Friday, December 12, 2008

The Wetzel column.

Since everyone is discussing this column, I suppose I should weigh in a few days after the fact. The long and short is that Dan Wetzel thinks that IU got off easy because of its power, Myles Brand’s position with the NCAA, and the NCAA’s improper consideration of the current condition of IU’s program. It’s fashionable, when responding to such a column, to say how much I ordinarily like Dan Wetzel’s work. I don’t. I used to like him, but now find him to be a pompous scold, a “look at the silly sports fans” sportswriter in the mold of Mitch Albom and Christine Brennan. I haven’t read any of his work in months, so there’s my bias. Here are the major problems with his column:

First, Wetzel latches on to a single line from the chairman of the infractions committee: “The committee did note the current condition of the program.” From that, single statement, Wetzel whips himself into a lather, noting that no NCAA bylaws “state ‘Indiana must field a winning basketball team.’” He notes that IU has nice facilities, a big name, a top flight coach, and so on. Frankly, I think Wetzel assigns the statement too much significance. If he wants to make an argument that IU’s sanctions were not sufficient in light of the facts and in comparison to other similar infractions case, he should make that argument (I suppose he tried with the Texas Southern stuff, which I will discuss below). But does he really believe that if Armon Bassett, Jamarcus Ellis, Eli Holman, and Deandre Thomas were still on the team, and IU were good enough for an NCAA bid, that the NCAA would have given IU a postseason ban or stripped more scholarships or something of the sort? I certainly don’t think so. Wetzel doesn't think the current roster deficit is related to any decision by IU to blow things up. I think he's wrong. The departures of Bassett, Ellis, Thomas, and McGee almost certainly were directly caused by IU's decision to fire the coach in the midst of the best season IU has had in 15 years. It was the right decision, and doesn't make up for the bad decision to hire Sampson. But I think many schools would have let it ride and tried to wring a long tournament run out of the team. IU didn't do that, and I'm glad IU didn't do that. But the team's academic and discipline problems resulted from IU's decision to can Sampson in mid-season and well before the NCAA's report came out. I don't know how Wetzel can escape that obvious fact.

Again, if Wetzel wanted to prove favoritism in favor of IU, he should undertake a detailed review of NCAA infractions cases. Instead, he latches on to a silly comparison to a case involving Texas Southern.

What about that Texas Southern case? Here’s the link to the Texas Southern report. The highlights:

This case involved the head coaches of the softball program ("former head softball coach") and the men's and women's tennis programs ("former head tennis coach") committing violations that went undetected by the institution. In the spring of 2004 the former head softball coach knowingly allowed an ineligible student-athlete ("student-athlete 1") to participate in 47 practice sessions and nine games. Student-athlete 1 also received almost $1,500 in impermissible benefits when she traveled with the team and received textbooks at no cost. She was ineligible for the benefits.
The former head tennis coach was in charge of two squads that were non-competitive until he began recruiting international student-athletes. In particular, with the large influx of international student-athletes during the 2005-06 academic year, the team improved markedly. However, the former head tennis coach enticed many of the international student-athletes with promises of full grants-in-aid, which he was unable to deliver once the prospects arrived on campus. To fund their costs of attendance, the former head tennis coach concocted a scheme in which he used legitimate institutional scholarship money, scholarship funds redirected from their intended recipients, personal funds and funds obtained from sponsors to pay the costs incurred. Inevitably, the funds ran short and serious student-athlete welfare issues arose, as some of the international student-athletes had no money for even basic human necessities. For example, during the fall of 2006 three of the international student-athletes faced eviction from their apartments and were reduced to subsisting on bread and water because they had no money for rent or food.

The violations went undetected because the institution's compliance system was inadequate, resulting in a lack of institutional control over the athletics program. The system relied upon coaches to supply accurate information to the athletics and institutional administrations, particularly in the areas of participation records, financial aid distribution and tracking travel expenses. No follow-up was done to confirm the information was accurate and the coaches were operating within the rules. Because of the lack of supervision, the violations came to light only when they were reported to the institution by an anonymous source (softball) and a tennis student-athlete.
Emphasis is mine. Texas Southern's self-imposed sanctions included the "death penalty" for the tennis program. The NCAA added four years of probation (just one year longer than IU) and a 2009 postseason ban for softball.

It seems to me that the NCAA always has been more harsh about paying players than about non-tangible recruiting advantages such as phone calls. Also, Texas Southern didn't self-report, and was found guilty of lack of institutional control. Finally, unlike most NCAA case, this one seems to have involved violations that literally threatened the health and welfare of student-athletes. It seems to me that the TSU case is distinguishable from the IU case in many ways other than the Big Ten/SWAC distinction. Indeed, except that both are cases involving "NCAA violations," I fail to see any way in which they are similar. Again, if there is a case in which a minor program was hammered harder than IU for violating the same bylaws, then find it, Dan? But the TSU case is not analogous.

So, neither his emphasis on the "condition of the program" statement nor the spurious comparison to a completely dissimilar case at Texas Southern are at all convincing. Wetzel also argues: "Its former campus leader is current NCAA president Myles Brand. Maybe that’s why the NCAA feels bad for Indiana’s current condition." Now, I've long detailed just how little I think of Myles Brand, how his post-Knight-firing speaking tour and short-notice resignation showed a disregard for IU's interests. But even if he were a beloved former leader who loved Indiana University, I would hope Wetzel would recognize the gravity of what he writes. This a very serious allegation, and Wetzel has no evidence to support the notion that Myles Brand influenced the process. In his column, Wetzel notes that IU is the only program from a major conference to have been found guilty of major violations in the last two years. While I make no excuses for what happened at IU, does anyone believe that IU is the only major conference school to have committed major violations in the last two years? If Wetzel wanted to write good column, he might wonder whether IU's phone call issues were really the worst thing that has happened in the BCS conferences in the last two years. Instead, he considers IU's status as the only sanctioned BCS school as evidence that...the NCAA is biased in favor of IU! This is some serious through-the-looking-glass bullshit, Dan.

My guess is that Wetzel has wanted to write this column for a long time. He's sure that BCS conference programs are favored by the NCAA and that minor programs are hammered. And he may be right. Unfortunately for Dan, IU is the only BCS level program that has been found guilty of major violations in the last 25 months, and so rather than keep the column in the can for a few more months, he decided to force a square peg into a round hole. It doesn't fit. If Wetzel wants to craft a case, based on NCAA precedent, establishing that IU deserved more than it got or that Texas Southern more than it deserved, I would gladly read it and respond to it. But this lazy and dishonest column doesn't come close.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Excellent.

bradzurcher said...

i am totally with you. i think he is taking on the admirable role of sticking up for the little guy, but does an absolutely horrendous job of executing it. his texas christian/st. augustine examples are just lazy. these cases have almost nothing in common other than infractions. and to directly say that iu got off easy because of brand shows that wetzel has no idea what he is talking about. i've never read wetzel before and i don't plan on reading him again. all he did was waste my time and get me all riled up.