NCAA its own worst enemy -- again

Three years ago, when I anonymously surveyed college basketball coaches on various issues surrounding their game, there was one topic they almost universally agreed on -- that the NCAA and its enforcement staff, while well-intended, were largely overmatched and ineffective.

I wonder how those coaches feel today.

The NCAA's announcement that it was investigating its own investigation (somewhere there is a "Seinfeld" episode in there) will deepen an already mile-deep chasm between the folks in Indianapolis and the people they govern.

That the Miami investigation was bungled on the heels of the news that the Shabazz Muhammad case may have been handled inappropriately is a one-two gut punch to the NCAA, its image and, most importantly, its credibility.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

On Wednesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert used the phrase "shocking affair" to describe his organization's latest fiasco.

There are already enough Oliver Stone conspiracy theorists in college sports who believe the NCAA is A) out to get them; B) never out to get the big programs; C) all of the above.

Suddenly they don't sound so silly.

Please, trust us to police you, just as soon as we learn to police ourselves.

This has been a year of living dangerously for the folks in Indy. Whether going outside the rulebook to punish Penn State or breaking its own rules, the NCAA has become its own worst enemy.

Instead of behaving like a watchdog for college sports, it looks more and more like the Keystone Cops. On Wednesday's conference call, NCAA president Mark Emmert said Nevin Shapiro's lawyer was on the payroll but no one knew, which sounds an awful lot like lack of institutional control. Perhaps Emmert should give himself a show cause?

The trust, what little existed, is irretrievably broken. The NCAA always lamented that the heft of the rulebook was due to coaches' abilities to find loopholes in rules that already existed, necessitating new rules and addendums to old ones.

Now the NCAA has created its own black hole of a loophole. What coach or university, already suspicious to begin with, is going to trust that an investigation is being handled properly? How many are getting on the phone today or parsing the words in their own investigations to see if there's an out clause for them?

Plenty. And if they're not, they're fools.

The reality is that the system is broken. It doesn't work. The coaches I spoke to were right then and even more so now -- the enforcement staff is well-intended but overmatched and ineffective.

Not because they don't care. Not because they are out to get anyone. They are good people. Smart people. Hard-working people.

But in a highly sophisticated sports world, they are armed with the investigative tools of Inspector Clouseau.

How in the world are these people supposed to do their jobs? By monitoring Twitter, Facebook and message boards and hoping someone says something stupid?

By insisting that the guilty admit their guilt because they were told to? My 8-year-old is savvy enough to circumvent that one on occasion.

Instead of hiring an investigative firm to investigate the bad investigators in their investigation, the NCAA needs to look in the mirror and decide who it wants to be now that college sports have grown up.

If the organization truly believes there is still a space for being a watchdog -- and I do agree that anarchy will not work well in a world where the playing rules are the same on the court but not off it -- then it has to recreate itself with some sort of legitimacy.

Stop telling Iowa it can't honor Chris Street with a special jersey and worry about what really matters.

Stop pretending that college athletes are apple-pie amateurs who don't make gobs of money for their universities and the NCAA coffers.

And stop launching investigations that have all the teeth of a Nerf gun in a battle.

The NCAA and its employees long have been adrift in their own rulebook chaos. Now they have tossed their own credibility atop the firebombed heap.

They created their own mess. It's about time they fixed it.

Maybe even investigated it.

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