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A Perspective On NCAA Selective Enforcement And Media Influence

 

Sandy Bell writes:

..., my coach has expressed understandable concern that he is being singled out by the NCAA.

 

The NCAA has vacated almost 60 tournament appearances from coaches' records and over half of them for both institutions and coaches have no notation of any kind in school publications by either the penalized institution or future employers of the coach. - Mrs. Sandy Bell April 11, 2011 Letter to Lee Todd - Letter Full Text 

Dennis Thomas responds:

The committee rejects out of hand any notion that it selectively punishes individuals or certain institutions, for that matter. For a veteran administrator at a major Division I institution to agree with a coach that he is somehow being 'picked on' by the Association is, again, very troubling to the committee." - Mr. Dennis E. Thomas June 3, 2011 Letter to Lee Todd - Letter Full Text

This is a pompous and very disingenuous set of remarks by Mr. Thomas, imo. Sandy points out that more than half the victims of the NCAA's vacations ignore them with seeming very public impunity while the NCAA (Thomas) jumps with both feet on Calipari as "the committee" finds it "troubling" that Kentucky (Calipari and Sandy Bell) should wonder about 'selective enforcement?!?' That's posturing, that's what that is.

 

Further, Thomas shows a clueless mentality as he pleads a deplorable lack of manpower and time to police the NCAA's regulations over something he could have personally identified with 30 seconds on Google

The committee's staff does not have the manpower or the time to retroactively review all instances of vacation made during the 60-year history of the NCAA enforcement program. However, if the office of the COI receives any information that an institution is not complying with a penalty, such as in the instant case involving Kentucky, it will take action. - Mr. Dennis E. Thomas June 3, 2011 Letter to Lee Todd - Letter Full Text

Now, like a bank robber lamenting being prosecuted while other stickup-artists run free, it's difficult to complain about selective enforcement, but Thomas' (and thereby the NCAA's) illustrative willingness to rely solely on external informants to motivate enforcement is a singular problem.

 

As we have repeatedly seen, the NCAA depends almost entirely on the investigative reporting of the media to define their enforcement efforts. While policing agencies have historically relied to varying extents on the input from external informants from time out of mind, when you use the media as your only or even primary source for determining who will be prosecuted for violations, you become complicit in their (the media's) agenda.

 

Because the media focuses primarily if not exclusively on the highest profile programs consistent with their readership goals (and in fact has a significant part in determining that same profile) that's where their scarce investigative resources are reasonably applied (as well as opinions, if no evidence, are expansively aired). By their total reliance on these media predilections, the NCAA is by necessity shackled by the media's myopic limitations and also their biases, prejudices and outright agendas (read Tipton, Forde, Thamel and O'Neil, et al). So, while many might believe the members of the NCAA COI aren't by nature intent on singling out individuals and programs, I think hardly anyone believes that to be true of the media. The result is unavoidably and demonstrably 'selective enforcement' by the NCAA.

 

Furthermore, Thomas goes to great length attempting to demonstrate the independent and fair minded embodiment of the COI:  

Ms. Bell should be reminded that the NCAA is a member-ruled organization. The NCAA staff does not make decisions relative to penalties. Those decisions are currently made by the COI, a peer group selected from the membership and general public. The committee which made the decision to vacate wins in the 1996 Massachusetts case, the Championship Committee, is not the same body (the Committee on Infractions), which responded to a 2004 letter written by Mr. Calipari to then NCAA President Myles Brand regarding the vacation of records in the 1996 Massachusetts case (Enclosure 1). Further, the 2009 Memphis case was adjudicated by members of the Committee on Infractions, none of whom were on the committee in 2004. To assert that these separate and distinct bodies, each with completely different members, somehow conspired to "single out" Mr. Calipari is preposterous. - Mr. Dennis E. Thomas June 3, 2011 Letter to Lee Todd - Letter Full Text

First, this Calipari 500 Wins case has nothing to do with those committees from 1996, 2004 and 2009 and their integrity is not germane. It is only Mr. Thomas' current COI whose conduct is in question. But more importantly, though these individuals are no doubt professionals, even as Mr. Thomas is commissioner of the MEAC, they are all fans of their own individual players, programs and conferences - consciously or unconsciously jealous of their naturally conferred or hard-earned prerogatives and motivated by perceived past and current injustices and injuries they would rectify if possible.

These same COI member perceptions of injustices and injuries as well as their presumed perpetrators, punished or not, are shaped not only by their background and personal experiences but also by that very same media that the NCAA relies on so exclusively. Are we to believe the COI is immune to the uninterrupted media drum beat of 'Cheater, Cheater, Cheater" directed at Coach Calipari or the disparaging comments effortlessly tossed about concerning the University of Kentucky and its athletics programs? This when it can't even check to see if Steve Fischer's record accurately reflects his vacated wins in the San Diego State media guide or that of Florida A&M (a school in Thomas' own MEAC) without it being brought to their august attention by an obviously biased and inconsistent investigative press corp? 

 

So, while Mr. Thomas may reject "out of hand any notion that [the COI] selectively punishes individuals or certain institutions," I think its lack of transparency, reliance on the media for enforcement case selection and past inconsistency in rendering its decisions and any punishments levied make Sandy Bell's concern for prejudicial action by the COI against Calipari and the University of Kentucky to be valid, appropriate and, if anything, understated. A regulatory institution cannot lay claim to unbiased application of its enforcement activities, imo, when it is so fundamentally dependent on and profoundly influenced by a media that is unabashedly biased, antagonistic and agenda driven.

 

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