O'Neil: NCAA should deny UConn proposal

In May, Southern and Grambling’s men’s basketball programs were banned from postseason play because of poor academic performance. Both schools, along with the Jackson State and Southern football teams, fell below the NCAA’s APR.

NCAA president Mark Emmert, sensitive to the fact that APR penalties have been meted out most harshly to members of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said then that his organization would help those schools restore their academic houses.

“You’re right that there are a number of historically black colleges and universities that have been penalized, especially through the postseason ban,’’ Emmert said at the time. “We are concerned about that, have met with those institutions to help them develop ways for improvement and to help provide resources to help them be successful.’’

Note what Emmert didn’t say: he never suggested coming up with new penalties to alleviate the postseason ban. He never suggested the schools be allowed to circumvent their academic medicine by offering to play less games.

And if that’s the case for Grambling and Southern, it ought to be the case for Connecticut.

UConn has presented the NCAA with a plan that it thinks should mitigate its academic failings and allow the Huskies to overturn their 2013 NCAA tournament ban.

The plan includes cutting the number of games UConn will participate in, including exhibitions -- but not that boondoggle trip to the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands -- forfeiting money earned at the 2013 NCAA tournament, and suggesting Jim Calhoun would bring current or former NBA players to inner-city schools to discuss the importance of academics.

(Just a thought -- perhaps Calhoun ought to bring those guys to his own study table. No one is saying inner-city kids aren’t studying. They’re saying his players don’t, at least not enough).

“It is unfortunate that our current men’s basketball student-athletes could be punished for the problematic academic performance of other students -- students who have not been enrolled at UConn for over two years,’’ university president Susan Herbst said. “That decision would be unfair to innocent young people, which is baffling to us. Regulatory bodies should not change rules retroactively. The NCAA should focus on the future, so that people have the chance to work toward positive change. They should not dredge up the past, and then hurt innocent parties of the present.’’

Well, no one cared about the innocent parties in the SWAC or the MEAC. In fact, until the APR took dead aim at a name brand like UConn, no one said much of anything.

The sad reality is, no one will care whether Grambling or Southern make the Big Dance. They’ll care whether UConn does.

But here’s another cold reality. UConn, with its big budget and Big East money, is afforded every benefit for its “student” athletes. Tutors and academic advisors are not only available at the big-time level, they often travel with the team.

They travel, by the way, on the chartered planes the Huskies use in order to get back to class the next day.

I spent a few days walking in the HBCU’s shoes, and let me tell you, they are well-worn. These schools take long bus rides, with little more than the bare bones of basketball staffs, let alone ancillary support people. Team meals often are at a mall food court, not an elaborate spread in a hotel conference room, and when these players return to campus, it’s in the middle of the night after an uncomfortable ride on a bus.

Could they have come up with such a grand plan to plead their case? Sure, if they had the team of lawyers on the payroll to concoct such a plan.

And how about the fact that for players at these schools, the NCAA tournament is about the only carrot available. Maui isn’t on Line 1 and Puerto Rico on Line 2 offering all-expense-paid trips to Paradise in November. There is only a chance to perhaps play a big-league school, take your beating and pocket the cash that will allow your athletics program to exist one more year.

There is no innocence lost in Storrs, Conn., here, just academic laziness.

And if the NCAA allows UConn to exchange games for bad coursework, it can stop, once and for all, preaching about academic integrity and student-athletes.

That would be the end of the last shred of innocence in college sports.