There have been many candidates over the past several years, but Tuesday afternoon may have delivered the perfect example of the NCAA's misguided, inconsistent and punchless enforcement capabilities.
Duke released a statement concerning the Lance Thomas case, a lawsuit that alleged the former Blue Devil put down a $30,000 deposit toward the purchase of almost $100,000 in jewelry during his senior season, stating "the NCAA has found no evidence of a rules violation in this situation based on the information available, and both the NCAA and Duke consider the matter closed."
The key phrase in that quote is "based on the information available," as the NCAA, which lacks subpoena power in its investigations, apparently didn't receive cooperation from either Thomas or the jeweler (as was both of their rights). So basically, the NCAA looked at a case where a college athlete was, based on the claim from a high-profile Manhattan jeweler, assumed to be able to pay a large amount of money within a 15-day window. And the NCAA can only shrug its shoulders because no one wanted to talk to them.
Seriously, you can only laugh. Unless you're a fan of Memphis or USC or Miami or any other institution that feels like it's been unjustly or inconsistently punished by the NCAA's wayward enforcement staff and committee on infractions. Then you would probably be annoyed.
The whole enforcement model is like a series of increasingly bad jokes stacked on top of each other. The NCAA has shown repeatedly that it is incapable of consistent (or legal) enforcement of its rules. It has given reason to believe that standards applied in some cases don't apply in others. The NCAA operates like this in an attempt to enforce a rulebook that's too complicated and outdated to try to perpetuate the invented myth of amateurism. Meanwhile, as media companies, coaches and athletic directors rake in millions, we're supposed to be outraged because a guy who's now in the NBA bought some jewelry a little early.
The distrust the public and its member institutions has with the NCAA is due to this series of comedic layers. They flail away trying to defend standards that are, on a macro level, indefensible. Situations like the Thomas case, which create perceptions of in-house ineptitude and institutional favoritism, are difficult to navigate given the handcuffs the investigators operate under. As a result, the NCAA ends up looking silly when it has to let an investigation go. With the absurd amounts of money at stake in college athletics, "cheating" will be inevitable regardless of whatever system is in place to organize them, but the Thomas case underscores the absurdity of this current approach. The rules are dumb and the rules creators can't consistently enforce them. Doesn't that require a rethink?