Friday, August 19, 2011

Brief thought on the UM scandal

I doubt the allegations against UM's football team are that unusual as NCAA violations go, although the salacious details (prostitutes, strippers, and abortions) are irresistible to the media. The story is bringing into stark relief the basic disagreement over whether the NCAA and its regulations are worthwhile or whether they are the problem, as demonstrated by this exchange between Deadspin's Tommy Craggs and Charles Robinson, the Yahoo! reporter whose investigative work broke the story.

Several people, including NCAA President Mark Emmert, have suggested that the "Death Penalty" could be in play here.  I find it telling that we did not hear similar talk surrounding the recent investigations of The Ohio State University, USC, or North Carolina, or the fledgling investigation against Kentucky basketball last summer. And while I do not believe the NCAA would do that (and Emmert apparently has walked his comments back), the tone of the discussion is noteworthy. Why the difference? Advocates of the death penalty would argue that Miami is a blatant repeat offender; this would be the third or fourth major violation in the past twenty years, not to mention the unproven scandals (such as Luther Campbell's unproven Pay-for-Play) and the school's overall reputation as a bandit/thug school.

But let me suggest a different, less-principled explanation: Miami looks a lot like SMU, the only school to suffer the ultimate sanction, did in the 1980s. Both are relatively small (SMU has 12,000 students, UM 15,000) private universities that are new (or relatively new) to big-time college football. Both burst on the football scene, combining on-field success with a brashness that disturbed the NCAA establishment. Back in 1987, SMU lacked the political capital within the NCAA to resist the penalty; and, if you believe the 30-for-30 documentary, there was a strong sense  that the old guard who controlled the NCAA were also trying to make a special point by bringing the hammer down on the unwelcome interloper.

Could the NCAA's old guard again be gunning for the interloper, one whose style has long rankled? The NCAA backed off from really going after OSU and USC, two old-line football powers. Does Miami have enough political capital to resist, if the NCAA is determined to swing the hammer against it in a way it did not against establishment schools?