There are a few ways — harsh and soft — of looking at and reacting to the NCAA’s recently handed down penalties put upon BYU for its violation of NCAA rules in the Nick Emery case, penalties that include a two-year probation, the reduction of one basketball scholarship, recruiting restrictions, the disassociation of a booster, and the vacation of 47 wins over a two-year span.
One is to rip Emery for taking more than $12,000 in benefits from four different boosters, including free trips to Europe, California, Texas, Canada, New York, a weekend stay at a resort lodge, and use of a car, complete with paid-for insurance, among other goodies. In one case, a booster casually dropped $200 into Emery’s locker in the BYU locker room while he was practicing with the team.
After BYU got involved in investigating the matter and sent its findings to the NCAA, awaiting its judgment, suddenly, the day before the 2017-18 season started, Emery issued a statement, saying he was dropping out of school and would not play basketball for a time, on account of personal issues. That statement read, in part: “I have decided to withdraw from BYU today. Unfortunately, I am mentally not where I need to be in order to perform in basketball and in school this year.”
Emery said he would fight on and pledged to “come back stronger and better” in seasons ahead. He thanked everyone for their love and support.
BYU basketball coach Dave Rose also issued a statement at that time, which read, in part: “Nick’s personal well-being is my No. 1 concern right now. … We both feel like the best thing for him is to take time off before continuing with his basketball career.”
Neither statement mentioned or acknowledged the coming NCAA sanctions, and the threat that had Emery played and the team won the same number of games it went on to win, the basketball program would have vacated another 24 victories.
The entire exercise seemed disingenuous, on a number of levels.
Another reaction is to rip BYU for allowing stuff like this to happen right under its nose not once or twice, but over a two-year span, allowing an ineligible player to receive such bennies — a booster stashing cash into a locker during practice? — and go on competing for its basketball team. The infractions committee was righteously bothered by that aspect of the case. It cited “aggravating factors” that led to the justification for its punishments.
There is a whole lot of blame to be assigned to both the school and its athlete here. Not that this should come into play on the part of the NCAA in doling out penalties, but, you’ve got to admit, the average Joe and Jane thought it when they heard about the violations: BYU sees itself as adhering to a so-called higher moral code than most run-of-the-mill universities, schools that bump and skid along with a lesser standard.
To have the Cougars create an environment, or to allow such an environment to be created, where the rules are bent like this is considerably less than celestial. It’s more Machiavellian. The end justifies the means. It’s OK, as long as it’s done for the Lord’s team, right? Win one for the Cheater. No Big Deal.
Think about it, though: BYU’s basketball program just got put on probation for two years, their 47 wins wiped off the books. How does the school, how does its church leadership up at 47 East South Temple feel about that? Is that the kind of exposure they had in mind when they wanted to use Cougar sports as a missionary tool for the church?
We’ll guess a no, a negatory on that.
Another way to react is to rip the NCAA and its committee for their severe response, when other Division I programs are cheating in grander fashion, some of them getting away with it. Many voices took this stance. It is an absolute favorite of hardcore BYU fans, playing the role of the victim. The school agreed to and with the consequences, except for the vacation of wins, which it decried and is challenging on appeal.
Rose issued another statement, saying: “I’m very disappointed with [this] NCAA ruling. I strongly support the university’s plan to appeal the decision.”
Another is to rip the NCAA in general for its rules sustaining and glorifying amateurism, all as a means to limit member schools’ costs and liabilities. In principle, they are a joke. They always have been unfair for the student-athletes who do the heavy lifting, as the schools divide the millions and billions of dollars generated on the backs of those amateurs.
That system is broken and antiquated, with some athletes at some schools getting cash or benefits that other athletes at the same school or other schools do not get. Even at BYU, as it turns out.
Some measure of equality is the key to equal competition, regardless of what your reaction is. Whatever one school does, all schools should be able to do, should they choose to invest in football or basketball in that manner. Otherwise, it would be like a pro league instituting a salary cap that only some of the teams had to live by and others could ignore.
What’s the right reaction?
Under the rules currently in place, BYU and Emery blew it. Doesn’t matter if the kid got a trip to Disneyland, got a Jetta or got a trip around the moon and a Porsche. He broke the rules, while boosters had access to him, and the school wasn’t on top of it. BYU was either sloppy or clueless. Neither is a good look.
Does it happen elsewhere? It does, in less and in more egregious doses.
The NCAA’s rules might be antiquated and self-serving and downright dumb, but, whatever they are, they must be equally applied. In its report, the infractions committee attempted to justify the punishments put on BYU, and whether they are just or not, whether those vacations will stand, we’ll have to wait and see.
But the rules were broken at BYU.
Now, the school, infamously known for its handling of honor code cases among its students and its student-athletes, sometimes doing that handling with a soft touch, sometimes with a clenched fist, along with its basketball program, are at the mercy — and the justice — of somebody else doing the handling.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.