Scooter Hobbs column: Signature example of NCAA justice

Published 12:12 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

The NCAA’s enforcement wing may be on its death bed but, by golly, give it credit. It’s not going to go down without a final fight.

A silly fight, perhaps, and for all the wrong reasons, not to mention a needless battle that has already been lost. But somebody has to stick to their guns and justify their existence.

So, yes sir, that’s the NCAA, the aging Wild West gunslinger, giving it one last shot, rolling off the edge of the saloon roof, pistols ablazin’ to uphold these silly and archaic rules.

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But good job.

Word came Wednesday that LSU star defensive tackle Maason Smith would be forced to sit out the Tigers’ highly anticipated Sept. 2 season opener against Florida State.

It was the usual NCAA suspension, the dreaded “improper benefit.”

Improper who-what-when-where-and-how, you ask?

It was later reported that the NCAA found Smith guilty of signing autographs — not for free, it should be noted, probably for more than spare change — in the summer of 2021.

Former LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte was also scribbling his name for pay that night and the NCAA has ruled that the NFL rookie will have to sit out the Patriots’ first game against … no wait. Sorry. That would be overstepping boundaries. Boutte apparently did his time last year when he sat out the game against New Mexico. His absence was passed off at the time as due to the birth of his son that weekend and, well, it was only New Mexico.

But whew! Book ‘em, Danno.

The football world will be a safer place for fans, players and coaches all, what with the sordid likes of Smith banned from roaming Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on opening night. Certainly, the Seminoles will feel safer.

It would have made a nice story to see one of LSU’s best get to return against the very team that he blew out his knee against in the first series of last year’s season opener.

But somebody had to do it. Somebody had to draw that final, fleeting line in the sand.

Time was running out.

You’re probably sitting there wondering if the NCAA is even allowed to use the adjective “improper” in front of the word “benefit” anymore.

Forget the Wild West analogy. This sounds more like an overzealous HOA enforcement patrol run amuck — We pass these silly rules and we intend to enjoy enforcing them.

Well, it turns out the illicit autograph session happened the same summer when just about everything that used to get you put on double-secret probation became legal — or at the least, unenforceable.

But it happened slightly before the floodgates opened and alums’ checkbooks were liberated.

So they were able to nab Messrs. Smith and Boutte just under the wire on something they knew would soon be as legal as could be. The players’ timing was bad.

Never mind that.

How was it that Boutte got to pick his game to miss last year, but Smith must spectate for a top-10 team.

Here, the NCAA’s timing is bad. Looks bad.

The harsh ruling on Smith kind of coincides with the release of a television documentary about former Texas A&M bad boy Johnny “Football” Manziel, who was caught up in his own autograph scandal in 2013, which was before anybody knew what an NIL was.

Manziel’s due penance was to sit out one half of tackle football — against lowly Rice, as it were.

So what made Smith’s autograph sessions a more egregious crime? A full game against Florida State versus half a game against Rice?

Who knows? Nothing about the NCAA these days makes much sense.

Maybe Smith’s autograph penmanship was far better.

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at