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June 27th, 2005:

On punishing the guilty

Last week, the NCAA socked it to Baylor for multiple infractions committed under former coach Dave Bliss.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions on Thursday placed Baylor on probation for five years and barred the men’s basketball team from competing outside the Big 12 Conference for one year.

The NCAA started its investigation into the program following the murder of basketball player Patrick Dennehy by his teammate Carlton Dotson in the summer of 2003.

The committee discovered widespread violations that included tens of thousands of dollars paid to student-athletes and prospects, more than $100,000 in impermissible donations funneled to amateur teams comprising prospects and the failure to follow procedures for reporting banned drug use.

Though some writers think the punishment Baylor received was appropriate, Richard Justice does not.

The problem with the punishment is that the people guilty of wrongdoing already have departed.

Instead of punishing the people who are guilty, the NCAA is punishing the people brought in to clean up the mess. The NCAA is punishing players who’ve never met Dave Bliss.

If you’re arguing that Bliss is being punished, forget it. Any school hiring Bliss for the next 10 years is subject to sanctions.

That’s punishment? Any school that even considers hiring Bliss should close its doors.

Why punish Drew? Why punish the players who came to Baylor hoping to clean up the program? Why punish people who’ve been dedicated to doing things right?

The NCAA should reward schools that step up and acknowledge mistakes and that don’t try to hide what they’ve done wrong.

Maybe the NCAA was trying to send a message. Maybe the NCAA wanted to remind the world what it will and won’t tolerate.

Yet when the NCAA sends a message, it always sends it to schools like Baylor. The NCAA considers Baylor a nuisance. The NCAA loves to make examples of schools like Baylor.

Would Michigan have been treated as harshly? Of course not.

Yes, Baylor came clean only after Dennehy’s murder, only after the program’s failings already were being exposed. And Baylor had been in trouble before. NCAA officials could have given Baylor the death penalty.

Why not use some logic?

Baylor is guilty of one thing: trusting Dave Bliss.

This is a common argument that I hear when the NCAA cracks down on a program. It has some merit, for all the reasons Justice gives. What I never see, though, is their idea of an appropriate remedy. I mean, surely no one would claim that the resignation of Dave Bliss is sufficient to wipe the slate clean, right? The point here isn’t just to punish Baylor, after all, but also to serve as a deterrent to other schools and other coaches. Given that, what would Richard Justice or any other advocate of this line of thinking suggest?

Since it’s usually a now-departed coach that was the real cause of the mess, it seems to me that the NCAA might consider making some changes that would enable them to punish those coaches more severely, thus reducing the need for them to take it out on the programs they leave behind. How about a rule stipulating that any coach whose program is found guilty of major infractions can be made to forfeit some or all of their salary for the seasons in which those infractions took place? I’m thinking Dave Bliss might have paid a bit more attention to the finer points of the rulebook if he’d known that his $500K annual paycheck was on the line. Make that a part of the standard contract, and as needed get a court order garnishing past wages as necessary. I think this would help put the responsibility for compliance where it belongs.

Now, this isn’t perfect, of course. You can just imagine the lawsuits that would result over interpretations of “major” infractions. It’s not clear to me that such a rule could be enforced against a coach whose contract didn’t already stipulate the possibility of this kind of sanction. There’d be a huge amount of pushback at the very mention of this concept. All that said, I think this is an idea worth exploring.

As for Dave Bliss himself, it’s hard to look at all the sleazy things he did and not agree with Justice that he’s getting away essentially unpunished. Here I think there’s a simpler and more direct way to extract a bit more redress: Baylor should file a civil suit against him for the amount of ticket and other revenues they stand to lose this year for the nonconference games they are barred from playing. I think they could make a pretty solid case that he was the primary cause of those lost revenues, and could probably get a settlement in reasonably short order. It doesn’t change the fact that Scott Drew and his players are suffering for Dave Bliss’ sins, but it’s something.

There is no cushion

Other states may have an unofficial speed limit that’s 5-10 MPH above what’s posted, but not Texas. Well, sort of.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and the Houston Police Department said they will write a ticket even if the driver is barely over the speed limit.


The DPS, HPD and the Sheriff’s Department say they have no policy that give drivers a speeding cushion.

“Our officers write tickets for just about anything,” HPD Capt. Dwayne Ready said.

Lt. John Martin, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, acknowledged that writing a citation for driving just barely over the speed limit is unreasonable.

As a matter of practice, individual officers don’t pull people over for going 2 or 3 miles over the speed limit, Martin said.

It’s that matter of practice that’s key. As I said before, traffic cops pretty much have to pick their spots, and we the public like it that way. Being just a little too fast isn’t a defense, nor is it a guarantee, but the odds are in your favor.

Where the wild landscapes are

I read with great interest this front page story about a homeowner in my neighborhood who’s drawn both praise and flak for her wild yard.

For a stranger, approaching Kelly Walker’s house on Arlington Street is a lesson in navigation. One almost needs a map to find the front door.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the plants were so tall by her blue Saturn station wagon that they appeared to have grown up around it. A funnel full of sunflower seeds hung from a wooden fence.

An orange Gulf fritillary butterfly hovered around her mailbox. And on the porch sat three glass jars with spiky caterpillars inside, a basket with gardening gloves, seed packets and clippers, and numerous pots with the seedlings of milkweed — the plant that monarch butterfly caterpillars like to munch on.

“Welcome to the jungle,” she said as she opened the door.

You need to see the photo to get a real appreciation of what we’re talking about here. For my part, this house is between where I live and where I take Olivia to day care, so I’ll be doing a drive-by later today.

I have a fair amount of sympathy for Kelly Walker. I don’t believe one must have a manicured lawn to be a good neighbor. If you’ve ever visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you’d probably agree with me that there are better uses of one’s soil than another plot of Saint Augustine grass. And with all due respect to the Houston Police Department’s Neighborhood Protection Division, I’m not greatly impressed by their case:

“You just can’t let everything go wild,” said [Jodi Filva, a spokeswoman with the Neighborhood Protection Division]. “It is a safety issue. Neighbors get very concerned when they live next door to a property with high weeds, because they are scared and they have children.”

I’m sorry, but unless she’s harboring Audrey II in there somewhere, I’m not sure why weeds are a safety issue.

That said, Filva did bring up the issue of vermin earlier in this article. My previous house in the Heights was across the street from a woman whose yard was also an overgrown tangle of mostly weedy foliage. In this case, it was due to neglect rather than a conscious choice. Though it was ugly, it didn’t really bother me until the woman who used to live next door there told me that the place was a haven for rats. If the same is true with Walker’s yard – and the article never says anything like that – then it’s a serious concern.

This, however, isn’t:

“We’ve tried everything,” said Margaret Warner, 84, who lives two houses down. “I think it’s terrible. In the back, they have snakes. I’d like to see it mowed down and cleaned up like a decent person’s yard.”

Unless we’re talking about one of these, the presence of snakes is a good thing, if for no other reason than they’ll likely be eating any rats that may also be there. Ophidiophobia isn’t enough to move me.

Walker has a court case pending to resolve the fines she’s been levied for her noncompliant yard. I’ll be very interested to see what happens.

Happy birthday, Juanita

I’m sure you remember the travails of Nooky’s, Sugar Land’s premier erotic baking establishment. Well, you’ll be glad to know that all of the huffing and puffing by some of Fort Bend County’s bluenoses (as chronicled by Juanita as only she can) has been for naught. Rich Connelly brings us an update.

[W]e asked the gals at Nooky’s if they’d been raided lately. Safe so far, [co-owner Charlotte] Daingerfield says.

“All these poor little ladies are all a-twitter,” she said. “One came in three or four times. She comes in, frowns, looks at stuff and shakes her head but doesn’t buy anything. I think she’s trying to get a petition.”

Three or four times? She knows pornography when she sees it, but you have to be certain.

Not all the locals are upset, though. Daingerfield noted that 80 percent of her customers are from Sugar Land.

“A lot of people see the sign as they drive by, slam on the brakes and come on in,” she said.

None, so far, with petitions.

Thank God for that. As for Juanita, she was treated to her very own, very special Nooky’s cake for her birthday last week. You can read about it here (scroll down to June 24), or you can just marvel at the picture, which I’d call not safe for work if I weren’t laughing so hard. Happy belated birthday, Juanita!

Perry’s vetoes: Worse than you thought

Governor Perry’s veto of HB2193 was bad enough, but he didn’t stop there.

As of last week, Texas prisons are officially full and must contract to rent space for all new prisoners from county jails. Unbelievably, though, it turns out Governor Perry line-item vetoed funding in the budget for those beds. Since he also vetoed HB 2193 by House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden strengthening Texas’ probation system (which would have partially stemmed the overincarceration crisis), as of right now Texas officially has more prisoners than the state can afford to incarcerate, with the problem getting worse every day into the foreseeable future.

Way to be tough on crime, Governor! Best of all, as Grits notes elsewhere, this shortsighted decision will hit Harris County harder than most.