Whether this decision is right or wrong according to the NCAA rules, it shows how unreasonable the rules are. First, consider the facts.
What We Know
The rule being called into question is violation of amateurism. In other words, Muhammad received money or benefits he was not supposed to receive. Specifically, during his college visits, his travel was funded by a family friend who had reason to want him to play basketball at a higher level.
Muhammad is currently ineligible to play, with no definite time period on the penalty. UCLA can appeal the decision and hope that it is overturned.
If that appeal is denied, then Muhammad might still play later in the year. UCLA would have to request a reinstatement, which could get him back on the team after a suspension period and possible penalties to the university.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero intends to start the process with an appeal (also via Peter Yoon of ESPN):
First things first, we're looking to challenge the decision in the appropriate manner and we'll do that. Right now, the only determination that was made ... was that there were violations of amateurism.
At this moment, it is unknown how much of the 2012-13 season Muhammad will ultimately be allowed to participate in. In any event, he will be eligible for the NBA draft in 2013.
The Bruins won their first game of the season, 86-59, over Indiana State, with Muhammad on the bench.
Why the Rules Are Unreasonable
The biggest and most glaring issue with the NCAA rules as they are currently constituted is that they punish the wrong people. Let us consider who will potentially be hurt by this situation.
First, Muhammad himself will be hurt. Further, UCLA will have its season impacted, along with head coach Ben Howland's career. Lastly, all of the other players on the team may have their college careers negatively impacted.
So which of these people deserve their punishments?
Based on what we know right now, the answer is none of them. According to the reports, UCLA itself did not break any NCAA rules. During Muhammad's visits to Duke and North Carolina, he received questionable travel funding. Thus, even if all the allegations are true, UCLA and Howland are not involved.
Any suspension given to Muhammad would be a punishment against him directly for receiving benefits. However, according to the reports, the funding was a borderline case, coming from a family friend.
Is it reasonable to think that Muhammad, a high school kid, had any idea about the intricacies of the rules or the possibility that some of his friends are not allowed to pay for his trip?
It is possible that no one in this situation had malicious intention? If anyone did, it would be the family friend or the other universities—Duke and North Carolina.
If Muhammad's parents are extremely knowledgeable of the NCAA rules, they might have had some idea that the travel was not supposed to be paid for. But even that is a stretch.
At the end of the day, what exactly did Muhammad do to deserve a harsh punishment? He allowed a friend to help him get to North Carolina so that he could visit colleges and choose a school. We are not talking about drug abuse, under-the-table payments, prostitution, gambling or anything of that nature.
Understandably, the NCAA wants to maintain amateur status for its athletes, although even that aspect is getting less clear with the amount of money student-athletes generate for universities. However, if the rules must be in place, can they at least punish the right people?
UCLA is innocent in this case. Muhammad appears to be innocent (or at least unaware of the rules). Why are they being punished? Furthermore, why should Muhammad and other star athletes want to spend more than one year in college if this is the kind of treatment they face?
If we want athletes to desire to play in college, maybe college should be a desirable place to play. And if the punishments need to be so strict, let us at least punish the right people.
This experience could be all the motivation Muhammad needs to dive right into the 2013 NBA draft and leave UCLA behind as a short and sour memory.