Think of the NCAA's 430-page rule book as a maze designed by M.C. Escher. The tangle is impossibly complicated and ultimately leads nowhere. And staring at the black and white maze long enough leaves you with a headache.
On second thought, Escher wouldn't want any part of this mess.
The monument to hyperactive bureaucracy dictates everything from what snacks are permissible to provide athletes (don't dare smear cream cheese on those bagels) to when a university can pick up the bill for hotel pay-per-view movies. Buried among the bylaws are four words that turn the stomach of anyone associated with a college athletics department: lack of institutional control.
That's the NCAA's nuclear option for violations. The worst for the worst, when universities stray from the integrity president Mark Emmert preaches with such earnestness. Mass scholarship reductions and postseason bans and enough wailing and gnashing of teeth to choke the Internet usually follow.
That's what the University of Miami was slapped with Tuesday in connection with the 22-month investigation into imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly providing extra benefits to athletes. But, really, the institution that's lost control is Emmert's NCAA.
Miami's notice of allegations arrived less than 24 hours after the NCAA issued a 52-page report detailing its own scandal in connection with the case. In short: NCAA investigators, thwarted by their lack of subpoena power and uncooperative witnesses, paid Shapiro's lawyer to depose those witnesses on their behalf during a bankruptcy proceeding.
The NCAA's enforcement division enthusiastically supported the approach to subvert the proceeding for their own ends and shrugged off a warning from the organization's lawyers not to proceed. This didn't violate a specific NCAA bylaw but instead a "universally understood" way of doing business. That no clear, written guidance existed for the limits of an investigation is, to be mild, troubling.
Emmert, who took over as president in 2010, funded a 22-day "independent" investigation of the investigators. It repeatedly cited an "abuse of the bankruptcy process" but declared no rules were broken and led to the prompt exit of the NCAA's vice president of enforcement.
The debacle is the latest example of the NCAA's departure from reality, an organization founded to protect the on-field safety of athletes now bravely shielding them from evils like free tattoos and being paid to sign autographs.
An investigator in the Miami case sent former players a letter saying they'd be considered guilty if they didn't cooperate with the NCAA. A staffer investigating UCLA basketball player Shabazz Muhammad was fired after publicly bragging about his assumed guilt. Last summer's unprecedented sanctions Emmert handed down against Pennsylvania State University over the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal have drawn two lawsuits. Other litigation attacks the NCAA's use of athletes' likenesses and accuses the organization of not doing enough to protect against concussions.
All the while, the NCAA's keystone cops routine continues as legitimate problems, like the long-running academic scandal at the University of North Carolina or meaningful action to keep pace with the NFL's efforts to reduce concussions or the unending chaos of the conference realignment money-grab, fall by the wayside under the sham banner of amateurism.
Even the reforms Emmert pushed to slim down the onerous rule book (including eliminating the cream cheese rule) are damning and why he'd find himself in trouble if the NCAA applied the same standards to itself as it does its members.
Revised bylaw 220.127.116.11, effective Aug. 1, makes head coaches responsible for violations committed by their staffs. Doesn't matter if the coach didn't know. Ignorance isn't an excuse. If a violation occurred, the coach is "presumed responsible." Suspensions, up to a full season, can follow.
That, of course, ratchets up the hilarity to the NCAA's self-investigation noting Emmert wasn't apprised of Shapiro's attorney's involvement until 2012 and his "conduct is therefore not subject to judgement." Nothing to see here. Emmert didn't know, so he didn't do anything wrong. Never mind the executives, his subordinates, running around the NCAA's Indianapolis headquarters with knowledge of the scheme to use the attorney. Ignorance isn't an excuse for coaches, but it is for the president.
In the NCAA's rule book, ultimate responsibility for institutional control is placed with the university's president or chancellor.
"Obviously general institutional control is exerted by the chief executive of a member institution," an NCAA memo said.
The real lack of institutional control? Emmert should look in his own office.
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