Jim Gazzolo column: Too late for NCAA’s gestures

Published 11:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2023

The running joke around town is the NCAA got so mad at Kansas basketball that it doubled Will Wade’s suspension.

The line is worth a few chuckles until you consider how close it is to the truth.

Last week the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Review Process announced Kansas’ five Level I allegations had been downgraded. The Jayhawks were put on three-years’ probation.

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The hand slap put an end to an investigation that started in 2017.

It is the same investigation that gave Wade, the first-year McNeese State head coach, a 10-game suspension that he will serve at the start of this season. It cost Wade his job at LSU in 2022.

As for Kansas, the punishment proved so harmful it was rewarded with the preseason No. 1 ranking this year under head coach Bill Self.

This is typical of the NCAA motto that seems to read, No good team goes punished.

Protecting the brand no matter how it looks is what the NCAA does best, especially when it comes to that of men’s basketball blue-blood programs. Pick on the little guy to flex its muscles, that is more likely.

That’s why the NCAA is so hard to trust when it comes to its cries of just how bad the transfer portal and names, image and likeness can be to college sports in general. It might be right, but you always have to consider the NCAA is far from an unaffected party.

When it comes to the finances of college athletics, the NCAA is not an innocent bystander. And don’t ever forget, college athletics is big business.

That helps explain why the NCAA didn’t come down any harder on Kansas. You don’t want to hurt one of your cash cows.

This week though the rulers of college athletics are talking about NIL and how it is turning players into employees. That would be a bad thing, the NCAA says, and it might be right.

It has been leaked that Southern Cal quarterback Caleb Williams is looking for a piece of any NFL team that drafts him. So it looks like that ship might have already sailed.

I have no doubt NIL could lead to trouble for smaller football programs like McNeese State, but it is hard to side with the NCAA since it helped create all this mess.

By trying to stay in the past the NCAA has lost any real chance it might have had to control the future. And now crying about it is hard to hear.

After burying its head in the sand for years the NCAA is now complaining it could drown when the waves finally hit the shore.

It took six full years for the NCAA to come back with a ruling on Kansas. That in itself is a problem. Picking on one person, Wade, and letting others, especially the big boys, get off with little punishment is also a problem.

For the longest time, the NCAA has protected itself and the big business of college athletics while always telling us it was worried about the little guys, the student-athletes it claims to care about.

Now it says it wants to take the moral high ground and protect the small schools from those same student-athletes it claims to care about.

College sports is changing and it has been for a long time. It’s just now that the NCAA seems to be greatly worried about that as it is hitting close to home, or rather its wallet.

Unfortunately it appears too late for the NCAA to get ahead of all this.

In the end, the joke might be on it.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com