When the NCAA dropped a ban hammer on the Oklahoma State men’s basketball program in June, the organization made two things abundantly clear.
Student-athletes, of whom the NCAA is supposed to be “dedicated to safeguarding the well-being,” are most often – and wrongly – collateral damage in violations committed by coaches or administrators.
And they were attempting to set a precedent of the rampant malpractice plaguing men’s college basketball when issuing scholarship limitations and a postseason ban to the Cowboy program.
Oklahoma State athletics cooperated in the investigation into former assistant coach Lamont Evans being paid to veer athletes toward an agent, and still the NCAA felt it appropriate to set the tone for the gauntlet of investigations and enforcement ahead of it.
The reasoning from the committee for being so harsh in its punishment was “history of Level I, Level II or major violations by the institution.” It completely dismissed the fact that the history involved a different sports program, and occurred 30 years ago.
So Oklahoma State said it would be watching, intently.
“All of us that are members of the NCAA will be watching to see if these standards and expectations are applied consistently,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said at the time.
If Holder and other member programs of the NCAA were watching Friday, they found out that those standards would not be applied consistently.
The NCAA issued its findings and punishment for the Alabama men’s basketball program with a similar Level I violation, in which a former associate athletic director – caught in the similar FBI dragnet that ensnared Evans – accepted a bribe to make connections with a student-athlete’s father.
Alabama, like Oklahoma State, cooperated in the investigation. However, unlike OSU, it was given a much more favorable verdict.
The Tide did not lose any scholarships and will not face a postseason ban.
Instead, it received a soft – and laughable – three-year probation (same as OSU) and a $5,000 fine (half that issued to OSU) plus 1 percent of the program’s budget (same as OSU).
While those optics alone make for many questions for the NCAA – which will likely refer to OSU athletics’ transgressions from a different millennium – but there is one aspect that makes Friday’s news even more glaring.
The former associate athletic director for Alabama, Kobie Baker (who did receive a 10-year show cause like Evans), had previously worked three years at the NCAA – including as assistant director of enforcement for basketball development, and as associated director of amateurism certification.
If there was anybody who should have known about the rules and potential enforcement of violation of the rules, it would be Baker.
And yet, the NCAA decision makes it seem like either it wasn’t as egregious because it wasn’t a coach, or that they were simply softening the blow because the perpetrator was once one of their own.
However, if ever there were a time for the NCAA to truly create a precedent, it would have been when somebody with previous experience working within the organization was blatantly breaking the rules they were once sworn to uphold and enforce.
The NCAA has always had a public perception of being corrupt, or run like a mob family. And Friday’s news reinforces that belief – because all mobs take care of their family.
Oklahoma State is still in its appeal process, which has been slowed by any number of reasons. But now that Holder and Mike Boynton know that at least one program did not receive similar treatment, and if the appeal is unsuccessful, has created fodder for taking their case to the courtroom.
And in doing so, Cowboy athletics could create their own precedent and a standard for future programs that have unevenly faced the brunt of the the organization, which appears to be safeguarding its own – rather than student-athletes.
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.