STILLWATER, Okla. – Cade Cunningham was a freshman in high school when Lamont Evans was breaking NCAA rules – and federal laws – at Oklahoma State.
As were the four other OSU incoming freshmen who make up the one of the nation’s top-10 recruiting classes.
But according to Larry Parkinson, a spokesman for the Committee on Infractions that levied a postseason ban against the program because of Evans’ actions, when asked about the impact it will have on innocent players, the message was clear from the NCAA – well that’s just too bad for the No. 1 recruit in the country and his fellow classmates.
“It’s almost always going to be the case that some innocent parties who had nothing to do with violations are adversely impacted,” Parkinson said via teleconference Friday morning. “But their membership institutions are fully aware of that. It’s a given in virtually all of our cases.”
On the NCAA website, in which it answers the question “What is the NCAA?” It has one, very brief sentence: “The National College Athletic Association is a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.”
Right under there, they should include the definition for malarkey – which by Merriam-Webster, means “insincere or foolish talk.”
Because according to Parkinson, the committee was not dedicated to the well-being of the athletes at Oklahoma State who had no part in the violations they investigated – nor was it in the countless other cases in college athletes over the past decades.
As an organization that is tasked with the “well-being … of college athletes” the fact a committee member associated with that organization simply considers them collateral damage to prove a point to adults flies in the face of the entire secondary education and amateur athletics model. Instead of referring to them as college athletes, the NCAA simply believes they are necessary victims “in virtually all” of their cases regarding violations by coaches, administrators or boosters.
Oklahoma State basketball coach Mike Boynton, when addressing the media about his program receiving a postseason ban, never made it about himself. Even when asked directly about how snake-bitten he has been to start his head coaching career, he could look beyond himself – unlike the NCAA – and see that the well-being of his student-athletes was the true injustice coming from the punishment handed down by the organization.
“Yeah, this sucks, no question about it,” Boynton said. “I couldn’t imagine a worse outcome for our players than what we saw today. And at the end of the day, those are the guys who this really matters for. They didn’t deserve that ruling.”
By the end of the hour-long teleconference with Oklahoma State, Boynton – who at times was trying to hold back the emotion in his voice – appeared to shift from his concern for his players to all future athletes who could find themselves as collateral damage due to the actions of a bad coach or adults.
“I would contend that there has to be a way around it. There must be a way around it, because even the bad actors aren’t punished in these cases,” Boynton said. “I want to make sure that no other programs have players who have to deal with this stuff when they don’t have anything to do with it.”
And he’s correct, players shouldn’t be punished for the actions of adults – especially one who had nothing to do with a majority of the players due to be on campus.
The Cowboy coach couldn’t come up with an idea on the spot on how to change that – as he was still reeling from the fresh news that the teenagers he will help shape over the next four years were being unfairly reprimanded for nothing they did.
But for starters, the NCAA could change the penalties to focus more on university athletics programs, instead of impacting innocent players specifically. And the biggest way to hit those programs is in the pocket book.
Perhaps instead of banishing innocent bystanders, avoid the collateral damage by only centering on the universities. Instead of a postseason ban, allow the players to compete in the postseason, but the money the athletic department would typically gain from that appearance is instead voided back to the NCAA.
Then you deliver a blow to an administration similar to a postseason ban but without penalizing the student-athletes.
After all, the well-being of student-athletes is what the NCAA is supposed to be about.
JASON ELMQUIST is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press and receives correspondence at email@example.com.