NCAA regulations can be complicated and sometimes confusing, but mass media sometimes make circumstances appear worse than they are.
Why not leave a happy story alone? Twice in the last month, reporters have assumed that NCAA regulations were just waiting to step on acts of humanity.
The first involved the tragic case of Kansas basketball player Thomas Robinson, whose young mother died unexpectedly. Several newspapers and bloggers assumed that NCAA rules would interfere with the establishment of a memorial fund or with teammates attending the funeral.
The rules didn’t interfere, which somehow was considered news.
Then last week, there was the wonderful story of Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter, who donated a kidney to team member Kevin Jordan. Again, a number of writers − including Chad Conant of the Mansfield, Ohio, paper − assumed that the NCAA would somehow find that a rule had been violated.
Wake Forest baseball coach is an example of good in college sports [Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal]
Wrote Conant: “Before anything good could happen, the folks at Wake Forest had to check with the most backward, nonsensical organization in sports to find out if it would be a rules violation. Even the NCAA was OK with it.
Then nine paragraphs later: “The part of the Wake Forest story that would make me laugh if it wasn’t so nauseating is the school had to verify that donating a kidney so a 19-year-old can live again wasn’t seen by the NCAA as an extra benefit.”
Then there was this headline from the online International Business Times: College Baseball Coach Donates Kidney To Player; Commits NCAA Violation? (UPDATE: No Violation).
There were other examples, but you get the idea.
Whenever the NCAA makes a boneheaded mistake, and it does from time to time, then everybody should feel free to unload. But people need to pay attention to the sequence: Complaints should be preceded by an actual NCAA foul-up. A theoretical foul-up doesn’t count.
Eligibility Center of attention. The United States Sports Academy, supposedly a place that furthers understanding about college athletics issues, hammered a foul ball into the cheap seats this week with a blog post about the NCAA Eligibility Center.
The NCAA Eligibility Center: The most important group you’ve never heard about (Greg Tyler, The Sports Digest)
The post includes erroneous information, including the previous name of the Eligibility Center, when the name was changed, how many people work at the Eligibility Center and which athletes must be certified. Also, the writer’s citation of undue delays completely ignores whether material relevant to certification has been provided or whether facts that could affect certification have been agreed upon.
As for whether the Eligibility Center generates positive publicity, that’s really not the organization’s purpose. For what it’s worth, the overwhelming majority of prospects pass through the certification system quickly and without incident.
If you’re interested in learning more about the initial-eligibility certification, here’s an excellent series of articles by the NCAA’s Michelle Hosick:
NCAA Eligibility Center up to the task (NCAA.org)
Academic certification ensures equity (NCAA.org)
Tech tock. Is the clock winding down on one of the most publicized losing streaks in college sports?
If you’re not already aware, Caltech has lost every men’s basketball conference game since 1985. The topic is periodically revisited in the media, but this time the stories that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education were a little less about futility and a bit more about hope (sort of). The Beavers, it turns out, have gotten good enough that they might actually break their streak. Rivals are concerned enough to worry about the embarrassment of being the opponent that actually loses to Caltech.
After 25 years of losses, Caltech’s basketball instills fear in presidents’ hearts (Lawrence Biemiller, Chronicle of Higher Education)
After 300-plus losses, this team makes opponents nervous (Chronicle of Higher Education)
It’s hard for writers to resist playing with a 25-year losing streak, but Caltech raises a serious question: Has an athletics program ever been more comfortable in its own skin? Caltech is clearly in the business of building the world’s best scientists and mathematicians; top-ranked sports teams are not even the smallest priority. But in the face of the biggest losing streak ever, the leadership at one of the world’s greatest universities has continued to support the intercollegiate athletics program, presumably because of the value it provides for the participants.
In January, NCAA Champion magazine featured a cover story on Caltech women’s basketball player Teri Juarez. We’ve been doing the magazine for three years now, and never has a cover resonated with so many people. People in Teri’s hometown of El Paso were bursting with pride, but they were nothing compared to the folks at Caltech.
Here’s what her coach, Sandra Marbut, wrote to Champion editor Gary Brown:
“Everyone on our campus is talking about it…such a thrill in our little corner of the world. It is so exciting to have people thinking about us. They say 90% of the PR a campus gets is about athletics in the rest of the collegiate world. We are completely the opposite, so it is fun to have our little moment. I’ve had all five Nobel prize winners on campus congratulate us…that doesn’t happen in many places does it?!
“I have to tell you a quick story. Teri’s phone rang today. It was one of her high school friends who happened to be walking through the library at UTEP. Something caught her eye, she glanced over, did a double take realizing that she knew the person on the front of that magazine! She called Teri, screaming into the phone…you are on a magazine, you are on a magazine in our library. Teri’s phone has been ringing off the hook and she hasn’t stopped smiling all day. She is one proud Texan, Latina, Teacher, and young woman.”
Like the men, the Caltech women don’t win many basketball games. No doubt Teri would be thrilled with an occasional victory, but if her athletics experience permits her to develop lifetime friendships, learn from the value of competition and acquire one of the world’s best engineering educations, does it really matter if her team beats Whittier?
Let’s draw from the immortal words of coach Norman Dale: “If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”
Go get ’em, Beavers!
Emmert meets the press. The Associated Press Sports Editors got the opportunity to query NCAA President Mark Emmert on a range of issues last week in Indianapolis.
Mark Emmert: Transparency is vital (The Associated Press)
In addition to pitching for more transparency and greater understanding regarding NCAA eligibility and enforcement processes, Emmert made clear one more time that he plans no discussions surrounding pay-for-play.
“No, it will not happen − not while I’m president of the NCAA,” Emmert said. “I don’t like that idea, I loathe that idea. I can think of all kinds of compelling reasons why not to do it. I can’t think of a compelling reason why to do it. . . . There’s a constant discussion that we ought to stop pretending that student-athletes are amateurs, that they’re really professionals, that they ought to be paid. I understand that perspective, but I just profoundly disagree with it.”
Give football the boot? Steven Salzberg, writing in Forbes, took an admittedly quixotic position in a recent issue of Forbes when he appealed for higher education to punt on football.
Get football out of our universities (Steven Salzberg)
Here’s Salzberg’s thesis: “I’ve watched over the years as football has taken an ever-more prominent role in our high schools and colleges, as football coaches have been paid ever-higher salaries, and as football staffs and stadiums have been super-sized. All of this effort goes to the care and feeding of a very small number of (exclusively) male students, most of whom get a poor education and almost none of whom succeed as professional players. Our universities are providing a free training ground for the super-wealthy owners of professional football teams, while getting little in return.”
His leap is dramatic – that college football threatens the U.S. position as the world’s technological and scientific leader.
That’s a tremendously hyperbolic premise, but Salzberg is likely writing for effect. Putting aside the natural impulse to reject the column out of hand, it might be good to consider a softer version of his question: How do you begin a discussion about proper limits for big-time football? Is there a point at which the sport will not be able to bear the load being placed upon it?
Less protection equals more? The New York Times’ Alan Schwartz took a good look at the complicated question of whether helmets can actually make a sport less safe. His examination involved women’s lacrosse, although he extrapolated the premise to football and other sports.
A case against helmets in lacrosse (New York Times)
“Hockey safety experts question if helmets foster more physical play,” Schwartz wrote. “Football looks back and wonders whether big face masks encouraged a recklessness that can lead to long-term brain damage.
“Now at its own crossroad, women’s lacrosse — with 250,000 playing nationwide — wants to take the road less battered. And so begins the second stage of sports’ continuing parry with head injuries — in which the best protection, many experts insist, is no protection at all.”
Schwartz notes how firmly many in the women’s lacrosse community hold that belief, but he also cites safety authorities who claim that any sport should provide as much protection as possible.
It’s a good discussion. You’ll be more informed for having read the story.
Get a grip. What can you say about the Alabama fan charged with poisoning two 130-year-old oak trees where Auburn fans gather to celebrate?
Some things just leave you speechless.