Fans and the NCAA

The risk/reward calculation for cheating in the NCAA has received a good deal of attention in 2010 and 2011. With the entire Cam Newton fiasco and continued questions swirling around Auburn’s recruiting practices, it is a good idea to consider what could happen if the NCAA goes after Auburn for its recruiting activities.

There is one likely reaction to penalties. It will be a big yawn since the penalties apply after the fact. This is particularly true of any action that invalidates victories or titles.

Gene Marsh told Inside Higher Ed, “The Committee on Infractions always overstates the extent to which penalties hurt people,” Marsh said. “In my part of the country, way down here [in Alabama], folks still just care, ‘Did we beat you on the field?’ Then, if X number of years later there’s an asterisk in a media guide, they just don’t care: ‘We still whupped you.’ Some people who are more fastidious, maybe nerdy, might pay more attention to what the paperwork says, but other people operate more by gut and just care if they whupped you on the field.”

This is perhaps the biggest problem for how the NCAA operated when the Cam Newton story broke. By allowing Newton to play, the NCAA made a joke out of its process and allowed a team and fans to ignore the consequences of their actions. You might be able to blot a victory out of a book, but you cannot blot the memory out of the minds of fans. In the end if anything happens to Auburn with the multiple avenues of NCAA investigation, some fans will still claim it was worth it.

The only way to eliminate that type of thinking would be for the NCAA to get tough on serious rules violations. Will it? Was the USC case the beginning of a new era?