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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.

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4 Comments

  1. Jeff G. says:

    Funny that Richard Justice doesn’t ponder where all that cash came from. Do the words “Alumni Boosters” ring a bell at all? They’re the guilty and they’re being punished by this.

  2. Double B says:

    Justice’s point about “name” schools being treated differently is absolutely dead on. Whatever you may think of former college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, he really exposed a lot of the irrational and draconian ways that the NCAA operates and discussed this very point at least 15 years ago. (One of his great quotes was “the NCAA got so mad at Kentucky, the put Cleveland State on probation for another two years”).

    That being said, Baylor hired this guy who had been recycled through the coaching ranks. The administration is ultimately responsible for what happens at its institution whether through lack of oversight or acts of commission. Baylor has to pay some price for this. The problem as already mentioned is that the coaches seem to get away with it and they should be banished from coaching at the collegiate level for life.

  3. Kent says:

    Look, Universities can already do what you suggest if they want to. There’s nothing stopping Baylor or any other University from adding a contract clause that penalizes the coach if it turns out that he/she is in any way complicit in any NCAA violation.

    I would also allow any player at a school that is sanctioned to be able to freely transfer to another school without the normal requirement to sit out a year. That way if it really is all about the basketball and not the quality Baylor education, the players can move on without penalty.

    Otherwise, it is just sports. I know it hits hard when it is your own school. But still. These kids still get their scholarships and get paid to play ball while I’m still paying off student loans 10 years later. I really have a hard time feeling that sorry.

  4. Buhallin says:

    I think the suggestion that the school is innocent of everything but “trusting Dave Bliss” is ludicrous.

    As said above, the administration of the school is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on there. Is Justice suggesting that the school has no oversight responsibility where its athletics are concerned? That they hire a coach, who goes into his own little empire, and bear no responsibility for anything he does in there?

    Maybe I’m just ignorant of how college athletics really work, but it seems to me that the attitude Justice presents is just as big a problem in as anything Dave Bliss did. It’s that sort of outlook that makes sports the goliath programs they are, and creates the environment that lets Dave Bliss do his thing.

    Arguing that the NCAA would have let Michigan get away with it, so it’s wrong to punish Baylor, is insane. Michigan, or any other school for that matter, should be held to the same standards – it shouldn’t be lightened up for everyone else.