And that's putting it lightly.
When the NCAA registered its verdict in the Nate Miles case last year, the Committee on Infractions levied a three-game conference suspension -- to be served at the start of conference play -- against Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun for his role in Miles' recruitment. Now that the Big East has formally revealed its 2011-12 schedule, we know exactly which fixtures Calhoun will be forced to miss. Turns out, the Huskies got the luck of the draw.
Connecticut's first three Big East games are as follows: at South Florida on Dec. 28, vs. St John's on Dec. 31 and at Seton Hall on Jan. 3. Calhoun's first game back will be a Jan. 7 tilt at Rutgers, at which point he will be free to coach the Huskies for the duration of the season.
Those are hardly the most compelling contests on UConn's schedule. South Florida and Seton Hall are expected to finish near the bottom of the Big East race in 2012, and though St. John's boasts one of the deepest and most talented recruiting classes in the country, it also lost 10 seniors and will be the youngest team in the country in 2012.
ESPN's Andy Katz spoke with associate Big East commissioner Dan Gavitt Wednesday, who said Calhoun's suspension was not a factor in the way the Big East constructed its slate of games this offseason:
“It was not taken into consideration in the scheduling process,’’ Gavitt said. Gavitt said the integrity of the overall schedule had to be considered.
Like most conferences, the Big East schedules with the help of a computer formula, which allows the league to factor in the games reserved for major TV networks like ESPN and CBS, the balance of both halves of the schedule, as well as other mitigating factors. (For example, no team may play more than four games in a row on the road.) The Big East constructed this year's schedule no differently than any other year.
To be clear, that's the only fair way to handle such a matter. It's not the Big East's job to try and further punish Calhoun by scheduling games against top teams. Besides, asking the Big East to predict those games is folly anyway. (Maybe St. John's ends up being dynamic. Maybe Seton Hall is better than expected. You get the point.)
Still, when people say NCAA penalties are toothless, the past week at Connecticut is exactly what they mean. Along with Calhoun's suspension, UConn's penalties in the Miles case also included a lost scholarship in 2011-12. On Friday, top recruit Andre Drummond decided to attend UConn despite the scholarship crunch. What happened? A little-used player named Michael Bradley forfeited his scholarship to make room for Drummond. The scholarship crunch didn't cost the Huskies a top player. It merely forced the program into some creative math. In effect, Bradley -- who voluntarily gave up his scholarship, according to the school -- was the only member of the UConn program directly hurt by the NCAA's scholarship-related penalty.
And now there's this.
Changing cheaters' "cost-benefit calculus" with stricter NCAA enforcement has been one of NCAA president Mark Emmert's recurring talking points. Connecticut still has a few more years of probation to work through, and it will lose scholarships in the coming two seasons as well. But any potential cheater thinking of bending the rules to land a top player would only feel emboldened to do so after seeing how well Calhoun's situation worked out.
To wit: Calhoun will miss two games against two of his league's worst teams. The third comes against its youngest. Calhoun may not like that very much, but he'd be advised to look on the bright side: He'll still be on the sideline for UConn's entire nonconference schedule. He'll be there for every important Big East game. He'll be there in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies still landed one of the top prospects in the country. Their coaches can still recruit off campus. And oh, by the way, they're still your reigning national champions. If you didn't know better, you'd assume Connecticut was never found to have committed violations at all.
Three games was always a slap on the wrist. These three games? A slap on the wrist would look medieval by comparison.