DALLAS — There are so many game-changing issues facing college athletics these days that one of the more traditional bones of contention is almost getting lost in the shuffle.
Remember when cheating was what was going to be the ruination of college sports? Now it’s lawsuits and enhanced scholarships and unlimited meals and players potentially able to market themselves for profit.
But guess what? Cheating is still an issue. And Bob Bowlsby brought it to the forefront Monday.
“Enforcement is broken,’’ the Big 12 commissioner said during the league’s football media days. “The [NCAA] infractions committee hasn’t had a hearing in almost a year and I think it’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently.
“If you seek to conspire to bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.’’
Indeed, if there is one overriding reason why the issue of cheating in college athletics
— be it in recruiting or inducements to athletes or the day-to-day management of practices and the like — has seemed to settle on the back burner it is because so many other issues have supplanted it. Colleges and the NCAA are so preoccupied by lawsuits and autonomy for the power conferences and scholarship enhancements that there’s not much time for tracking down bad guys.
Not that the NCAA ever did a very good job of that anyway.
But it still exists. In fact, to listen to Bowlsby, it might be as bad as it has been in quite a while, not because there are so many schools or coaches or athletes prone to cheat, but because without oversight the temptation looms so large. And it’s not even those schools or coaches or athletes who are at the center of it.
“No, I don’t think it’s rampant. I don’t think that at all,’’ Bowlsby said. “I think our coaches and programs are of high integrity and I don’t have any concerns on a local basis.
“But I do think those that conspire to do things that are intended to get around the rules have less resistance to it now. It’s easy to move money around. There are lots of people outside of universities that are handling things and they can’t be compelled to testify even if they get caught.’’
It’s hard to quantify what it is Bowlsby is talking about when he speaks of cheating because there are so few glaring examples at which to point. Again, though, that probably has far more to do with the NCAA’s inability to catch cheaters than any lack of cheating.
“It’s kind of like the people that develop radar detectors,’’ Bowlsby said. “The guys making better radar are a long way behind the guys making better radar detectors. The organization moves very slow and there are people who are innovatively engaged in finding ways to get around the rules.’’
But that doesn’t mean it’s an issue that can be ignored.
As part of the power conferences’ push for more autonomy, the topic of enforcement isn’t often brought up, but only because there are other topics with which to deal first. But enforcement has to be addressed, and in a big way, because with more autonomy and even more power and money, the likelihood of cheating in and around those power conference schools becomes even greater.
“You have to remember that where those high-visibility conferences are concerned, most of the major infractions have been in those 65 schools, too,’’ Bowlsby said. “But I think the commissioners would uniformly state that we need a stronger enforcement mechanism. And one that is significantly more functioning [than the current mechanism].’’
Again, Bowlsby isn’t accusing schools or coaches or players of widespread cheating. He’s not blind to the fact that it happens, but the bigger issue is in the periphery.
“A lot of it operates outside the institutions,’’ Bowlsby said. “There are people acting on behalf of institutions to influence kids coming to a particular school, to influence the outcome of games in some situations.
“I am really not very far from being of the mind that some sort of uniform federal statute isn’t a good idea — [one] that would say it’s against the law to influence where a student-athlete would go to school, to influence the outcome of a contest, to provide a benefit that is outside of the rules. At least then the NCAA enforcement mechanism would be able to say, ‘OK, we can get into your tax records or we can get into your bank account.’ They would have the same prerogatives anybody in the legal system has. They would have subpoena power and they would have the weight of perjury.’’
How quickly any real time and effort is paid to the issue of cheating remains to be seen. After all, there are lawsuits to be lost or won and dramatic changes in the offing for all of college athletics. Perhaps it won’t be until the dust settles from all of that that enforcement can be addressed. And by that time — and in whatever landscape evolves — who knows what the cheating issues might be?
All Bowlsby knows is that they will still be there.
“I think the vast majority of people in intercollegiate athletics are of high integrity. They’re doing it for the right reasons,’’ Bowlsby said. “But right now, if you want to cheat, you can do it and you can get away with it. And there are benefits for doing that.
“And that needs to change.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.