It’s tough to deal with all the incoming fire these days, but Gene Wojciechowski deserves a response to Monday’s column that appeared on ESPN.com.
Here’s the gist of what he had to say:
“It’s time for the NCAA to make a stand. Either pour real money and real resources into its investigative department (and I’m not talking about simply increasing the head count with rookie investigators), or hire an outside agency with the chops to make a difference. There’s a line in the movie “The Untouchables,” when Sean Connery the Chicago cop asks Kevin Costner the federal agent how far he’s willing to go to catch and convict mobster Al Capone.
“I want to get Capone!” says Costner’s Eliot Ness. “I don’t know how to do it.”
“You want to know how to get Capone?” says Connery’s Jim Malone. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?”
Wojciechowski then offers a checklist of what should be done “to restructure the way the good guys do business.” The checklist is in italics, followed by a few responses:
- Blow up the rules manual. Egyptian hieroglyphics are easier to understand than full pages of NCAA bylaws. And here’s who I’d hire to rewrite it: Bob Knight, Dick Tomey, Bill Curry and C.M. Newton. That’s nearly two centuries’ worth of real-world coaching and administrative experience. Coaches currently are in the enviable position of being able to complain about the rules without being responsible for actually writing them (let alone being accountable for interpreting and enforcing them). Wojciechowski’s Solons would discover that life is lonely at the top of the rules-making world.
- Blow up the NCAA hypocrisy. Its members say they don’t want an FBS playoff because the season would last too long and academics would be compromised. Yet, UConn’s men’s team played half of an NBA schedule (41 games) and five UCLA players took their winter quarter final exams in a Tampa-area hotel conference room during the NCAA tournament. How many people really cite academics as the reason for not having a major-level football playoff? Somebody occasionally mentions it as a reason for not having a top-level playoff, but most people realize that time away from class (including occasionally during finals) is a necessary evil of national-championship competition. As for the UCLA observation, it’s hard to tell whether Wojciechowski believes taking final exams in Tampa was good or bad. Personally, I think he’s trying to have it both ways (zing the NCAA for taking basketball athletes out of class for extended periods; zing the NCAA on the straw-man time-away-from-finals football argument).
- Blow up the one-and-dones. Two words: Josh Selby. Four words: It’s an NBA rule.
- Blow up the Academic Progress Rate (APR) and devise a better methodology to measure academic commitment. And then do as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says: Impose a postseason ban on programs whose graduation rates are tracking toward a sub-50 percent rate. Arne Duncan himself demonstrated why the APR is necessary when he cited six-year graduation rates in making his case a year ago. When Wojciechowski wants to ban programs “whose graduation rates are tracking toward a sub-50 percent rate,” he’s describing the need for a real-time metric. And that metric is APR.
- Blow up the no-player-stipend policy. As Wojciechowski surely knows, NCAA President Mark Emmert has encouraged discussion of providing full cost of attendance under certain conditions. Whether the membership will support such a concept is not known at this time.
For what it’s worth, “The Untouchables” winds up with Eliot Ness giving in to his dark side by pushing Frank Nitti to his death and then manipulating the legal system by lying to a corrupt judge to convict Al Capone. That makes for a happy ending, but only in the movies.