This sure gives new meaning to the term "one-and-done," doesn't it?
Mitch McGary, the standout big man for the Michigan Wolverines who missed most of this NCAA basketball season with a back injury that required surgery, announced this week he is officially declaring for the NBA. McGary had been debating a return to Michigan after his tough sophomore season but opted to turn pro after the NCAA banned him for a full year for smoking weed. Once.
One night in mid-March, with the NCAA tournament about to begin without him, McGary was hanging out with a group of friends at Michigan. He had a few drinks. Someone offered some marijuana – a common occurrence, he said, on campus.
"I always turned it down," McGary told Yahoo Sports. "But that night I didn't."
A few days later, Michigan head coach John Beilein invited McGary to dress for one of the team's NCAA games as a way of motivating the team, even though everyone knew McGary was not fit to play.
The NCAA decided to randomly select him for a drug test, one he ultimately failed.
Per Wetzel's story, the common practice during the season for a failed test of recreational drugs is that the NCAA leaves punishment up to the individual institution, meaning McGary would have been subject to a three-game suspension next season at Michigan. Unfortunately, the NCAA writes different rules for its championships, and the punishment for failing a test during NCAA competition is one year.
For smoking some weed on a college campus, McGary would have been banned from competition for an entire year, so instead, he's going to the NBA. (Maybe he should consider transferring to Colorado. Washington State could probably use a big man too.)
McGary said that he had been tested eight times in his two years at Michigan, passing all of them. He confessed—and at this point there is little reason to believe he isn't telling the truth after voluntarily admitting the incident is the reason he is going pro—this was the only time he didn't turn down the offer to smoke weed, making a dumb, shortsighted and irresponsible decision in an attempt to alleviate the stress of not being able to help his teammates.
Again, from Wetzel's piece:
I was just really stressed out. I was at a bad point, just coming off back surgery. I just wasn't really thinking it through. I have definitely learned from it.
I am just disappointed in myself overall because this is not me, this is not who I am overall.
Let's be clear about one thing first. McGary was dumb, shortsighted and irresponsible. He got caught taking drugs, something that comes with a penalty. No one, not even McGary, is disputing that. The issue at hand is the severity of the sentence.
The NCAA gives players a relative slap on the wrist during the regular season for failing drug tests but then chops off the hand during the NCAA tournament.
For what it's worth, the testing during tournament competitions can reach anyone in a team's traveling party, so even if Beilein hadn't asked McGary to dress, he could have been tested anyway, even back on Michigan's campus.
Nobody under the NCAA umbrella is safe from testing, or punishment. (Stanford better hide its entire band next year.)
The worst part of this situation is that the NCAA has already admitted the penalty of a full-year ban is too stiff, lessening a first offense to half a season. Because the ruling on McGary's case was handed down a few days before the rule changed on April 15, however, his ban stood for the full year.
Being suspended for half of next season after all the time he missed this year might have been enough for McGary to take his chances in the NBA draft anyway, but we will never know, because the NCAA denied his appeal and banned the kid for a year. So off to the NBA he will go, albeit reluctantly.
"The NCAA really doesn't show any mercy," he said, via Wetzel. "Even if I was a good kid with good character. They don't really care about that. They don't care about the program, the university. If you tested positive, there are consequences."
And that's the problem with the NCAA. The NCAA—and, frankly, the member institutions that continue to fund this draconian body of collegiate athletic governance—don't care about people.
They care about policy.
They care about order.
They care about rules.
They certainly don't care about the student-athletes, because kicking a kid out for a year after a few ill-timed puffs is certainly not showing any compassion or leniency for context and circumstance.
That's not to suggest that McGary should have been penalized more harshly if he was grabbing boards instead of riding the pine—he screwed up, and he knows it—but this kind of over-the-top punishment put in place to send a message to the rest of the student-athletes around the country is precisely the kind of thing that will become the NCAA's undoing.
It won't be about the money. Most college athletes understand they can't get paid to play, and many think a college education and room and board is a fair and equivalent trade for athletic commitments. It's the other stuff that's going to kill the NCAA, pushing more and more student-athletes into trying to form unions and collectives that serve to fight for injustices.
There is no fighting the NCAA on rules like this. Even when the organization realizes the errors of its previous ways, those in charge are so out of touch that they can't see that the magnanimous thing to do is sometimes also the smartest.
If the NCAA wanted to send a message to the rest of the student-athletes around the country, it would fix rules like this and work with the constituents on community service or counseling or anything other than kicking an upstanding kid out of basketball for a year when he is exactly the type of person the organization is charged with producing.
If the NCAA treated student-athletes more like people and less like property, situations like McGary's could be handled with a more sensible resolution.
Instead, McGary is yet another young talent that decided to leave college early to pursue a career in the NBA because the NCAA can't seem to get out of its own way.
This cannot be the resolution the NCAA wanted. McGary was the one who did something wrong here, but because he came clean and seems genuinely remorseful and thankful for the opportunity he had while at Michigan, he has somehow turned into the victim. McGary's case—and the others like this that seem to happen all the time—has given us another reason to look at the NCAA like the biggest pile of dopes at the party.