A lot of people are focusing on the negative from last night: that a school on probation won the national title. I’d like to focus on the positive from last night: that a school on probation won the national title. If that’s a bit confusing, it’s because nothing is as simple as it seems or we would like it to be in college athletics.
We have short memories. So short that it appears people have forgotten what almost happened in 2008. If a buzzer-beating three didn’t go in for Mario Chalmers and Kansas, Memphis would have vacated not just a trip to the Final Four, but a national title. It’s one thing when the NCAA vacates a team’s season. It’s another when the national championship is vacated, which happens more often across the NCAA’s 88 championships than you might expect. Then it’s as is the whole season never happened since the final prize was never awarded to anyone.
I agree with Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com to a point. Connecticut is a fitting champion for this era. And I also agree with Tony Barnhart, also of CBSSports.com, also to a point. A tipping point, line in the sand, or whatever “no turning back now” imagery you prefer has been reached. Where I disagree with Mr. Parrish is what era that is. And likewise where I disagree with Mr. Barnhart is what reaching this point means.
When most people call UConn a fitting champion for this era, the implication is that everyone is cheating now, so it’s not crazy that a school punished for violations would win the championship. Also implied in that argument is that this is somehow different, either in degree or in kind, from what went on in the past in major college athletics. But again, we need to go back no further than 2008 to find a case where eligibility questions and extra benefits wiped out a Final Four participant and almost wiped out the national champion. You can laugh or cry at what it means, but a school winning the national title having recently been through a major infractions case is a step forward, not a step back.
The tipping point that has been reached is not the point at which college football or basketball is out of control. That point was passed long ago and one needed to bury their head in the sand not to recognize it. The point that has been reached is that the combined efforts efforts of the NCAA and the media have made it impossible for anything to stay hidden for long. You can no longer push your head far enough into the ground to ignore the seedier side of college athletics.
We would all prefer that teams who are on probation aren’t winning all the spoils. And the stories of just how dogged and creative NCAA rule breakers can be will likely get a lot worse before it gets better. But where we are now is an improvement on where we were years ago, when teams who should have been on probation won, confident they would never be punished. UConn’s title is not the new low point. It’s one step in the long climb out of this hole.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.