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NCAA goes above, nearly beyond in punishing power trip

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Look, I'm here to learn. So I'm just asking:

Is it just me or has the enforcement wing of the NCAA had a particularly busy summer?

And, while we're asking, was that just a coincidence?

First it was conference expansion/realignment and the money grab that came with it. The NCAA basically had to sit on the sidelines and do nothing while the entire landscape of the sport almost changed. The NCAA couldn't do anything because, as we know, the conference commissioners run Division I-A football.

But, by golly, the NCAA does enforce the rules and they spent the rest of the summer making up for the fact that their hands were tied during expansion:

  In June the hammer came down on USC: Two years of double secret probation, a loss of 10 scholarships a year for three years, and a two-year postseason ban. In the infamous words of Casablanca's Captain Renault the Trojans were "Shocked! Shocked!" that they would be punished in such a fashion. USC has no shot on appeal and new AD Pat Haden is already sending a bunch of the hardware back from the 2004 national championship season.

  Then there was Agent Gate, an investigation that had players sitting out the first weekend at Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and untold places around the globe.

  Then there was Hotel Gate, where a bunch of players at South Carolina were determined to be living in a Columbia hotel for about $450 per month, significantly less than the posted rate. Some players are still in limbo for Saturday's big SEC opener with Georgia in Columbia.

  Then there was an investigation into possible academic wrongdoing in the University of North Carolina program. Concern about the investigation and where it could ultimately lead prompted school officials to hold out 13 players from last Saturday's game with LSU in Atlanta. The NCAA had already been to campus once because defensive tackle Marvin Austin appeared neck deep with his involvement in the now-infamous agents' party in South Florida. When we last saw Marvin he was sitting in the stands at the Georgia Dome wearing sunglasses and showing "support" for his teammates, who battled their guts out without him before losing 30-24 to LSU.

  On Sunday we learned that John Blake, North Carolina's best recruiter, had thrown himself under the bus and resigned amid allegations that he has ties with agent Gary Wichard that are inappropriate for a coach to have. When Blake was out of coaching he worked briefly with Wichard. Was Blake steering players to Wichard? We don't know that but somebody is awfully curious about the relationship.

And finally, there is this:

Last week the NCAA ruled that troubled quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was kicked off the team at Oregon last June, could not be eligible at Ole Miss, even though he fulfilled the requirements that allow graduate students to transfer to another school and become eligible. Just 48 hours later the NCAA reversed its decision on appeal and Masoli played on Saturday against Jacksonville State (Ole Miss lost 49-48 but that's a whole other story.)

So what in the wide, wide world of Walter Byers is going on here? Why have these NCAA boys been so busy?

This is just a theory, but I've always compared college athletics to the stock market. Most of the time things sorta rock along and people kinda play by the rules. But then the pressure to make more money or to win more games causes the market to get overheated because people start cutting corners. Then there is a "correction" that gets all the bad investors out of the market and puts everything back on an even plane. It basically scares the heck out of everybody so that they'll do right -- for a while.

I think we're going through a "correction" right now in college athletics. From time to time everybody has to be reminded that there are rules and that you break them at your peril. Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant had to find that out the hard way last season when he lied to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders. It cost old Dez his junior season and could have cost him big time on draft day. But Jerry Jones and the Cowboys couldn't pass up Bryant and took him in the first round. He got lucky.

I don't have any problem with the NCAA cracking down every now and then. It needs to happen. My problem is when the NCAA gets a little full of itself and goes beyond the scope of its authority.

That's what happened in the Masoli case. There is a set of criteria that needs to be met for a guy to leave one school, go to the graduate school of his choice, and be immediately eligible. It is a small subset of players who earn their degrees and still have some eligibility left. It is an ever smaller subset of guys who earned their degrees, have eligibility left, and manage to get kicked off their previous team due to improper and illegal behavior.

So the NCAA stepped in and basically said Masoli could not play at Ole Miss, even though he had fulfilled the requirements to transfer. I'm sure their heart was in the right place because the NCAA didn't think it was fundamentally fair that a guy could avoid the penalty of being kicked off one team by taking advantage of this rule and jumping on to another.

But I'm not comfortable with the NCAA having that kind of discretionary power. Former Duke guard Greg Paulus transferred to Syracuse because he had graduated, still had football eligibility left and wanted to play as a graduate student. He was granted a waiver. Jeremiah Masoli transferred to Ole Miss because he had graduated, still had football eligibility left, and wanted to play as a graduate student.

Once Masoli met the NCAA criteria for the transfer, whether or not he was deserving of a third chance (because he blew his first two at Oregon) is a decision that should be left up to the institution involved, not the NCAA.

If you want to change the rule so that guys kicked off of one team can't use the eligibility rules to jump to another team then by all means make that change. But that is not what the rule says now.

As this summer proves, the NCAA has enough on its plate without being in the business of judging whose motives are pure and whose motives aren't. Make the rules. Enforce the rules. But don't legislate from the bench. It's not your job.

Watch the Tony Barnhart Show each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on the CBS College Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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