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OPINION: NCAA’s Hypocrisy Casts Long Shadow Over March Madness

How success in San Diego State has overshadowed prominence of schools like the University of Michigan leading to the Final Four

Why is Brian Dutcher the head basketball coach at San Diego State University instead of the Michigan Wolverines? Why are the banners from the Fab Five —and other Michigan teams — missing from the Crisler Center rafters, and the related history erased from school records? Why?

The reason is sanctimonious hypocrisy on the part of the NCAA, as well as the University of Michigan, in its effort to ingratiate and appease.

Head coach Brian Dutcher of the San Diego State Aztecs walks off the court at the end of the game in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 03, 2023, in Houston, Texas. C. MORGAN ENGEL/BENZINGA

After the Fab Five had moved on from the University in the late 1990s it became evident that a few members of the group and other members of teams that followed had received payments from a booster.

The university launched its own internal investigation. As a result, the administration self-imposed several severe punishments on the program. On top of that, the NCAA went beyond those punishments, staying the program for well over a decade.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dutcher, he was a 27-year assistant to Steve Fisher, dating back to being an associate head coach at Michigan in 1989. Fisher is the only coach to lead the Wolverines to an NCAA championship. He was unceremoniously fired before the start of the 1997-1998 season. It should be noted that the results of a NCAA investigation did not find him culpable of significant wrongdoing related to the Fab Five scandal.

Head coach Brian Dutcher of the San Diego State Aztecs talks to his players during the second half against the Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 03, 2023, in Houston, Texas. C. MORGAN ENGEL/BENZINGA

Let’s examine the reasons for the dismissal of Fisher in the context of the current NCAA athletic environment.

Historically, under-the-table payments to potential recruits and current players was going on long before the Fab Five. NCAA records are littered with sanctions levied against numerous schools for recruiting violations over the years.

Perhaps the most documented was the Southern Methodist University scandal in 1985-86. During that two-year period, it was revealed that both the athletic department and boosters had paid out $61,000 to 13 players.

The sanctions issued were crippling to the program. As a result, SMU was banned from bowl games for two seasons and the program was stripped of 45 scholarships. The program never regained its former success.

If either of the aforementioned incidents took place after July 1, 2021, the payments would be legal, according to NCAA’s adjusted standards. That is when the NCAA abandoned its guise of “amateurism” and adopted NIL (Name, Image and Likeness); it finally allowed college athletes to profit from their talents.

Perhaps no individual athlete has been a victim of the NCAA double standards more than Reggie Bush. He led the USC Trojans to back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004. Bush was stripped of his Heisman Trophy in 2005 for committing multiple violations: he accepted cash, gifts and other benefits while playing for the Trojans.

Players of the Michigan Wolverines are seen on the court during the Michigan Madness event kicking off the Michigan Men’s and Women’s basketball season at Crisler Arena on October 21, 2022, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. AARON J. THORNTON/BENZINGA

Under the current NIL rules, the acceptance of those benefits would be unlikely to result in the confiscation of college football’s most prestigious accolade; even for a subsequently successful NFL player such as Bush, earning the Heisman still stands as a significant lifetime achievement. Give the man his trophy!

The NCAA has been a major opponent of sports betting websites across the nation, as the world’s addiction to sports betting is being exploited.

While the NFL and major companies like ESPN have welcomed the new revenue streams, the NCAA has doubled down on its intentions to keep the college level free of gambling. This is evidenced by sports betting websites not being allowed to advertise during college sporting events. Yet this superficially laudable posture is disingenuous.

Specifically, the NCAA benefits via the transitive property: Gambling popularity and high TV ratings mean more money in the NCAA’s pockets. Even the most insignificant college bowl game will draw nearly 1 million viewers; these spectators are not drawn by competition, but by point spreads and gimmick wagers.

In-game wagering has exacerbated the addiction, as wagerers can attempt to recoup their loss if their initial predicted outcomes do not work out.

As television revenues balloon from college sports, so do the corresponding payouts to the NCAA.

The NCAA’s misguided policies over the years have been detrimental to many athletes and teams, including Michigan basketball. Although it is impossible to determine what direction Michigan basketball would have taken after 1997, the Fab Five “scandal” certainly deprived the Wolverines of a great coach (Fisher) and perhaps his successor (Dutcher).

Nevertheless, instead of focusing on the past, no one will be rooting harder for the underdog SDSU Aztecs to pull out a victory over the UConn Huskies than this Maize and Blue graduate.

Produced in association with Benzinga

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