The punishment that the NCAA handed down to SMU stemming from the violations involving Keith Frazier’s grades are about what you would expect.
The administrative assistant that admitted to doing Frazier’s coursework to get him eligible as a freshman? She was fired and got a five-year show-cause penalty. Frazier? He was suspended for the second half of the 2014-15 season and will be the cause for the nearly 30 wins that SMU has to vacate. Not only does SMU have to vacate those wins, but they’ll spend the coming years dealing with scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions.
And Larry Brown? He got a two-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA and will be suspended for nine games this coming season for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance, lying to the NCAA during their investigation and failing to cop to the violations when he found out about them.
It’s all textbook, really. I’ll forever take issue with the NCAA’s arcane amateurism rules, but their entire system is built around the idea that the athletes are being compensated by the universities with an education. They have to swing the ax when that compensation gets messed with. That’s the way the system works these days.
But somehow, the NCAA still managed to get an open-and-shut case wrong.
Because the association banned the Mustangs from the 2016 postseason, which, at this point in time, is more of an injustice than the actual violations that the program committed.
That sentence is going to rile some people up — particularly the faction of fans that still believe the NCAA is something other than a facade used to bilk billions of dollars of television revenue off of the backs of hard-working athletes — but there are five words there that I wrote for a very specific reason: At. This. Point. In. Time.
Today is September 29th. SMU’s players have been enrolled in classes for more than a month. Basketball practice officially begins this Friday, October 2nd. The NCAA is handing down a punishment quite literally on the eve of the season that will cost players that had nothing to do with the violations a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament this season.
For the underclassmen, that’s a blow. For the freshmen that are getting their first taste of college basketball, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
But for the seniors on that roster?
For reigning AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore, for Markus Kennedy, for Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert — who sat out last season after three years with the Red Raiders specifically for a shot at playing in the postseason — that’s like getting their heart ripped out.
So don’t get it twisted: I’m not saying that SMU shouldn’t have been hit with a postseason ban. That’s a different argument for a different day. I’m saying that the NCAA’s decision to ban SMU from the 2016 postseason on September 29th is flat out wrong and bordering on morally reprehensible.
Because the kids that are suffering the worst from this penalty had nothing to do with the actual violation.
Does that mean Moore, Kennedy and Tolbert are totally innocent here? They might not be. Fair or not, that type of speculation is warranted for any player that opts to sign with a coach that has Brown’s track record. But what the NCAA was able to prove is that an administrative assistant committed academic fraud while helping a freshman get eligible, that an assistant coach may or may not have facilitated it and that Brown was not totally truthful and forthcoming about the violations that occurred.
There’s been absolutely nothing in any media reports, in any of the material that the NCAA released and in any of the conversations I’ve had that even hints at a mention of SMU’s three seniors.
And yet, they are the ones that will lose the chance to play in their final NCAA tournament. For Tolbert, it means he’ll have wasted two years of his athletic prime on one chance at an NCAA tournament run, a chance that was snatched away from him three days before the season began.
(Please don’t tell me about how they still get to play their senior season, because doing so ignores the significance of March. If you don’t get that, you don’t understand this sport.)
SMU can apply for a waiver here, and if the NCAA is smart, they’ll grant it.
Here’s why: The goal here is to punish the coach and the program. That’s why they are banned from the tournament, that’s why they have to vacate wins and that’s why they have a myriad of recruiting restrictions and scholarship reductions.
But if the NCAA really wanted to hurt SMU’s basketball program, a postseason ban for 2016-17 instead of 2015-16 is the better option. Not only would the Mustangs lose their three seniors to graduation, they would have a number of players transfer out of the program to avoid burning a year of eligibility in a year with a postseason ban. They would get killed on the recruiting trail with the ban looming, and that’s before you consider the restrictions they’re already being forced to deal with. There’s almost zero chance that Brown would stick around through the punishment, and given that he’s now 75 years old, it would likely get him out of the NCAA’s hair for good.
Oh, and it would allow the three seniors on the SMU to be able to play out their final season on a college campus the way they should be.
The NCAA changed the rules of the game halfway through.
It’s not too late to change them back.
We all know the NCAA needs all the goodwill it can get.