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February 18th, 2003:

Crime and punishment, NCAA-style

Steve Smith of OffWing Opinion recently wrote of the passing of Michigan booster Ed Martin, whose payola to the Wolverine men’s basketball teams of the late 80s have recently come to light:

Although I don’t condone lying to a court of law, even if it’s about something as trivial as receipt of booster payments or oral sex, the notion that Michigan would even consider sitting out the [NCAA] tournament this year for activities that date back to 1988, when several of the starters on this year’s team were toddlers, is madness. Maybe the university thought back in October that the punishment (which also includes forfeiting hundreds of victories from the Fab Five era) might impress the NCAA, so it had nothing to lose. After all, no one expected Michigan to do anything this year, especially after they lost their first six games. Now that Michigan is tied for the conference lead, and the star witness against them is dead, they might reconsider that earlier decision.

The problem that I have with this line of argument is that it basically means you have to catch and punish offenders the same year that they sin, otherwise you are perforce punishing at least some kids who weren’t there when the infractions occurred. In my opinion, NCAA sanctions for violations are designed to punish the school and its fans. It’s regrettable that innocent players are also affected, but that can’t be helped. Perhaps in cases like that the NCAA should allow players to transfer and play immediately, without having to sit out a year. That would not only give them an option, it would be an extra incentive to not cheat. Heck, let ’em transfer to any school that has been free of NCAA violations for at least five years, even if that puts the new school over the scholarship limit for that year. If that means Michigan has to scrounge for walkons or forfeit games because they don’t have enough players, so be it. That would be an incentive to keep your nose clean.

It would help, of course, if the NCAA were first and foremost an organization that cared about amateur college athletics instead of the almighty dollar. Quite a few schools have committed infractions that were as severe as SMU did in the 1980s, but none have received the “death penalty” since Mustang football was shut down for two seasons, and it’s unlikely any other program ever will. The money involved is too great, the conflicts of interest too inherent.

For what it’s worth, I have no qualms about proposals to pay players. The only argument against it is the ideal of amateur athletics. I can’t even type those words with a straight face any more. But let’s not be naive and think that giving players a stipend will lessen the urge to cheat. Boosters like Ed Martin were about winning at whatever cost. They’ll always be with us, and they’ll find ways to make their influence felt, both legal (such as “cherry-wood lockers, plush carpets and million-dollar weight rooms”) and not.

Anyway, I believe that the University of Michigan should be punished for Ed Martin’s infractions, I believe that any Wolverine who feels that this is unfair to him should be allowed to immediately transfer, and I believe that until the Ed Martins of the world begin to fear the price of cheating, cheating will continue to be rampant. The best thing to happen would be for an Ed Martin’s fellow fatcat alums to forever shun him for having cost their team an unacceptable loss of scholarships, money, players, postseason appearances, and prestige.

Goodhair nips heresy in the bud

Some pesky Republicans in the Lege have been straying off the ranch lately, calling for an expansion of the state sales tax so that drastic cuts in the education allotment can be avoided:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the state should expand the sales tax to services, the fastest growing sector in the state’s economy and accounting for billions in untapped revenue.

“The current school system is being funded today on the backs of the local property tax payers. We can no longer continue to do so,” Shapiro, Senate Education Committee chairwoman, told educators rallying at the Capitol for increased public education funding.

“I would propose an alternative tax structure by expanding the sales tax base to include the service industry and the exemptions,” she said before the crowd of about 300 teachers, parents, students and other supporters.

Shapiro said she would not remove sales tax exemptions for food and medicine, which she conceded account for the lion’s share of an estimated $26 billion in sales tax exemptions.

Governor Goodhair, bless his stout heart and singleminded devotion to dogma, is having none of it:

“As I have said on numerous occasions, this is not the time to be talking about raising revenues. I’m focused on the spending side first and foremost,” Perry said Monday after speaking to the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas.

He has asked lawmakers facing a $10 billion budget shortfall to build a state budget from zero and set priorities without exceeding the $54.1 billion in state money available for the next two years.

That means cuts of about 12.5 percent over the current budget, which totals $114 billion when you add in federal and other funds.

“I think we’ve got to stay focused on the spending side. Once you take your eye off of the focus of spending and start talking about revenues there seems to be a historical pattern of people losing their resolve to pare the budget down to where it needs to be,” Perry said.

Let’s review again where the budget currently is:

Category .. Rank

Overall spending per capita .. 50

Mental health .. 47

Cash welfare .. 48

Corrections .. 17

Highways .. 42

Public health .. 45

Parks and Recreation .. 48

State employee wages .. 50

Education .. 37

Public welfare and Medicaid .. 46

We have hit rock bottom (which is to say, worse than Mississippi) and we have started to dig. We have gone long past the point of trimming fat from the budget, and have begun to trim ears, fingers, and internal organs.

Given that we’ll make Barbra Streisand the permanent Queen of the Cotton Bowl Parade before we adopt a state income tax, I’ll reluctantly endorse Shapiro’s idea. At least it still exempts food from the sales tax (unlike Talmadge Heflin’s proposal), which alleviates the burden it would put on poor folks. I don’t know what it’s going to take to make our idiot Governor realize that both sides of the budget equation need examining, but he’d better figure it out quickly.

Salon interviews Molly Ivins

Salon has a short – almost disappointingly so – interview with Molly Ivins today. Check it out.