Through the Trifocals: Illinois & the NCAA

The University of Illinois has had a frustrating long-term relationship with the NCAA that may be continuing unabated. Illinisports discusses this relationship, especially how it has affected the Deon Thomas case and the Chief Illiniwek controversy, in this article. This is the fourteenth and final part of this series.

It would be wonderful for the University of Illinois and the NCAA to overcome its difficulties and march together for common purpose into the 21st century. But what are the chances of that happening? Has the NCAA changed enough to value differences of opinion without judgment? Can the UI become a favored son of the NCAA without compromising its values? Or does Illinois have to become elite in either football or basketball (or both) to gain favored status within the NCAA? Can we ever make enough money for the NCAA through long-term success without cheating to recruit star players? Could anyone in our position? Only time will tell.

But there are still ominous signs on the horizon. Just this past year, the NCAA placed Illinois on a one-year probation for a "major violation." Football player Marcus Mason received assistance in the range of $2,500 from an Illinois supporter who was also a graduate of Mason's Maryland high school. Operating independently without the knowledge or approval of the UI, this individual's actions have now made Illinois vulnerable to major penalties should there be any illegality anywhere in its athletic programs within the next few years.

Interestingly, University of Kansas basketball player Darnell Jackson was discovered recently to have received benefits in the range of $5000 from a "family friend" in Oklahoma City. This revelation seems similar to the Illinois/Mason case, especially when one realizes Kansas head coach Bill Self has numerous long-term connections in the Oklahoma City area.

But in a move that should not be surprising to those who have studied the NCAA since the earliest days of Walter Byers, Jackson's receipt of extra benefits was called a "minor violation", so Kansas is not on the same NCAA watch list as Illinois. Both schools self-reported the violations and imposed suspensions on their players. But Illinois received a stiffer penalty.

We cannot say Illinois' penalties were worse than Kansas due to any continuing estrangement from the NCAA hierarchy, even when we compare the discrepancy in benefits received between Mason and Jackson. But Illinois is now extremely vulnerable to another Bruce Pearl-type attack on their credibility.

Basketball coach Bruce Weber has one of the best three-year won-loss records in the history of the NCAA. And new football coach Ron Zook is driven to return Illinois to national football prominence. Zook's extreme enthusiasm and boundless energy make him a master recruiter, and he is quickly becoming a threat to Big Ten status quo. A jealous and conniving coach from a school in the NCAA's good graces would have little difficulty making false charges sound believable to the NCAA and general public. The life of an ex-con is a difficult one, regardless of his degree of rehabilitation.

In summation, it is up to each individual to decide what is their truth. We can believe our leaders blindly, hoping they are somehow right at all times. Or we can evaluate our leaders with independent eyes, questioning decisions if we disagree and raising our voices to seek compromise that can be more beneficial for all concerned.

How do we know who is telling the truth and who is lying? How can we tell the true leaders? Perhaps the best thing we can do is become honest people. The only way to recognize a truthful person is to be honest ourselves because we will behave the same way in the same circumstance. Dishonest people have no idea what it is like to be honest, so they may run away from the very people who could help them most.

There are some ways we can detect deceivers. Honest, honorable leaders don't resort to bullying and scare tactics to get their way. They are flexible and will adapt their thinking and behavior when they are shown the value of change. They will favor the best solution for each situation even if it means their own self-interests are delayed or withheld. They will accept the premise their followers have equal rights and will not play favorites or encourage divisions between allies and everyone else. They will understand that not all people who disagree with them are their enemies, and that not all people who agree with them are their friends.

They won't make exceptions if they find themselves on the winning side of an unfair battle because an inequitable system may punish them just as easily in the future if the roles are reversed. They won't try opponents in the press or ridicule them publicly but will argue the merits of their case and listen without prejudice to the arguments of those who differ from them. And they will choose integrity over selling out to the power elite, even if it means having additional barriers to climb to success.

If we believe the NCAA needs to change to become a proper leader for all its members, then we must remain constantly vigilant. In the 16 years since Walter Byers, the relative calm that appears to exist might mean improvements are being made. But just as likely, a new power base is forming that is recreating the organization exactly as its predecessor.

Therefore, we must question everything and assume nothing. We should always determine the hidden agenda of a person before trusting him with our security. We must be willing to stand up and be heard if we detect unfairness, even if our position is threatened by it. Letting a bully win guarantees worse future behavior.

To expose corruption, we must peel away the layers of deceit one at a time, like peeling an onion. The person or organization trying to hide truth from the public spins a complex web of intrigue to keep his or its involvement secret. If we shoot too straight toward our target, we will be ridiculed and our efforts will be set back for years if not terminated. And the deceiver will add even more layers for further protection. We must patiently and slowly excise each level of intrigue with verifiable facts. Even then, if we make a single mistake, our whole argument will be discredited out of hand. It isn't easy, but eliminating the corruption is worth the effort.

Even if we examine a future NCAA and find benevolence and fairness, we must not let down our guard. Because there are many two-dimensional thinkers already working within the system who hunger for power and control, spreading throughout the organization like a malignant cancer even as we speak. Always be wary of them for they may be our future leaders.

And even if we create an NCAA that cares for everyone's needs, we must accept that we may still not achieve true equality through the system. As Thomas J. Niland, Jr., of LeMoyne College was quoted by Don Yaeger, "It is one of the basic premises of life that you can't legislate equality. You can legislate fairness, but not equality. Because no matter what rule you change, some people will be given an advantage. There is some difficulty in trying to make legislation that affects so many people who are unalike."

Regarding the Deon Thomas case, those who understand and agree with Illinois' position will have to stand up for their truth year after year long into the future. Someone else will need to rewrite this tome in their own words no more than five years from now as any improvement in understanding between now and then will be eroded by the constant spin doctoring of those trying desperately to hide the truth. It would be wonderful to let it all rest in the vaults of history, but we cannot do that until the guilty have admitted their roles in this miscarriage of justice.

We apologize for the length of this discussion, but understanding the many complexities of life helps us shine light on dark areas and allows us to make improvements as needed. It is hoped everyone can apply this premise to their lives and can benefit from it. And it is hoped we can all work to bring the NCAA and Illinois together in a bond of mutual respect and acceptance, for the higher purpose of everyone concerned.

Part XIV will appear on in the upcoming days.

Part I of this series is available here.
Part II of this series is available here.
Part III of this series is available here.
Part IV for this series is available here.
Part V for this series is available here.
Part VI for this series is available here.
Part VII for this series is available here.
Part VIII for this series is available here.
Part IX for this series is available here.
Part X for this series is available here.
Part XI for this series is available here.
Part XII for this series is available here.
Part XIII for this series is available here.

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