The consensus seems to be that NCAA sanctions against Kansas University athletic programs could have been worse.
In fact, many observers probably wonder why the organization that oversees collegiate athletics even worries about things like whether a KU basketball recruit paid for his ticket to a tournament game or whether a booster gave athletes who had completed their eligibility a few hundred dollars as a graduation gift.
The answer is, if the NCAA didn't assess penalties even for relatively minor infractions, there's no telling how far some universities would go in order to field winning teams.
This certainly isn't just KU's issue. Kansans need look no further than Barton County Community College in Great Bend to see how the desire to build strong athletic programs can have a corrupting impact on school officials. A whole group of coaches and administrators at Barton County has faced federal charges related to using work-study funds to pay athletes for jobs at which they never worked. One coach will serve a one-year term in a federal prison for the crime and two others were given four-year terms.
Because it involved the misuse of federal funds, the Barton County case was a criminal matter, not just an NCAA violation, but it illustrates how far some schools are willing to go to build their teams.
Given the current high-dollar atmosphere in collegiate sports, the pressure is even greater at larger universities like KU. To its credit, KU self-reported its violations and is accepting its punishment gracefully, saying it has been fairly treated by the NCAA. To show it is serious about avoiding future violations, the KU athletic department now has five full-time employees working on compliance issues.
That is a sign KU is trying to be conscientious, but it's also an indication of how hard it is to try to run a clean college athletic program. Some boosters, athletes, parents and officials are all too willing to bend the rules. It takes five full-time employees just at KU to make sure they don't bend them to the breaking point.
Some NCAA actions may seem picky or stupid, but a lesser response would only encourage schools to bend the rules further. For every violation that triggers an NCAA punishment, there probably are a dozen that go undetected and unpunished.
During a hearing on KU's violations, it was reported that former Athletic Director Al Bohl refused to add to KU's compliance staff, saying "Compliance doesn't sell tickets." He probably said just that, but even if he didn't, that statement represents the true thinking of many in collegiate athletics and the lurking darker side of college athletics that the NCAA is trying to keep at bay.
Are NCAA compliance officials picky, even petty? Sometimes it seems that way, but without NCAA rules and people to enforce them, there might not be much left of the already waning tradition of "student athletes" representing their universities in amateur competition.