The NCAA Isn't the Organization That Should Be Punishing Michigan State

Everyone at Michigan State who enabled Larry Nassar needs to be fired, prosecuted or jailed. But the NCAA doesn't have the bylaws to be the organization that brings down that hammer.
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The biggest story in sports has produced one very big question this week…

From @JacksonianDavis: Why do people continue to think NCAA intervention is the solution to criminal acts instead of the police?

Smart people don’t think that. Smart people know the NCAA isn’t equipped to deal with real-world issues. It doesn’t have the bylaws or the disciplinary mechanisms to punish a school like Michigan State for all the people on campus who allowed pedophile doctor Larry Nassar to keep molesting patients for years despite repeated complaints about his treatment methods.

The attorney general in Michigan needs to find out who knew what and when, and anyone who enabled Nassar needs to be fired, prosecuted and jailed. The U.S. Department of Education needs to investigate and determine how many times Title IX laws were violated. Anyone whose action or inaction allowed Nassar to keep working needs to be erased from the campus, and the policies that allowed the victims’ voices to go unheard for so long need to be completely overhauled.

But the NCAA can’t do any of this. It can punish Michigan State’s athletic program, which is populated mostly by people who had nothing to do with this case. There certainly are people within the gymnastics program and on the medical staff who need to be investigated, but they need to be investigated by law enforcement—not the NCAA. All the NCAA can do is strip scholarships from people who have yet to attend college. It also can ban any athletics personnel involved from ever working at NCAA schools again, but if the other groups do their jobs, those people will never work again at any school anywhere.

The NCAA could penalize Michigan State’s gymnastics program, which worked most closely with Nassar. But what good would that do? Coach Kathie Klages has already been forced out (and needs to be investigated by law enforcement). Rooting the enablers out of that program would be more helpful. I’ve seen suggestions that the NCAA should shut down Michigan State’s entire athletic program. How would that help? Firing hundreds of people who had nothing to do with the case and forcing hundreds of athletes to transfer wouldn’t solve anything. In fact, it probably would get the NCAA sued, and the NCAA would either cave or lose.

Yes, the NCAA punished Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky case, but the organization went outside its normal procedures to do that and had to abandon the sanctions after the state of Pennsylvania and the Paterno family sued. The NCAA may have made a show of the fact that it’s investigating Michigan State by leaking that information to the New York Times on Tuesday, but it likely isn’t going out on that limb again because it doesn’t actually have any bylaws that address what happened at Michigan State. (Just as it doesn’t have the bylaws to address what happened at Baylor.) It also didn’t have the bylaws to address widespread academic fraud at North Carolina, even though school and NCAA officials have always talked a big game about academic integrity.

All the NCAA is equipped to enforce are rules against paying people more than a scholarship for being good at sports. This was not decided by eight people at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. This is what the people who run the schools have chosen. If you don’t like it, call your favorite school’s president. Just don’t call former Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon, who stepped down on Wednesday night.

From Chris: Where is the NCAA at with the transfer rule changes, and could we see them effective prior to the 2018 season? (Thinking Jacob Eason/Shea Patterson here mainly.)

The NCAA Convention ended last week without a formal recommendation from the Division I Transfer Working Group, but there could be a framework for new rules later this year. I don’t expect any changes that would affect players’ eligibility for the 2018 football season. Of the two players Chris mentioned, Shea Patterson (Ole Miss to Michigan) may have a chance to get a waiver to play immediately if his attorney can make a strong enough argument that Ole Miss coaches were not up front with Patterson about potential NCAA sanctions before he enrolled in January 2016. The NCAA probably does not want attorney Thomas Mars—whose work got Hugh Freeze fired at Ole Miss—rehashing much of that case in public. It only stands to make the NCAA look bad. Eason, who is leaving Georgia and expected to go to Washington, is a little more straightforward case. He’s leaving because Jake Fromm has locked down the starting job and Justin Fields is coming in. Eason hasn’t graduated, so he’d likely have to sit out the 2018 season.

But what about potential rules changes? If the NCAA makes changes, expect them to affect transfers leaving after next season. But despite a lot of buzz in the past few months about the potential for unrestricted transfers or a one-time transfer exemption, those concepts would face an uphill fight to get passed because schools, athletic departments and coaches aren’t likely to give up that much control unless a court tells them they have to.

A much more likely compromise is this:

• A school can no longer block a player from transferring on scholarship to any school. This needed to be done years ago. No coach should have the power to block a player from going where that player wants to go.

• Undergraduate transfers still would have to sit out a year. This wouldn’t give players the freedom of movement their coaches have, but coaches do have contractual restrictions that are supposed to keep them in place. (It’s just that other schools keep paying their buyouts.) Another potential compromise is that if a player has already redshirted, the player could receive another year of eligibility to play a total of four years.

• Graduate transfers would be allowed to transfer wherever they choose and play immediately. Control freak coaches hate this rule — until they need a graduate transfer to fill a hole on their team. Athletic directors seem a little more logical when it comes to this issue. Upon graduation, player and school have fulfilled their obligations to one another and should have the right to re-evaluate the relationship if they choose.

From @BassinDawg:Which team do you currently pick to finish second in the SEC East in 2018?

BBQ Bonus: I am heading to B’s Cracklin BBQ for the first time next week. What do you suggest?

I see what you did there. You’re assuming Georgia is going to finish first. I’m fine with that. If you read my last mailbag before vacation, you know I don’t think the Bulldogs are going to drop off that much after winning the SEC and going to overtime in the national title game.

As for who might compete with the Bulldogs in the East, if Dan Mullen can figure out the quarterback situation at Florida, the Gators have a chance to be that team. But that’s a lot to ask considering what we saw last season from Feleipe Franks and the fact that Emory Jones is a true freshman. Jeremy Pruitt inherits a decent roster at Tennessee, but the Volunteers may need some time to build depth. The biggest thorn in Georgia’s side may be the team coached by Kirby Smart’s former Bulldogs teammate, Will Muschamp. South Carolina won nine games last season, and the Gamecocks have overachieved relative to their talent in both of Muschamp’s years in Columbia. South Carolina has a quarterback (rising junior Jake Bentley) and a difference-maker returning from injury on offense (and special teams) in receiver Deebo Samuel. While playing most of 2017 without Samuel, the Gamecocks developed receivers Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith and OrTre Smith. Add Samuel back to that mix and South Carolina could be tough to defend.

Meanwhile, Muschamp has worked hard to upgrade the talent on his favorite side of the ball. He’ll have legitimate competitions for positions in the secondary this spring, and rising junior D.J. Wonnum (13 tackles for loss in 2017) gives the Gamecocks a serious pass-rushing threat.

As for the second part of your question, I commend your choice of Atlanta barbecue joint. Get ribs and pulled pork. Get an extra cornbread hoecake so you can use your pulled pork to make an exceedingly decadent sandwich. For your sides, get hash and rice (which is a single dish) and Brunswick stew. Then order a wheelbarrow to get you to your car.