Ir­ish face pun­ish­ment, UNC still on the lam

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Paul New­berry

In case you missed it dur­ing this week de­voted to in­di­ges­tion and brawl­ing dur­ing Black Fri­day over that toy your child just has to have, the NCAA dropped the ham­mer on Notre Dame for aca­demic shenani­gans that oc­curred in its once-sto­ried foot­ball pro­gram.

It was an all-too-fa­mil­iar lapse in the cha­rade of pro­fes­sional sports fran­chises op­er­at­ing within our in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing: a stu­dent trainer han­dled the school­work for sev­eral foot­ball play­ers who couldn’t be both­ered with do­ing it them­selves, which led to the Fight­ing Ir­ish be­ing stripped of two sea­sons worth of wins.

The NCAA de­liv­ered a rel­a­tively swift pun­ish­ment that, frankly, ap­peared a bit too harsh. Notre Dame ac­knowl­edged that rules were bro­ken and co­op­er­ated in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. There was no in­di­ca­tion that the higher-ups were aware of what was go­ing on.

But we’re not here to cry for the Fight­ing Ir­ish.

We’re more con­cerned about an­other case.

Re­mem­ber North Carolina? The Tar Heels have been mired in a mas­sive aca­demic fraud scan­dal go­ing back more than two decades that has led to five NCAA charges, a cor­rup­tion scan­dal far more trou­bling and far-reach­ing than the sub­sti­tute school­work that went on at Notre Dame. Heck, what the Ir­ish did sounds down­right quaint by com­par­i­son.

Yet, the NCAA has still not levied any pun­ish­ment on Tobacco Road, al­low­ing the case to de­volve into a le­gal mumbo-jumbo that seems to be send­ing a clear mes­sage to fu­ture rule­break­ers: it’s best to de­lay, de­lay and de­lay some more.

It’s now been more than six years since the NCAA first ar­rived in Chapel Hill to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of im­proper ben­e­fits and aca­demic mis­con­duct within the foot­ball pro­gram.

That led to the un­cov­er­ing of some­thing even worse: sham cour­ses within a depart­ment de­voted to African-Amer­i­can stud­ies, which were re­ally noth­ing more than a con­duit for ath­letes to pick up an easy “A” with­out be­ing bur­dened with go­ing to class or do­ing much in the way of ac­tual school­work.

An in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion by for­mer U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial Ken­neth Wain­stein found that some 3,100 stu­dents — roughly half of them ath­letes from nu­mer­ous sports — took bo­gus cour­ses be­tween 1993 and 2011. At least one prom­i­nent for­mer bas­ket­ball player has come for­ward to say he was caught up in the scam: Rashad McCants, who helped lead the Tar Heels to the 2005 na­tional cham­pi­onship.

De­spite a mas­sive body of ev­i­dence, North Carolina has yet to face any sort of jus­tice.

In­stead, this has be­come the worst episode of “Law & Or­der” ever.

The NCAA lev­eled its ini­tial set of charges, in­clud­ing the dreaded “lack of in­sti­tu­tional con­trol.” The school had 90 days to re­spond, and went right up to the dead­line be­fore send­ing along ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion for the NCAA to re­view. That led to an amended set of charges, with the most se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions still in there. The school re­sponded again, this time with a bunch of pro­ce­dural ar­gu­ments that most no­tably chal­lenged the NCAA’s ju­ris­dic­tion in the case. That led to an­other hear­ing, lots of snip­ing back and forth by the at­tor­neys, and ... well, you get the idea. To get a true glimpse into what this case has be­come, check here .

Clearly, there’s no end in sight for this con­vo­luted mess.

Mean­while, Notre Dame is al­ready pre­par­ing to ap­peal the sanc­tions the NCAA handed down on Tues­day, which in­cluded strip­ping the school of all 21 wins it had dur­ing the 2012 and ‘13 sea­sons. That wiped out the Fight­ing Ir­ish’s best show­ing since the 1980s — a 12-0 reg­u­lar sea­son and No. 1 rank­ing be­fore a hu­mil­i­at­ing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game. It was an­other tough blow for the cur­rent team, which has en­dured a 4-7 sea­son head­ing into Satur­day’s fi­nale against South­ern Cal and faces ques­tions about the fu­ture of coach Brian Kelly.

“It’s just a cou­ple of guys made a mis­take, and the whole team goes down with it,” said of­fen­sive tackle Mike McGlinchey, a team cap­tain. “We know we won the games. They’re not go­ing to take that away from us. They can take it away in the record books all they want, but we won the games.”

The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s pres­i­dent, called it un­prece­dented to strip a school of wins “with­out se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing in­sti­tu­tional mis­con­duct.” He said the NCAA’s rul­ing wouldn’t “pun­ish those re­spon­si­ble for the mis­con­duct, but rather will pun­ish coaches, stu­dent-ath­letes and in­deed the en­tire in­sti­tu­tion who did noth­ing wrong and, with re­gard to this case, did every­thing right.”

If the folks at Notre Dame sound a bit frus­trated, they have ev­ery right to be.

They’ve felt the wrath of the NCAA, while the Tar Heels re­main on the lam.

What a trav­esty.

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