of the NCAA is to have student-athletes get treated like any other student on campus. The ideal is that the kids that play basketball are students that just so happen to play basketball, like how kids in marching band are students that happen to play an instrument or how kids that act in plays are students that happen to be really good actors.
If my collegiate experience was completely different from the norm (which I sincerely doubt), then I retract everything I am about to say. But when I was in college, I did everything I could to beat the system and took advantage of every hook-up I had.
All of my friends did the same thing.
We were friends with a couple of guys that worked at a bar that students from my school spent quite a bit of time bellied up to. We went there all the time because we knew that the bartenders would let us in without paying a cover or waiting in line and would hook us up with drinks. That happens on every single college campus in the country and at every single bar you have ever been to.
Its called being a regular.
But Tennessee football players got in trouble for taking advantage of a relationship like that.
There was a beer store we went too all the time a few blocks off of campus. The people that owned the place would cut us deals if we bought a lot of booze there and always hooked us up with free swag. Giant inflatable Corona Palm Trees? Hell yeah! Motorized Bud Light coolers? Give me like five!
Along those same lines, there was a pizza place across the street from that beer store that we patronized so much that the owner started to give us discounts on the food we bought.
Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly did the exact same thing at a department store when they bought clothes and were suspended for three and six games, respectively.
The NCAA wants athletes to be normal college kids.
This is what normal college kids do.
They take advantage of every hook-up they can. They try to beat the system at all times. They take every shortcut possible. I know I’m not the only one that made friends with the campus police so that if I had a party get broken up or parked illegally, I could avoid getting into trouble. I also played basketball, which means that I probably violated many NCAA rules during my collegiate career when Mike or Dale let me off with yet another warning.
I understand that it is a slippery slope.
You don’t want to turn a blind eye to discounted clothing because the next kid will be getting a discounted TV and the kid after that will be getting a discounted car. I get that. A precedent needs to be set. (I also know how ridiculous it is to talk about “precendence” in regards in NCAA punishments in this day and age.)
But a little bit of common sense could help the NCAA in a big way.
Punish kids that break a rule with the intention of breaking a rule.
Don’t punish a kid like Lance Goulbourne, who was simply looking to get around his school’s parking regulations the same way any other underclassmen does.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.