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The NCAA Hearts Oklahoma -- And Gives Them A Kiss!

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I know, I know -- what does Oklahoma have to do with Kentucky?  Don't worry, I'll get there.

This post is about the NCAA sanctions recently handed down to Oklahoma University due to a scandal there that broke last year.  Here are the essential facts of the case:

  1. Two players for Oklahoma's football team apparently falsified time cards to a car dealership they were working at, to the tune of more than $18,000.
  2. Apparently, the two players worked at the dealership for less than 5 hours per week, yet turned in  40-hour per week time cards.  (Clue! Students!)
  3. The Oklahoma coach found out about this and dismissed the players from the team.
  4. Another player was found to be driving around a car from the same dealership for approximately 3 weeks without paying for it.

For this, Oklahoma gets the following penalty: 
  • All wins in the 2005 season are "vacated".  Those 8 wins will not become losses, they will merely be considered a figment of our imagination.
  • Two (whole!) years of probation.
  • The loss of two (whole!) scholarships through the 2009-10 season. 
  • A reduction by one of the number of coaches who can recruit off campus.   (I'm serious!)
  • A public reprimand and censure.   (Gasp!)
  • The university must dissociate itself from the car dealership manager (not the dealership itself) for five years.

That's it.  Look, what happened here is this -- a booster found a way to slip wads of cash to players.  That's what happened.  The University got hit with the "failure to monitor" sanction, not the much more serious "lack of institutional control", and had the audacity to tell the NCAA that it should be proud of them for ferreting out this corruption:

The NCAA subsequently alleged that Oklahoma had failed to adequately monitor the employment of several athletes, including some football players who worked during the academic year. The NCAA said Oklahoma's "failure to monitor" led to the university not detecting NCAA rules violations.

The university has disputed that allegation, arguing that the NCAA should applaud, not penalize, its efforts to root out violations and noted that NCAA president Myles Brand told one news outlet that the university "acted with integrity in taking swift and decisive action" in the case.

What an incredible crock of bovine excrement.  How in the name of all that is good and holy could a university be blind to such an arrangement, and still only fall under the "lack of monitoring" rubric?  What is even more distressing is how Oklahoma could allow scholarship athletes to work at an automobile dealership, a profession that has provided manifold recruiting violations in the past at many schools without closely monitoring what they were doing and what they were being paid.

Think about this for a second.  A business paid scholarship players eight times what they earned, and nobody said "boo" until the coach found out.  The car dealership is outraged that they are getting the blame, but surely they are to blame -- nobody runs a legitimate business like that.  I know a lot about automotive dealerships, and I have never heard of one that paid a 40 hour ticket for 5 hours work.  You are more likely to get 5 hours pay for 40 worked, in my experience.

And then there is this business of a player driving an unsecured, unfinanced automobile around for three weeks.  The dealership said it was business as usual, but you just try going down to a dealership and asking them if they mind if you drive one of their cars around for three weeks, gratis.  My best friend is a big shot at a dealership here in town, and even I can't get a deal like that.  Sorry, Oklahoma, that excuse doesn't wash.  That is an NCAA violation pure and simple, and the fact that the NCAA failed to follow their own rules doesn't change that fact.

Finally, where the heck is the local district attorney in all this mess?  If the car dealership is claiming innocence, then why aren't the two youngsters in an Oklahoma jail cell for, among other things, fraud and forgery?  Apparently, after being dismissed from OU, they both matriculated to Division I-AA teams, and can regain their amateur status by repaying $7,400 and $8,100 respectively -- but what is that money?  Was it ill-gotten gains from criminal activity, or payola from an unscrupulous booster, as I intimated above?  I guess we have to assume the latter, but who knows for sure?

What clearly saved OU is the fact that they self-reported and investigated the incident, but even that doesn't explain the feeble penalty assessed by the NCAA on the Sooners.  Kyle King takes on the NCAA at Dawg Sports for the moral cowardice displayed Myles Brand and Co., but I would ask the question, "How about the obvious incompetence in their investigation?"  Even the Oklahoma Blog Crimson and Cream Machine asked "Is this all the Sooners get?", but more from the perspective of what took them so long to reach the same conclusion and sanctions as OU placed on itself (but a fair question, at that).

If this debacle had occurred in Lexington, the NCAA Death Penalty would surely have fallen from the skies, along with another front-page Sports Illustrated article with a player in an embarrassed pose.  I don't necessarily think the Sooners deserve that, but I'm with Kyle King that this silly business of "vacating" wins should not be a substitute for other sanctions, such as loss of televised games, no post season play, or even [shock!] forfeiting the games instead of pretending they never happened.

I am sorely tempted to question the veracity of the Oklahoma coaching staff in this matter, but I have no evidence to support such an allegation -- merely an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I want to believe the coaching staff was simply negligent, but as in all situations like this, it isn't easy.

This should be a cautionary tale to Kentucky as well.  We can't afford any foolishness like this -- remember the Rondo car driving incident of a few years back?  That explanation was at least semi-plausible, but that kind of nonsense needs to stop.  Universities should forbid their scholarship athletes from going anywhere near a car dealership for any other reason than to purchase or sell an automobile.  Car dealerships and scholarship athletes are like oil and water, and a recipe for disaster.  I hope UK understands that better than OU apparently did.