By now, just about everyone has weighed in on how easy the Oregon Ducks got off in their NCAA investigation. The NCAA is “weak” or “corrupt” or just plain “stupid” depending on whom you talk to. But after years of the NCAA doing the wrong thing when it comes to punishing programs for their misdeeds, could it be that we just can’t recognize when the NCAA gets something right?
After college football’s governing body came down hard on the USC Trojans, Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions, the general outcry was that the NCAA was overstepping their authority and trying to send a juvenile message about who was in charge with their actions. Each time the public sentiment was that it was “unfair” what the NCAA did to these programs and they had no basis on which to be so heavy-handed.
And that sentiment was correct. The NCAA was over-reaching on their authority in most of these instances and coming down harder on programs than was necessary or justifiable. That’s why the NCAA has seen such a tumultuous turnover in their enforcement department this year. They have been too heavy-handed and corrupt and most of them are losing their jobs because of it.
So when the NCAA adopts a more even-handed, rational approach to doling out punishment, the public outcry turns from the NCAA being too tyrannical to being too accommodating. Oregon disclosed everything, cooperated fully with the investigation and their infractions were well into the gray area where there was doubt about whether they were done with malicious intent. So should the NCAA have dropped the hammer on them?
No, they shouldn’t have. But they probably shouldn’t have dropped it on USC, Ohio State or Penn State as heavily as they did either. The NCAA has been operating so wrong for so long that college football fans have been conditioned for them to make bad decisions. Add in the heated rivalries between fan bases who wish nothing but ill will towards one another, and you get an environment where positive growth is seen as favoritism and weakness.
So the question that you have to ask when assessing the Oregon case is simple: Do you want the NCAA to be consistent and continue making heavy-handed, over-reaching punishments? Or do you want them to start taking a more reasonable approach to punishments? If you want the latter, then the Oregon case is a positive step in the right direction.