When the NCAA announced its decision to deny the residency waiver that would have allowed former Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli to suit up and play for the Ole Miss football team this season, it was only a matter of time before the numerous instances in which the NCAA had granted waivers to players in similar situations would be dug up and passed around the Internet.
Two days removed from the announcement, people following the story should be familiar with the names Kenneth Cooper, Ryan Smith and Eniel Polynice just to name a few. If you have not read stories on those players, Google is your friend.
In light of the mounting evidence contradicting the public reasons the NCAA issued to better explain their decision on Masoli, the farcical integrity of the athletic governing body has been laid bare.
There exists no precedent in the NCAA’s ruling history that supports their justification in denying Masoli’s waiver; nor is there any written regulation in that obfuscated work of legalese known as the NCAA Manual that grants them the authority to legislate intent for guidelines where intent is not expressly defined.
As supporters of both Ole Miss and Masoli are struggling to understand how the NCAA could rule in complete ignorance to its own past, perhaps it is time for all of them—and the rest of the college football universe—to cue into the subliminal message the NCAA has buried within:
Denying Masoli has nothing to do with what we used to do; it is about what we are going to do. And guess what? We have already started doing it.
Not to stir up a hornets’ nest with USC fans, but the Trojans cheated and got caught. While the penalties were serious, there was at least a partial admission by the NCAA that the severity of their punishments was strengthened by the fact that one of the guilty parties—Reggie Bush—was an “elite athlete in a high profile sport.”
Even at the time the ruling was issued, the NCAA’s espousal on higher profile athletes needing higher scrutiny by compliance officials and coaches garnered some attention.
It just seemed strange that the NCAA would have an opinion on the way top athletes should be treated due to their “potential for future earnings.”
However, in the USC case there was never any real question of whether the NCAA was going to put the program on probation, and the inclusion of the discussion for higher profile athletes seemed contextual as a warning to other programs to monitor their best players a little more.
Revisiting that part of the language now takes a little different meaning when doubled up with the NCAA’s recent decision on Masoli. Instead of a warning to institutions, it can also be read as a warning to high profile players.
The only real difference between Masoli’s case and the ever-increasing number of contradictory examples is that the players in those situations did not have profiles that reached a national audience.
Ryan Smith—who used the graduate exemption rule leave Utah and follow Urban Meyer to Florida—did help the Gators win a national title, but he certainly was not the marquee name on the roster.
Masoli, however, is a headline name.
He was a star at Oregon, and his first snap on Saturday against Jacksonville State would have made him the same at Ole Miss, regardless of the outcome.
Is it possible that by being so blatantly in error of its previous rulings the NCAA was trying to send a message that it intends to hold star players to a greater standard of judicial review?
When combined with the unofficial Reggie Bush Rule, the argument makes sense.
The quasi-professionalization of college athletics—especially football and basketball—is arguably the biggest problem the NCAA faces at the moment.
Both sports represent billions of dollars in market capitalization for media companies, universities, professional leagues and the NCAA.
While the college athletes—at least legally—see no part of that, they are the literal faces of the sports. Athletes are lavished with attention, have bona fide rock status, and—in cases of the highest profile—are walking lottery tickets.
It is also impossible for the NCAA to control the greater message they want to impart, as the universities these athletes play for often become bit players in their stories. Nobody wrote stories about how great The University of Florida is, they wrote about Tim Tebow.
In singling out star athletes for prosecution by a court different than lower profile athletes and using a different set of bylaws for governance, the NCAA is essentially firing a warning shot to all athletes:
In addition to legal contractual power, the NCAA also claims authority of a social contract with its athletes, and that second contract can—at the NCAA’s discretion—usurp the first.
That is what happened to Jeremiah Masoli. His situation did not pass the smell test, and when the NCAA had no legal grounds to hold him accountable, they changed their legislative laws into judicial theory and set new precedent.
In political terms this was a power play; one designed to remind everyone that the NCAA is the oligarch of college athletics, with inherent power to write and rewrite—without transparency—its interpretations of what the sports are and how they will be governed.
Athletes? You are the hired help, and if you think that being exceptional at what you do offers any exemption, then we have a surprise for you.
Universities? If you try to use your elite athletes in ways outside of what we have prescribed, then we are going to add a couple of turns in the vice to help you remember.
The double standard the NCAA seems to be promoting in both the USC and Masoli case is a knee-jerk, myopic answer to a much larger problem. And it should be noted that the points to which the NCAA has decided to apply pressure are neither internal nor institutional.
They have aimed their efforts directly at the athletes.
Mr. Bush, you should not have ignored our laws. You are banished. And because our party members failed in their duties to uphold the party line and keep you in check, they will be doubly punished.
Mr. Masoli, you tried to exploit fallibility in party law. You should know that is impossible as party law is infallible. You will serve one year’s time for breaking a law we have just written.
Bush is not at fault for Masoli's waiver denial. Bush is only the first victim of the NCAA's newest war against its plebeian class.
Then again, maybe it is too much hyperbole to compare the NCAA to the sadistic few that reigned behind the Iron Curtain for the better part of the last century.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here to view his other articles.
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