Friday, December 24, 2010

The NCAA and the Constanza Defense

Mr. Lippman: It's come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
George Costanza: Who said that?
Mr. Lippman: She did.
George Costanza: [pause] Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon... you know, cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.

In the case of NCAA v. George Costanza, the NCAA blinked.

WHO KNEW it was wrong for Terrelle Pryor and his Ohio State teammates to trade autographs for tattoos, and sell their uniforms, shoes and, in Pryor's case, his Big 10 Championship ring?

WHO KNEW Cecil Newton had painted a For Sale sign on the back of his son's jersey? Certainly not Cam . . . I mean, what kid these days concerns himself with the trifling decision over where he will attend school? Cecil: After much prayer, I've decided you're signing with Auburn. Let the record show -- and if anyone is listening in -- this decision has been solely between me and God, that you have had no role in it whatsoever. Cam, not looking up from his I-Phone: Whatever. Auburn Athletic Director John Jacobs (eyes glued to his Blackberry and gesturing at Cam): What he says.

This is a complex but essential point to grasp: Under the Costanzian Behavioral Theory -- which now becomes NCAA precedent -- if there's a chocolate bar missing and you have chocolate tracks on your fingerprints, DENY EVERYTHING. If you have chocolate smeared all over your face and the wrapper is in your back pocket, SWEAR you didn't know it was wrong to take it.

That appears to be the legal construct behind the NCAA ruling Thursday to suspend the Ohio State players for the first five games of next season, but allow them to play in the Sugar Bowl in 10 days. The bowl game is such a special treat, the suddenly doting uncle agency said, and, after all, kids will be kids, PARTICULARLY when they have not received the proper training to discern right from wrong. (In a shocking coincidence, the university's failings were compounded by a complete shutdown of the communications industry in central Ohio. Cut off from the media grid, Pryor and his buds never heard about the A.J. Green jersey scandal, the mass suspensions at North Carolina, or any of a dozen other investigations/suspensions focused on players receiving excessive benefits.) WHO KNEW?

At least the NCAA is being consistent. Another way of looking at it, of course, is that the agency had boxed itself in with its handling of the Newton case. Earlier this month, the agency declared that a violation had occurred in Cam's recruitment. But it ruled the star quarterback eligible for the SEC Championship game (and presumably the BCS showdown with Oregon next month) because it couldn't prove the player or Auburn knew of Cecil Newton's business plan. Again, WHO KNEW?

Other conferences guffawed, most notably The Big 10 and its commissioner, Jim Delaney. Funny, Delaney was strangely silent when Costanzian logic was applied to Ohio State.

The good thing is all this unpleasantness have been cleared up before Christmas and the New Year's parade of cash cows known as the BCS Bowl Games. It's an American tradition: The select few invited to the party get rich. WE KNOW it's not the time or place for moral ambiguities.

As Costanza puts it: Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.



WarEagle said...

Michael, in the spirit of Christmas,give it a rest. The NCAA was NEVER investigating Auburn, nor was it investigating Cam. In my eyes, at least (and, disclaimer: I am a rabid lifelong Auburn fan), you are coming across as nothing but a hater - and I think you are better than that. Now, relax, and enjoy Christmas.

pstonge said...

I think there's a distinction to made between Ohio State and Auburn here. It's one thing to not know that someone else is doing something wrong on your behalf. It's another to ignore the possibility that what you're doing is wrong.

If Cam Newton had landed at Alabama instead of Auburn, I would probably have as difficult a time letting go as Mr. Gordon seems to have. But if Newton had played for Alabama, Mike surely would be talking about how you can't punish a player for something he didn't even know was happening. And that's where it stands with Auburn. There's not evidence that Cam or Auburn knew. There's no way around that - no matter how much Crimson-colored yearning you have.

With Ohio State, it's a little different. Even if players didn't know that selling their jerseys and other things was wrong, they should have known enough to ask. Everyone knows the NCAA is wildly picky about what student athletes can and can't do, and no one knows that more than the athletes.

So I agree with Mike that the NCAA blinked with Ohio State. With Auburn, it chose not to punish a kid when they couldn't prove he did anything wrong.

Michael said...

War Eagle, thanks for the holiday wishes. Don't believe I'm a hater, though, just someone quite perplexed by the NCAA's two recent rulings. At least they're consistent.

By the way, I wish I could claim to have broken new ground on this blog . . . but writers all over the country are linking the Newton and Pryor decisions.

Merry Xmas to you, too, and good luck Jan. 10. I can't say I'll be pulling for your team, nor can I saw I'll be pulling against them. Game time decision.

Peter, as always good thoughts. I do think the NCAA and the SEC broke with precedent on Cam in that the player wasn't held accountable for his family's actions -- regardless of the existence of any proof that Cam was culpable in any way.

I believe that given the timing of the two decisions, the NCAA chose an unusually narrow path, particularly for an agency that has shown little hesitancy to draw sweeping conclusions in the past. Might it have chosen differently had the SEC championship and the BCS bowl schedule had not been staring it dead in the face?

And I agree that there are differences in the two rulings. The Auburn decision was curious; the Ohio State one Costanzian.

WarEagle said...

Peter, beautifully said! Thanks, from one Auburn fan to another. Michael, thanks for taking the time on this busiest of busy days to respond. You are a better man than I, Gunga Din (except that I'm a woman) because I can honestly say I've never pulled for Alabama. Blame it on my upbringing. I'm not necessarily proud of it, but I cannot tell a lie. Happy holidays to you both. Keep loving SEC football and writing about it - I enjoy you both!

Anonymous said...


A long time ago, just after I had rested on the seventh day, I looked down and noticed that Adam was teaching Eve how to catch a pumpkin.

“Go long, longer,” he would yell.

Eventually Adam got so he could toss it pretty good and Eve would challenge his skills by running away in a straight line then stopping and turning around just as that big yellow fruit hit her in the bread basket. This became their favorite game.

Many eons latter, but before that Cain and Able thing, Adam looked at all the kids running around catching pumpkins and wondered out loud, “God, what is the meaning of pumpkin?”

I have to admit I hadn’t given it much thought but I had been thinking that the two boys were of an age that where learning a skill other than raising apples was necessary if they were going to find the right women to marry.

So I said to Adam and Eve, “Have you ever heard of Tuscaloosa and Auburn?”

Eve said, “Is that like Sodom and Gomorrah?”

“Wow, I thought,” I thought, “Mothers can always figure out anything when it comes to their kids.”

“Yes and no, but even better,” I said. “What I have in mind is starting two colleges.”

“What’s a college, she asked?

I answered, “A place that will trade letting people watch the boys punt, pass and kick the pumpkin for an education. They’ll find their wives there.”

“Let me think,” she replied.

I didn’t know it at the time but Eve told Adam they should talk it over with their old friend the snake.

To make a long biblical tale short, that’s how Cain and Able ended up at Auburn.

A gazillion years later a Georgia minister and his wife had the same choice to make for their son. They asked me for guidance but like the original couple they sought other advice.

I’m not sure, but I think the snake had relocated to the same town because pretty soon the boy was running and throwing with that pumpkin at Auburn.


Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Oops, I can't spell. "Cain and Abel"
Bolyn Mcclung

Anonymous said...

What bothers me is that in both the Cam Newton case and the OSU infractions,the NCAA knew for more than a year that both universities had possibly broken NCAA rules and decided to sit on the information until after the season was completed. But,in the investigations of UNC,UG(Green),Alabama,and South Carolina,the news of the investigation was almost immediately released to the media. Why did they with hold the news about Auburn,MSU, and OSU? What was the NCAA(s) agenda in doing so?

Bama Brother said...

I am not about to compare Cam Newton to a dogfighter, but here is an interesting and spot-on perspective on Michael Vick and an old story: If somebody can play a sport extraordinarily well, people will heap tons of praise upon them and make excuses for them.