I generally never have a tough time finding things about which to rip the NCAA, America's favorite beaureaucratic athletic institution that rarely can get out of its own way enough to figure out the right way to do things.
However, this time, when faced with a no-brainer decision, they actually -- gasp! -- made the no-brainer decision.
The Duke lacrosse players, recently national runners up just one year after false rape allegations led to the cancellation of a the better part of the 2006 season, have been granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"These individuals were involved in an unusual circumstance that we believe warrants providing them the opportunity to complete their four years of competition," said Jennifer Strawley, NCAA director of student-athlete reinstatement and membership services.Kudos to the NCAA for seeing the bigger picture. Yes, these players were involved in an ill-advised party that eventually led to the false charges being brought against three of their teammates. But what they were doing hardly was illegal -- unless you count the underage drinking that hardly is uncommon on college campuses -- and they certainly were not deserving of what happened to them.
However, not everyone is wise enough to see the bigger picture -- most notably a rival conference coach who probably would rather the Duke program go away.
"Everybody in the lacrosse world was embarrassed by what happened," [Virginia coach Dom Starsia] said. "But it almost feels now as if nobody's really paying for this thing. I would've been the first to say that Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty probably deserved another year. But I'm not sure that everybody involved here should be painted with the same broad brush and it just seems that's what the NCAA chose to do."Who would you suggest pays for this, Starsia? The players? Even though the NCAA does it all the time, punishing players to get at the institution is never a good idea. Thousands of wild parties go on every weekend on college campuses; I'm not condoning them, but let's be real -- if every sports team that had a wild party was shut down, there would be no NCAA. I've been to them.
And I'm sure if we took a close look at your team, Starsia, I'm sure we wouldn't find 35 choir boys. Coaches should never stand on a sanctimonious soap box, lest someone find out what skeletons are in their closet.
The seniors on the Duke team would have to pursue post-graduate work in order to stay on for one more year; I'm sure many of them won't, having already said their emotional and psychological goodbyes to their college careers. But even if they don't, this will serve as one last symbolic apology. The NCAA too often punishes athletes who had absolutely nothing to do with the circumstances for which they're being punished.
Good on the NCAA for acting swiftly to make things right with players who deserved better.