Time For NCAA To Punish Athletes Who Cheat

Joseph Yaeger weighs in on the latest college pay-for-play scandal.

In the latest instance of a trend that has been ongoing for decades, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has leveled charges that he received improper benefits while playing for the University of Tennessee. These benefits, if Foster's allegations prove true, could result in an NCAA investigation of the Volunteer football program and possible sanctions.

The first point to be made is that there are very few clean hands in big-time college football. Corruption, cheating and a mercenary attitude toward winning are common among major programs. The NCAA, in turn, is a despotic, ham-fisted and often bumbling organization that has few supporters outside its own halls and inner sanctums. But unlike the big programs and the NCAA, the athletes have been largely exempt from criticism. With Foster's vindictive and hypocritical allegations, however, now is as good a time as any to turn the gimlet eye toward those who play the game and cheat while doing it.

Foster claims he has gone public with the wrongdoing because he loathes the NCAA, believes college players should be paid (either in cash or in kind, apparently), and is on a crusade for poor inner city college players who don't have enough money to get by.

These claims are ridiculous on their face. To begin with, leveling allegations against the University of Tennessee does nothing to harm Foster's bête noir, the NCAA. On the contrary, they justify the NCAA's existence by providing another example of cheating that must be investigated and punished.

Second, Foster hardly needed to blow the whistle on Tennessee to argue that college football players should be paid. Foster, as an All Pro NFL running back, has a permanent megaphone he can use to get his message out. And if that's not enough, he also has his own radio show.

Third, Foster's supposed sympathy for impoverished college football players obviously does not extend to those now and future Tennessee Volunteers who may be punished because of his revelations.

Foster's justifications are, shall we say, unconvincing.

The far more likely motivation is Foster's smoldering resentment and pricked vanity at having gone undrafted. Following Foster's junior season at Tennessee, he was graded by scouts as a probable second round pick. But then Volunteer head coach Phillip Fulmer convinced Foster to return for his senior season. Foster's production diminished as a senior, and after poor showings in interviews and workouts, he went undrafted.

Foster's decision to return for his senior year cost him a great deal of money. But rather than man up and admit he made a mistake, Foster now seems to be exacting revenge on the university that provided him with a valuable education, room, board and the opportunity to showcase his skills for the NFL in the best football conference in America.

And here's the upshot of the whole rotten situation. Whether Foster and any other college football player believes they should be paid and/or receive benefits is beside the point. As matters currently stand, it is a violation of NCAA rules to do so. Thus, when a player receives payments and benefits, he is cheating, plain and simple.

Texas Tech football, incidentally, has experienced the boomerang's bite from disgruntled former football players. Running back Chris Pryor's revelation of illegal recruiting inducements resulted in NCAA sanctions against the Tech program in 1988. Defensive tackle Stephen Gaines, who went so far as to file a lawsuit against Texas Tech, also charged Tech with malfeasance. Gaines' allegations were part of a larger body of charges that resulted in wide-ranging NCAA penalties in 1997.

Now nobody is arguing that cheating programs shouldn't be punished. They should. But it takes two to tango. And as long is the NCAA focuses exclusively on one side of the equation, it is not doing its job. Athletes who knowingly violate NCAA rules should be penalized. The penalties, let us say twice the monetary value of their illegal benefits and payments, should be written into the language of all scholarships.

In doing this, the NCAA would provide a deterrent for players to cheat. And it would be punishing all guilty parties. Perhaps then we will all be spared episodes of contemptible preening from jokers such as Arian Foster.

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