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Fiasco of NCAA probations exposed in translations

As we head into spring, I would like to take the time to give you all a bit of advice. Instead of heading down to Myrtle Beach, S.C., after finals are over, I think you should all go south to Florida. Why? Well for one, even if you break the law, you won't be punished. At least not if the NCAA has its way.

For those of you who haven't been following the NCAA investigation into Florida State's football program, you may be surprised to hear that for its role in a Foot Locker shopping spree, FSU was given a one-year probation.

Those among you that have watched the NCAA in the past few years won't be surprised by this news which was doled out last Wednesday. After all, the NCAA has been dishing out these weak penalties to any and all rule breakers. For those non-math majors out there, I will explain this in greater detail. Florida State football players went on an after-hours shopping spree at a Foot Locker during its 1993 championship season which was paid for by sports agents, in addition to 13 other violations = no loss of scholarships, no loss of postseason play and no loss of TV time. In simpler terms, looting a store = slap on the wrist.

The worst part is that the NCAA is beginning to acknowledge the fact that it has no control over the institutions it is supposed to be controlling.

"This is probably one of the lightest, if not the lightest penalty, handed down in a major case," David Swank, chairman of the NCAA's infractions committee, said in an Associated Press story on Wednesday, March 20, 1996. "It's a penalty that affects image more than anything else with the institution."

Translation: Florida State is a major college football power and if we penalized them severely we would affect possible bowl revenues.

Well, thank you Mr. Swank, we wouldn't actually want to hurt the program for cheating, after all. What's worse is that it's not the school handing out the penalty, but the NCAA. The NCAA promotes as its first purpose: "To initiate, stimulate and improve intercollegiate athletics programs for student-athletes and to promote and develop educational leadership, physical fitness, athletics excellence and participation."

Translation: We make a large amount of money from TV contracts so we would like to make sure that all of our athletes remain academically eligible through all means necessary and by making sure we don't punish them too severely no matter what they do.

It's difficult to determine how many times in the past this has happened with other schools. Kentucky's and Maryland's basketball programs, put on probation in 1989 and 1990, respectively, have both quickly bounced back from the penalties given them to become national powerhouses in the past two seasons. Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips was removed from the team last season after beating up his girlfriend, but coach Tom Osborne made sure to clear his name quickly enough to have him back on the field as Nebraska rolled to the national championship on Jan. 2.

Translation: Buy players, allow them to run wild through campus and the surrounding community, hey even punish them to look good in the media. But when it's time to play, make sure the team will win the games.

I thought things were starting to look awfully fishy so I, The Polish Nightmare, crack Chronicle reporter, decided to do a little investigative reporting and get to the bottom of this issue.

NCAA: Hello.

Me: Hi, this is The Polish Nightmare. (If you do undercover work, remember not to give your real name).

NCAA: Is that polish, as in Maybelline Red No. 5 nail polish.

Me: No. It's Polish, as in Eastern European country filled with people infatuated with kielbasa.

NCAA: Oh.

[More small talk follows]

As one can see, nothing was accomplished at first, but by the end of the conversation, I got her to fax me the NCAA Official Policy on Punishment. It reads:

NCAA Official Policy on Punishment

  1. Large payments to player still in high school-threaten to revoke all eligibility, put on probation for year.

  2. Large payments to player already in college-threaten to revoke remaining eligibility, put on probation for year.

  3. Player runs up thousands of dollars in parking tickets or phone bill-suspend for three meaningless games, make threat of something bad, put on probation for one year.

  4. Player places illegal bets with bookie-Threaten institution, see if school has good back-up quarterback and, if so, suspend player for four meaningless early-season games, but have him back in time so that his draft status is not hurt. Oh yeah, put on probation for a year.

  5. Player takes weapon and goes on killing spree while still in school-Put on probation for two years.

I mean come on, this is America, you can't just go around murdering people and not get punished for it. Unless you have rushed for at least 2,000 yards in a season.

The solution, you ask. Simple. There should be real punishments every time a school screws up. If a school has 14 different violations, give them the death penalty and eliminate the program for a few years. Southern Methodist University's football program received the death penalty for recruiting violations in 1985. Since reentering NCAA football the Mustangs have a 15-61-1 record in football. Tell me something, if they ever have the choice again between breaking the rules or following them, don't you think they might obey them instead of going through another 10 years of miserable seasons for one shot at a good one. Then ask Florida State if it would break the same rules again if it knew a one-year probation was waiting. I bet FSU will feel really bad about probation next year when it is claiming the national championship on New Year's Day.

William Dvoranchik is a Trinity senior and associate sports editor of The Chronicle. After getting his law degree from Appalachian Community College, he would like to be employed by the NCAA.

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