NCAA Ushers in a Century of Dishonor

Josh Tanenbaum, Sports Editor

Arcidiacono takes the inbound pass and sprints upcourt. He sheds Joel Berry with a hesitation dribble, then goes right with three seconds to go. He shovels it off to Kris Jenkins. One second. Jenkins rises and flicks the ball toward the basket. Jim Nantz can control himself no longer. “For the championship!” he shouts as the ball spins through the air and the buzzer sounds. For a fraction of a second, everyone is silent.

Bedlam ensues.

Sure, it was all fine and well Monday night (as long as you’re not Michael Jordan). Jenkins’ three rattled in and Villanova won the tournament and an all-time classic championship game. No controversy. Just slick handles and clutch threes. But controversy and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whether it’s a player gambling on the game or a questionable foul call, you just can’t have one without the other. The controversy in this tournament, however, began years before the game.

In June 2010, the NCAA began an investigation into “impermissible benefits” believed to have been given to athletes. Since then, the scope of the scandal has grown and grown. At this point, we know that since 1993, the University of North Carolina had tutors completing class work for student-athletes, student-athletes plagiarizing papers, and the school awarding student-athletes A’s for classes that they did not take, all in an effort to keep student-athletes eligible to compete. The University is awaiting sanctions as the NCAA continues to sort out the most recent violations that the school has self-reported. Similarly, North Carolina’s opponent in the Final Four, Syracuse, was discovered to have given academic benefits to student-athletes to keep them eligible. They were slapped with sanctions in March of last year including a 9 game suspension of Head Coach Jim Boehiem for 2015-16, the loss of 12 scholarships over 4 years and the vacation of over 100 wins in basketball and football. Additionally, Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban for 2014-15.

The major question is, with both teams reaching the Final Four (and North Carolina coming up just short of the championship), has the NCAA done enough to punish programs who violate ethical policy and athletic eligibility requirements and deter others from future violations? After all, the NCAA could have brought down penalties on the basketball program before the season, including a discussed 2015-16 postseason ban. The decision would have been met with significant outcry considering the Tar Heels’ humongous fan base and their preseason #1 ranking, but would have sent a message to the league that it will not tolerate misconduct. More importantly, a decision of that nature would have forced strict compliance from the league and fair and transparent competition. Instead, universities around the country are left to watch Syracuse and North Carolina battle it out for a spot in the National Championship Game–generating interest from student-athletes and non-student athletes alike and in turn, securing more applications and donations for years to come. It is impossible to determine how much these teams were aided by breaking the rules. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that these schools are wondering whether breaking the rules may be more than worth the risk.

If there is anything to be drawn from the tournament: long live corruption.