Do Cheaters Win?

When I coached the women’s tennis team at our university back in the Dark Ages we were initially associated with the A.I.A.W., which was an athletics association organized specifically for women in the early days of Title Nine. The organization made the huge mistake of taking the N.C.A.A. to court on the grounds that they were a monopoly and were in violation of anti-trust laws. The N.C.A.A., which even at that time was very powerful, won the case easily and the A.I.A.W. faded into the night. Our conference was faced with the option of joining the N.A.I.A. or the N.C.A.A. and I was delighted when the Conference decided to join the former. It allowed a great deal of local autonomy and there was very little politicking involved. For example, when we won our district Championship we automatically went to the National Tournament. In the N.C.A.A.  a committee votes on who gets to go to their national tournaments, though they pay the expenses, whereas the N.A.I.A. does not.

The Conference was dominated in most sports by the University of Minnesota at Duluth and when their softball team won their district championship one year it cost the university a small fortune to send the team to Florida for the National Tournament. The President of the university decided that this was enough of that sort of foolishness and he threw his weight around to persuade the other presidents to leave the N.A.I.A. and join the N.C.A.A. At that point I retired from coaching women’s tennis, thankfully. I was delighted that I would not have to deal with the N.C.A.A. which had a rule-book as thick as the Manhattan telephone directory and was an organization that was run out of a central office that allowed little or no local autonomy and politics were the order of the day.

Since that time I have had an opportunity to take closer look at the N.C.A.A. and especially its control over the large semi-professional (let’s admit it) sports programs at the Division I level. I have written about it and will not repeat here what I have already said. But I noted recently that Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference expressed his dismay over the alleged fact that the N.C.A.A. was lax in its enforcement of its own rules. He indicated that a high percentage of the universities involved in football and basketball at the Division I level were in violation of the rules and yet the N.C.A.A. was doing nothing about it. Bowlsby also claimed that their infraction committee hadn’t even met for nearly a year — even though it is generally known that there are violators of the innumerable rules governing fair play in all sports at the collegiate level. Furthermore, many of these violators were heading up very successful and lucrative programs, prompting Bowlsby to remark that “cheating pays” at the highest levels of college sports. Needless to say, a number of football coaches expressed well-rehearsed outrage at those comments.

Sociologists love to point out that the problems at the collegiate level merely reflect the problems of society at large. If this is so (and I don’t claim to be a sociologist) then there are a lot of cheaters out there who are very successful in spite of (because of?) the fact that they are breaking the rules knowingly. As some wag once said: “it’s not cheating if you don’t get caught.” This is nonsense, of course, but I do believe that this attitude is widely shared and that the colleges and universities are merely in step with some of the most successful people in this society. As a culture we have lost sight of the moral high ground that Martin Luther King spoke about so eloquently and have convinced ourselves that since everyone does the wrong thing that it therefore isn’t wrong. When Nixon was caught in the Watergate scandal, for example, it was said by many outspoken commentators that this wasn’t such a bad thing because all politicians do that sort of thing. If everyone does it, it can’t be wrong. This is what logicians call the fallacy of ad populum, or the appeal to what is generally done. It saves us having to think about things and, of course, is a handy excuse if we do get caught.

But one would hope that the universities and colleges would hold themselves to a higher standard than politicians and other low-lifes, and if, in fact, cheating in college sports is widespread it should be thoroughly investigated and the culprits publicly shamed. The Commissioner I referred to above suggested that outside agencies, even the Federal Government, should get involved. I would hope the Federal Government has more important fish to fry, but the suggestion of an outside agency is not a bad one. If the N.C.A.A. cannot police its own rules, then someone else should do it. Or the N.C.A.A. should be disbanded altogether, which may not be such a bad idea. If the N.C.A.A. won’t even enforce its own rules, it seems to have outgrown its usefulness and appears to be motivated by greed, pure and simple. There is a hellova lot of money involved in collegiate sports these days — and that may be the root of the entire problem, come to think of it.


8 thoughts on “Do Cheaters Win?

  1. I agree, Hugh, the NCAA should be disbanded. It is an artificial organization that binds public and private schools, has an inconsistent approach to enforcing compliance of regulations and punishing violators, and is overrun by money. Plus, several of its members have Ben so egregiously and independently out of control they almost rendrrvyhe NCAA irrelevant.

    There is perhaps more of a case for federal intervention than most want to admit. The success of higher ed in America itself is arguably at stake, given the many studies – not to mention the Curtler Law! – that show correlations between spending on athletics and declines on the performances of overall student bodies.

    Plus, at places like Penn State, Ohio State and USC, to name but a few, there have been conspiracies to commit and conceal crimes. The federal RICO laws probably apply.

    It’s not politically popular, but it is necessary. Keep up the pressure, and thoughtful blogs on this, Hugh!

    • Thanks for your input. I just think the federal government should spend its time on more vital matters — such as corruption within the government itself! I have little confidence that a federal investigation, even if followed up with severe penalties, would have any real effect. But, then, what would at this point??

  2. Hugh, to answer your larger question, they do, unfortunately, unless they are caught or people of character step up to say we are not going to do that. UNC Chapel Hill’s Tar Heels are under another investigation for athletes taking “no-show” classes with one paper due at the end. It turns out more than a few did not write their papers. I used to think it was restricted to the football team and got worse after they hired a coach from a school who was known for cheating as much as its national championships. Yet, the investigation is pointing a finger at the pristine basketball program, as well.

    As you have written about before, Chancellors are selling their soul to have big time football. A key reason is they are seeing a very rocky financial future, with some already on the rocks. Corners will eventually be cut and cheating will occur and the reputation of the school will be dragged down. I recall the courageous act in the 1970s, when the Univ. of San Francisco Chancellor eliminated the basketball team after cheating and malfeasance was rampant. This school won the NCAA Championships in 1955-56, yet he went forward anyway when the school’s reputation was at stake. We need more like him.

    Great post. Cheating should not be tolerated, but it happens. And, by the way, I like to remind people when they say Nixon was doing what others did. No, he was far worse and 21 people on his staff went to jail for running a burglary, fraud and campaign spy ring from the White House. So, yes, politicians lie and cheat, but Nixon was what he kept saying he was not – a crook. Thanks bro, BTG

    • Thanks for the great comment, BTG. I think Robert Hutchins was right when he went to the University of Chicago years ago and trashed the entire intercollegiate athletics program. He was pilloried, but survived — as did the academic reputation of the University. There are very few Universities these days who can honestly say they are committed to the education of the young people who are spending thousands of dollars, and going deep into debt, at their universities. It’s a gigantic fraud, to be sure.

  3. There’s an interesting line in the movie “Frost/Nixon” where David Frost asks Nixon point-blank if he ordered the coverup and if he knew he was committing crimes. Nixpon, admitting for the first time he was involved in the coverup, said yes he did it, “but when the president dies it, it’s not a crime.” He saw him self as above the law, which as btg points out, he was not. That is very similar to the attitudes of many at D1 sports – even worse than “well everyone else is doing it too.”

    It’s this arrogance and entitlement, fed by the sports-crazed culture, that creates a delusional perspective, and a fantasy society, people making their own rules and ignoring those the rest of us live by. But there are still plenty of real-world consequences for those hurt – directly or indirectly – by their behavior.

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