The headline the Hartford Courant pumped into my twitter feed this morning was hard to ignore: "NCAA Defends UConn ban; Rejects Arguments of Connecticut's Congressional Delegation." First of all, it's nice to see that the NCAA responded to an attention-grabbing political stunt with an even more pointless attention-grabbing political stunt. Unless there is a special Congressman-only appeals process I'm unaware of I'm not sure how the NCAA is in a position to "reject" anything.
But I digress. The real issue here is the NCAA's response, which comes courtesy of spokesman Bob Williams, who said that schools have known since 2006 that higher standards were coming so UConn should have been prepared. Here's Williams:
"Every other team at the University of Connecticut met the standard. Every other team in the entire Northeast did. So obviously the standard was well known and others met the standard. The real issue is the academic performance of the UConn men's basketball team."
In an expanded version of the same report Williams said that he understood UConn was disappointed, "but the process is inherently fair. They've essentially had since 2006 to ensure that their academic performance was above 900."
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is complete and utter bullshit.
The NCAA is using the 2006 date to distract attention from their ex post facto rule making and the AP should know better than to flatly repeat it. You know how I know that the 2006 date is a joke? Because UConn didn't find out it would be banned until the NCAA announced a rule change in late October 2011. It's intellectually dishonest to try and equate the idea that stiff rule changes might be implemented in the future with hard knowledge of dates and numbers that punish you retroactively.
Look, I'm aware that if I jaywalk I can get a $50 ticket - that's what happened to UConn when it got its scholarships reduced for 2011. I'm also aware that the Hartford City Council can change the city code to increase the fine, but if I got ticketed for jaywalking today and the city council raised the fine to $1 million tomorrow, no decent person would think I owe the city $1 million. But UConn isn't dealing with decent people. UConn is dealing with people desperate people who have a massive PR and are nakedly trying to use the university as a tool to make the NCAA look like anything but the impotent, broken organization that it is.
While we're on the topic, I'm a huge fan of UConn president Susan Herbst and am optimistic about the Warde Manuel-era, but they've completely blown the school's response to the NCAA on the APR ban. This, like many things in life is a framing issue. The school has been hammering the "it's unfair to punish these students for the actions of past students" button. I get the intuitive appeal of that argument, because it puts a face to the argument and asks you to have compassion for a nice kid like Shabazz Napier. But it's a mistake.
The NCAA doesn't see itself as punishing students, in its mind it is punishing an institution, like it always does. The NCAA does this all the time. Ohio St. is banned from a bowl next year not because of actions of current players, but because of a handful of players and a head coach who are long gone. The same thing happened to USC's football team last year. Since the NCAA is focused on institutions, UConn's best response would have been an institutional one, focused not on who was being punished (innocent players), but how (through the imposition of an ex post facto rule that the school did not have adequate time to adjust to). To be fair, UConn has made that argument, but it's been a secondary one, and when that happens what you get is not a fair ruling from the NCAA, but troll-ish columns.
*The fine people of SB Nation give us a long leash to do whatever we wish, but the one hard-and-fast rule is that we can't swear in headlines. In case you're wondering, the [redacted] is standing in for exactly what you think it is, shit. This is because the NCAA is full of shit.