Foxes in the henhouse

Foxes in the henhouse
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
May 9, 2005

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Just five months ago the NCAA found the University of Missouri basketball program in violation of 20 separate bylaws, placed it on three years probation and banned the coaching staff from leaving campus to recruit for one year.

The violations included "recruiting legislation, honesty standards and impermissible extra benefits." With the junior college coach who was a central figure in the scandal awaiting federal trial on a 37-point indictment, the case could still get worse.

But Friday Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden was given a coveted seat on the NCAA's powerful management council – a legislative body that sets policies on "academic affairs, eligibility, compliance, championships and competition."

So the NCAA has the boss of a rule-breaking athletic department serving on the primary rule making body?

At least Alden ought to be familiar with the rule book.

If you want to know why college athletics is so consistently corrupt, why its problems never seem to get solved, why its moral character is forever under assault, the fox in the hen house appointment of Alden to the management council is all you need to know.

The management council decides how the NCAA conducts its business – everything from how many games are played to rules and how the money is divided. It is these 49 people who have the ultimate power, not president Myles Brand or anyone in the central Indianapolis office. The council then passes its recommendations on to the 12-person Board of Directors, who usually pass the legislation in University of Stepford fashion.

Nothing personally against Alden, he isn't the only curious member. The council also features representatives from Arkansas, Alabama and Minnesota, all schools currently on probation for major (not the little stuff) infractions.

Minnesota has been hit with major violations twice since the fall of 2000, including a massive academic fraud scandal in men's basketball that speaks to a complete disregard for the core mission of college athletics, you know, educating the athletes.

The council also features Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, which currently has one-third of its members on probation, and the commissioners of Conference USA and the Mountain West, which both have teams on probation.

The Board of Directors, meanwhile, features John D. Welty, president of the Fresno State, where the men's basketball program is on probation for past violations, under investigation for new violations and last season had a recently-dismissed player charged with murder.

This is your NCAA.

Maybe it is no surprise the management council not only overwhelmingly approved the 12th regular season football game, it did so without a single word of debate despite objections from football coaches, faculty senates and the Knight Commission concerning academic strain, professionalism and health and safety of the student-athletes.

The NCAA is a membership institution, which means the central office has little actual power. It is the schools that not only make the rules, but determine who gets to make them (Alden was put on the board by the Big 12, which controls three slots). That's why this problem is a merry-go-round.

"(Missouri's probation) never came up in discussion in putting someone on the management council," said Dan Beebe of the Big 12, who noted the rules violation was within basketball, not the department as a whole and Alden responded favorably during the investigation.

Fair enough, but Alden is still in charge and someone has to bear responsibility. Alden did not respond to interview requests.

The simple solution is to have all major infractions carry an automatic penalty that bars a school representative from serving on such influential committees while the school is on probation.

But for that to become a rule, people such as Alden would have to support it.

"Our membership has not moved in that way in terms of discussion," said NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson.

Losing voting rights should extend to commissioners of the habitually offending conference such as Slive's SEC, which since 1990 has had all 12 member institutions convicted for major infractions according to the NCAA.

Yes, the whole league.

In the banner year of 2004 alone the SEC schools had three schools (a quarter of the league) busted for cheating.

The counterargument is the SEC is a so-called "equity conference" – which means it spends a lot of money, has a lot of success and thus should have a say in its governance.

But we know some of that money, we know, gets spent on recruits, which certainly helps produce the success that makes the money they spend.

Which is why the management council lacks credibility.

And why it's time for the NCAA to have the schools that actually follow rules, make the rules.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 12:05 pm, EDT

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