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Archive for Friday, March 11, 2011

NCAA justice speedy when it wants to be

March 11, 2011

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— The story of ineligible freshman Perry Jones III lost its immediate news urgency with Baylor’s early exit Wednesday in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship.

Rest assured, Baylor will pursue the issue and its pending appeal to the NCAA.

While school officials declined to comment Thursday, their remarks following the loss to Oklahoma displayed a strong sense of righteous indignation over what they viewed as unfair treatment of a player, his family and the school. The fact that the 6-11 Jones is the highest-rated recruit to choose Baylor is only part of the story.

Jones’ mother, Terri, addressed the team before the game, sitting in a wheelchair because of a heart condition. She did not return a phone call Thursday asking to explain accepting three short-term loans from Jones’ AAU coach, Lawrence Johns, when her son was in high school.

“They are a great family, wonderful family, deeply committed family of faith,” school president Ken Starr said Wednesday night, adding that “Terri roots for the other team, not to win, but to do well.”

Baylor also questioned the timing of the decision, six hours before their biggest game of the season.

Following the Oklahoma loss, Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw referred to both Auburn and Ohio State, invoking high-profile cases from the last football season.

Rightly or wrongly, those two cases sent the notion of two standards, one for major college powerhouses and another for everybody else. Remember Jerry Tarkanian’s old quote about the NCAA getting so mad at Kentucky’s basketball rule breaking that it dropped the hammer on Cleveland State? Tark the Shark has become popular again.

In the case of the Auburn, the NCAA’s position seems defensible. In a response to SportsDay on Wednesday that became part of a post on the NCAA website Thursday, the NCAA noted that Jones and his family actually accepted impermissible benefits. In a rare move, the organization said the criticism was “off base, related to timing, process and precedent.”

Never mind that Terri Jones quickly repaid less than $1,000 in loans to Johns and works two jobs to support her family.

Or that Cam Newton’s father, Cecil, was reportedly demanding $180,000 for his son’s services.

By accepting the short-term loan and a trip to San Diego to watch an NFL exhibition game, Jones and his mother crossed an important NCAA threshold. The organization says the total benefits cost about $4,100, more substantial than originally reported.

But the Ohio State case may provide Baylor with a much stronger argument.

Late last season, five Buckeyes including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor — were found to have personally traded personal items and memorabilia for improper benefits. They were allowed to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with the five-game suspensions beginning next season.

In Baylor’s case, the improper benefits occurred in high school, presumably before Jones was fully aware of NCAA rules. And he was not allowed to play in the Big 12 Championship, where Baylor suffered a fatal blow to its NCAA hopes.

Of course, Ohio State had big-time muscle. Paul Hoolahan, the Sugar Bowl’s executive director, acknowledged lobbying to have the five Buckeyes participate. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, maybe the most powerful man in college athletics, also reportedly spoke on Ohio State’s behalf.

Asked about the apparent difference in punishment to different situations, NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson sent an e-mail explanation Thursday.

“Every student-athlete is treated fairly — that is why each case is reviewed individually on its own merits,” the NCAA said in the statement. “As for the student-athlete reinstatement policy for championships, it relates to an NCAA championship or bowl game as the next immediate competition — not a conference championship.”

Don’t expect that explanation to satisfy Baylor or its fans.

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