I loved the obligatory tone of indignation in columns that appeared when Xavier head coach Chris Mack and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin levied suspensions following this weekend’s brawl between the Musketeers and the Bearcats. Criticism in such cases is far too easy. The real problem lies not in the penalties but in their source. The idea that a coach should also be judge, jury, and executioner when his players do wrong is novel, to say the least. The conflict of interest in such cases is intractable. The better the player, the more egregious the conflict.
I would like to see the NCAA reviewing tapes and handing down penalties in these cases, not the conferences much less the schools themselves. Currently the NCAA stipulates that anyone involved in a fight is ejected from the game and must sit out one additional contest. Of course in the case of the Xavier-Cincy melee, the schools went over and above that minimum requirement in many instances, banishing players from the court for as many as six games (and the schools were still criticized as being lenient — it is the circle of life in such episodes). But it would be better still if the good people in Indianapolis had the responsibility of reviewing these episodes on a case-by-case basis. In just about any other sport, this is the meat and potatoes of what your national regulatory body does. That the NCAA is, effectively, nowhere to be seen in a case like this is odd.
NCAA president Mark Emmert has said his organization will move away from picayune matters like auditing phone records and scrutinizing restaurant receipts. That’s a start, but the mother lode of picayune is the odd fetishization of amateurism, a pleasant and quotidian trifle that will survive for centuries worldwide regardless of what lawyers in Indianapolis did or did not do in 2011. Amateurism needs stringent protection and detailed regulations to about the same extent that politeness, punctuality, or correct spelling do.
An NCAA that came to that realization and helped out with disciplining pugilistic players might also realize it has nothing whatsoever to contribute to the ongoing pursuit of justice at Penn State. Jay Bilas has nailed it: The idea that the NCAA and Big Ten have any role to play in the Jerry Sandusky investigation is not only farcical, it’s actually disturbing. Characters like Emmert and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany loom large in their proper spheres, but their insertion into the Sandusky affair trivializes the mephitic nature of what is alleged and puts those allegations on par with mere sports, with ephemera like O.J. Mayo, Jim Tressel, and Nate Miles. To imply any such equivalence is absurd.
The NCAA and Big Ten say they’re looking to see if there was “a lack of institutional control” with regard to Sandusky and his alleged crimes. But what if there wasn’t a lack of institutional control? What if the institution was sufficiently informed of the dangers at the highest administrative levels and simply took a catastrophic turn toward inaction and cowardice? That’s not a lack of institutional control, it’s a harrowing and reprehensible surfeit of institutional corruption. It is something much worse, something quite properly beyond the concern of bodies that regulate how we play games.
To review, the NCAA votes no, yes, and yes on tasking itself with case-by-case fight penalties, the policing of amateurism, and Sandusky postmortems. I say the proper answers here instead are yes, no, and no. If we were creating a national collegiate athletic association from scratch today, this is what it would do.