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On Tuesday night, the SMU Mustangs beat the Houston Cougars in basketball. That in and of itself doesn’t seem all that interesting, but it is, for three very distinct reasons:
1. SMU actually won a damn game! In a college hoops season where nobody can string together two wins in a row (seriously, I think we’ve had like nine teams ranked No. 1 in the last two weeks) that feels like a major, stop the presses, piece of news.
2. As a matter of fact, the Mustangs didn’t just win last night, but to quote the famed philosopher D.J. Khaled, all SMU does is win (win, win). They are now 18-0, the only undefeated team in major college hoops. Again, that’s amazing considering that no one in college basketball can win this year, and downright staggering considering that nine of those wins — exactly half at this point — came without their head coach, who was serving an NCAA suspension.
3. Which of course, brings us to the third reason that this is major, headline news: As mentioned above, head coach Larry Brown was suspended for nine games. That suspension was part of a bigger punishment by the NCAA, which included a postseason ban.
Yes, you read that correctly: SMU, the only undefeated team in the country, and a club which is currently sitting eighth in the polls is ineligible to play in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
That’s a bummer for a lot of reasons, and not just because SMU is a really, really good basketball team. Beyond their obvious on the court talents, it’s also a bummer because of the simple fact that the team’s current players and coaches are getting screwed. We’ll get to the details in a minute, but what you need to know at this point is one simple fact: in the case of SMU basketball, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime committed. The NCAA went too hard on the Mustangs from the beginning, and it’s time for them to admit their mistake.
Heck I’ll take it one step further: It’s time for them not only to admit their mistake, but remedy it altogether. The NCAA should lift SMU’s postseason ban. It’s time to allow the Mustangs to play in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve even started a petition. We’re taking this all the way to the top.
SMU’s violations didn’t center around some major, wide-sweeping, across-the-program wrongdoing. This wasn’t Southern Miss basketball, whose violations involved multiple players, and multiple violations. Heck, it’s not even like the current North Carolina investigation, which could involve decades of academic fraud across multiple programs. (By the way, how fitting is it, that the NCAA has needed five-plus years to investigate UNC, but wrapped up the SMU investigation in a nice, neat eight months? Kind of strange, huh?)
No, no, no. At SMU, their NCAA Tournament ban (and all the subsequent violations) center around a grand total of two people: One player, and one administrative assistant. That one player is a guy named Keith Frazier, and the violations involve one administrative assistant who did online coursework for him.
That’s obviously not good, but that’s also the totality of what SMU did wrong. No one else affiliated with SMU basketball was directly implicated by the NCAA of having any knowledge of what happened. No other players had coursework done for them. No other administrators or assistant coaches committed other violations. Heck, the NCAA even admitted that Larry Brown (who we’ll get to in a second) didn’t know what was going on.
So how did the NCAA punish SMU for having one player and administrative assistant try and buck the system? Well, they put SMU basketball on probation after a relatively short investigation which concluded in September (long after this year’s players would have had a chance to transfer and be eligible to play this season, I might add). In addition to the probation, the Mustangs were docked nine scholarships over three years, and received additional recruiting restrictions. Brown — who again, the NCAA admitted didn’t know about the violation — received a nine-game suspension and a good old, “lack of institutional control” charge based on the fact that he didn’t report things as quickly as he could have once he found out.
Now personally those sanctions seem a bit aggressive to me, especially since we’re talking about one isolated incident, involving one player and one administrative assistant. But here’s why they need to be reconsidered all together: neither Frazier nor the administrative assistant is even with the team at this point. The administrative assistant resigned way back in 2014 and Frazier left the program just a few weeks ago.
So why exactly do we need to hit SMU with an NCAA Tournament ban again?
The reason isn’t clear, but many want to point the finger at Brown, and point it at the long list of NCAA infractions which have happened under his watch dating back to his time at UCLA and Kansas. Except the thing is, this isn’t some weird, cross-generational NCAA bust, but instead, one isolated incident. If the NCAA thought that Brown was some major threat to either its players, or the NCAA rulebook, don’t you think that they would have hit him with more than a nine-game suspension? The answer is yes. But with that nine-game suspension the NCAA basically admitted that Brown repented for his sins, which again weren’t about actually doing anything wrong, but instead, for not acting once he found out wrongdoing took place. Still, with that nine-game suspension served, the NCAA has basically told Larry Brown, “You’re good. You’ve served your time.”
That means that with Frazier and the administrator gone, and Brown done with his punishment, the only people left to face the music are the folks around SMU basketball who had nothing to do with the violations. It’s the players who did nothing wrong, the assistant coaches and administrators who played by the rules, and the fans of the program who are left to suffer. They’re left to pay for the sins of others.
At the same time, that also raises the entire point of this article: Why can’t the NCAA reverse their ruling? Why can’t they lift the postseason ban? If it’s really about punishing the guilty parties, hasn’t that already been done?
Not to mention that it seems like there is a very easy NCAA compromise in place for the NCAA.
For starters, if you really do think that the coach needed to exhibit more control of his team and program overall, well, that punishment has already been served. Brown missed those nine games, so you can go ahead and check that off the list. And if they want to punish Brown for not knowing more, you can keep the recruiting restrictions and scholarship ban. Doesn’t that seem like a fair compromise which serves the dual purpose of punishing the coach, but not his players?
Heck, I would even go one step further and add this: If you want to punish the school, why not take away their share of NCAA Tournament earnings as well? That lost money directly impacts the basketball program overall (which again, is the real party to blame here) and not the players who had nothing to do with the violations. Not to mention, don’t you think SMU would gladly trade a couple million dollars in tournament revenue for, well, an actual trip to the NCAA Tournament?
It seems so, and it seems like again, there is a perfectly logical alternative in place. That alternative punishes those who committed the violations, but doesn’t punish those who did nothing wrong.
At this point the only ones who are wrong is the NCAA, and it’s time to do what’s right. It’s time to allow SMU back into the NCAA Tournament.