college sports

When the sports police lose the plot …

ESPN and Sports Illustrated surely didn’t coordinate their stories on the NCAA and other investigations in sports. But taken together, the pieces show troubling issues for those who try to keep sports fair.

The main Sports Illustrated piece isn’t available online as far as I know, at least not yet. It’s an investigation about an investigation, in which Pete Thamel and Alexander Wolff show how the NCAA’s probe into the University of Miami went horribly awry. Thamel followed up online with a look at turnover on the enforcement staff and general NCAA dysfunction. Wolff goes a different direction and reports on Nevin Shapiro, the Miami whistleblower. (He apparently made a lot of money betting that the Hurricanes wouldn’t cover the spread against Duke. I’m tempted to take that as flattery, but I probably can’t.)

ESPN’s Chris Jones has a column on Georgia’s Kolton Houston, who at one point was banned for life as a repeat drug offender until the Bulldogs produced proof that his body has residual norandrolone from a doctor’s mistake in high school. Those who follow Olympic sports, particularly cases like Torri Edwards’ and Alain Baxter’s, may recognize the pitfalls of “zero tolerance” applied by people who aren’t paying attention to details.

Then we have the saddest case, indirectly involving the NCAA. College football coach Todd Hoffner lost his job through overzealous overreaction in the post-Jerry Sandusky era. Worse, he was branded a child pornographer. His mistake? His kids asked him to shoot a video, the kids (toddler/early elementary age) dropped their clothes, and he didn’t immediately erase the video. The people who prosecuted Hoffner, both within Minnesota State-Mankato and in court, would be hard pressed to say their actions were in the best interests of his children.

The Hoffner case is a classic overreaction and should be a cautionary tale. The Houston case is a reminder to all anti-doping authorities to get all the facts, not just what a lab result tells them.

Can anything be done about the NCAA? Perhaps simplifying would be better. Rather than having layers of compliance protocols that make the U.S. tax code look like the rules for the first Ultimate Fighting Championship “there are no rules!” event, maybe focus on two things:

1. Schools can’t pay athletes.

2. Student-athletes must be students in good standing.

So much else the NCAA oversees is just so much hair-splitting and bureaucracy. Do we really care if someone gave an athlete a ride home? Or if athletes in Olympic sports have sponsors? Or about any of the procedural hoops USL, NPSL and WPSL teams have to clear so they can have college athletes on their teams?

Drop a lot of the overregulation, and maybe they’ll do a better job with the actual cheating.

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