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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?

Roy Williams (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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?

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.