NCAA proves again it has lost its way

The Emery envelope memorably exploded and with it came the implosion of Kentucky basketball:

A two-year postseason ban, no televised appearances for one season, scholarship reductions, records expunged and NCAA tournament money returned or, as then-Kentucky president David Roselle explained, "about 4 feet" from the death penalty.

That was in 1989.

Fast-forward to 2008. Kelvin Sampson texts like a teenage girl with a mad crush and Indiana basketball is brought to its knees.

Or how about 2010, when Bruce Pearl suddenly finds it impossible to recognize his own home and the Tennessee coach becomes an ex-Tennessee coach with a three-year show-cause penalty?

That all happened, courtesy of grievous athletic misdeeds followed by justifiable NCAA punishments.

Of course, that was back when the NCAA had teeth and some integrity of its own, before it had to investigate its own investigations and redo punishments it never had the authority to make in the first place.

The organization has all but jumped the shark now, gone from tough guy, greaser Fonzie to geeky, unintimidating Arthur Fonzarelli.

The Committee on Infractions announced on Tuesday its findings in the protracted Miami case, a seemingly endless three-year investigation that resulted, according to the NCAA release, in "18 allegations with 79 subparts and 118 interviews of 81 individuals. The written record included 15 binders of documents, totaling thousands of pages.''

And a pillow toss of a penalty.

The football team will lose three scholarships annually over the next three years; the hoops team will be docked one per year for three years. Frank Haith will miss Missouri's first five games and three assistant coaches will be hit with show-cause penalties.

That's it, despite an NCAA release that said Miami "enabled a culture of noncompliance" and that several coaches and staff members "had a poor understanding of NCAA rules or felt comfortable breaking them."

Well, sure, that's no big deal.

The University of Miami did more to the University of Miami than the NCAA did to Miami and certainly the school's self-flogging helped. A two-year bowl ban is not an insignificant penalty. "Unprecedented," COI chair Britton Banowsky termed Miami's punishment to itself.

Except, let's be clear: While what Miami did is impressive and proactive, the university isn't saying it didn't do this. It's only saying it's sorry.

Cheating and attempting to mitigate the damages after the fact is as old as sport, as old as humanity, really. "Yes, teacher, I copied off my neighbor's paper, but I'll stay in for recess as reprimand."

Back in 1989 Kentucky tried to fall on its sword, too, forcing out its entire coaching staff, shifting control of the Wildcat Lodge to the university from the athletic department and disassociating from a booster; Indiana fired Kelvin Sampson, docked its new staff off-campus visits and a scholarship and added other recruiting restrictions; and Bruce Pearl lost $2 million in salary plus off-campus recruiting opportunities.

Each time, the NCAA still came in and scorched the earth behind them.

What's changed isn't the schools or the cheating or the apologies. What's changed is the NCAA.

It needs an emergency therapy session in Oz -- to find its courage, brain and heart -- or it's about to lose its purpose and perhaps its existence. Already sports power brokers are clamoring to find a way to reorganize the organization, if not secede from it altogether.

This doesn't help.

The COI release contained three lengthy paragraphs devoted to the NCAA's attempt to mitigate its own mess, citing the Cadwalader Report used to investigate the botched Miami investigation. Banowsky went out of his way to explain that part of the delay in the findings was to ensure that no information gathered improperly was used against Miami.

But words on paper do little to assuage people's mistrust or eliminate damages already done. Miami felt, not unjustifiably, that it was punished with three years of limbo while waiting for its punishment.

Outsiders felt, not unjustifiably, that the Hurricanes got off easy because the NCAA screwed things up royally.

So the NCAA managed to hit for the cycle, ticking off the perpetrators and the masses all at once.

If it were a one-time mistake, perhaps we could "all move forward" as Banowsky hoped at the beginning of his news conference. Nothing to see here, let's move along -- reams of paper, years of investigation, Ponzi schemer gone booster rogue giving out yacht tours and jet ski sessions, lying coaches and general mayhem be damned.

Except every time the NCAA opens its figurative mouth these days, it only reiterates what a bungled organization it has become.

From the confusion and inconsistencies of hardship waiver decisions to the Penn State penalty mea culpa penalty do-over, to this debacle, it is a shadow of its former stern, decision-making self.

The NCAA has made bold promises and hearty proclamations about its upcoming convention, teasing that we could see some major reform to the organization in the not-so-distant future.

It better hope so because otherwise, instead of jumping the shark, it might just get eaten by a few of them.