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It was a trial but worth it
John Underwood
October 09, 1978
The congressional investigation of the NCAA's enforcement practices, though flawed, may lead to needed changes
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October 09, 1978

It Was A Trial But Worth It

The congressional investigation of the NCAA's enforcement practices, though flawed, may lead to needed changes

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The implications are clear: if the men who wrote the book and administer its tenets cannot adequately defend the fairness of the system to a group of U.S. congressmen, how can they expect a sophomore linebacker or a 30-year-old coach trying to survive in the pressure cooker of big-time college athletics to embrace it?

If they cannot adequately explain, as they did not, why one man's word against a single accuser still results in a penalty (as apparently happened with Michigan State Assistant Coach Charles Butler when charged by a student-athlete), then the system needs revision, if only to assuage the rest of the membership.

If they cannot adequately explain, as they did not, why a clothing discount amounting to a paltry $12.50 resulted in a football player's being ruled ineligible and the school ultimately placed on probation (as was the case with Defensive Tackle Larry Gillard and Mississippi State University), while Ohio State got only a "reprimand" for violations that included illegal transportation payments, then the system needs revision.

If the "cozy relationship" between the infractions committee and the enforcement staff cannot be delineated without raising doubts of collusion, as it was not, and no good reason can be given for not separating the committee from the staff or adding a third group as the final judge of cases, then the system needs revision.

If it cannot be explained why "confidentiality" of findings and sentences are important to a school that has been investigated, when such secrecy raises grave doubts of equity, of just treatment and the specter of "selective enforcement," then confidentiality is a poor substitute for policy, and the system needs revision.

However, the partisan outcry of such ax-grinders as Santini clouds the fact that the infractions committee is almost always dealing with people trying to beat the system, not hopeless pawns of it. Nevada, Las Vegas was "found" on 36 violations of NCAA rules, Michigan State on 34, Mississippi State on 17. The allegation of the illegal gift of a "Jolly Green Giant tote bag" in an investigation at Minnesota that drew continual sarcasm from Santini clouded over the fact that in that particular case the player had also been given illegal meals, lodging, transportation, etc.

The fact is that NCAA enforcement is not "us" and "them," but universities trying to police and judge themselves. It cannot operate otherwise—the alternative being the adversary system: cops and robbers, subpoenaed witnesses, a 1,000-man (instead of a 10-man) police force, court trials, endless litigation.

But legitimate doubts certainly have been raised that all is not right with the system. Forty-six suggestions, many dealing with better cooperation between the NCAA and schools under investigation, were made by witnesses during the eight-month hearings. Some have been implemented, others have been rejected, some are under consideration. Indeed, the hearings may have done just enough to result in the necessary compromises that lead to beneficial change. If that is so, Moss was right in at least one judgment: "Our efforts will have been worth it."

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