In all my years of vague observation of the relationship between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its member colleges, I never recall having seen a thoroughly successful challenge of a roundhouse penalty ruling by the association. But I don’t believe I ever have seen more determined pushback than what the University of Missouri is now launching against current NCAA sanctions against MU’s softball, football and baseball programs.

MU fully cooperated with the NCAA in examining and exposing wrongdoing by tutor Yolanda Kumar and for its trouble was hit with punishment more serious than usual for other schools that have tried to obscure and avoid similar or worse infractions. In contrast, MU was praised in the sanction for its level of cooperation.

Rather than repeat the details of Kumar’s infraction and the resulting NCAA sanctions, most interesting to me is the response of the university and beyond.

Athletic Director Jim Sterk summed it up neatly when he said he believes the legislature, the university system president, the MU chancellor and the entire university base of support throughout the state have never been as thoroughly “all in.”

“I think the opportunity we have is to keep that going," he said.

The outrage was led by MU Curator and All-American basketball legend Jon Sundvold and UM President Mun Choi, and echoed by numerous state and national organizations. A remonstrance of the NCAA is being considered by the Missouri Senate.

Despite the unprecedented outpouring by the public, the wave of support might be up against a wall of NCAA defensiveness. The association will not want to admit its rulings can be overturned by member college protests. The NCAA is a voluntary association of members who created punishment procedures that are under assault. Missouri’s protest will be expensive, but so will the sanctions if fully implemented, and the credibility of the NCAA as an enforcement agency is eroding. Most important perhaps is the precedent factor. This sort of objection from a member school is necessary for a real second-guessing of sanction actions and success is bound to be rare.

Nevertheless, the MU protest is valuable. A fair outside reading of the facts in this case indicates justice was not fairly administered.

We must remember the enforcement ability of the NCAA is important. If fairly administered it keeps the college athletic enterprise credible, which is vitally important to all members and the public. Like any system of justice, decisions will often be questioned. As a general rule the benefit of doubt must be given to the authority, but that does not mean the authority should enjoy some sort of immunity. Much to the contrary, it must be held to the highest standard. The MU case will provide that test. Too bad the university must bear such a difficult financial burden in behalf of the whole membership.

HJW III

hjwatersiii@gmail.com

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.

—Christian theologian Reinhold Nebuhr