The NCAA's decision to punish Jim Calhoun for various violations incurred in the recruiting of Nate Miles wasn't controversial in and of itself. What was controversial was the stiffness of the punishment, particularly the NCAA's decision to delay Calhoun's three-game suspension until the first three games of the 2011-2012 Big East schedule. Why wait a year to punish Calhoun? Why make the punishment so inherently inconsequential? Why not force Calhoun to face the music this year?
That decision looks even more questionable today. In the midst of a post-title media blitz, Calhoun stopped by Dan Patrick's radio show and -- as transcribed by Matt Norlander -- revealed that he offered to serve the suspension this season:
"I haven't really discussed publicly too much about the NCAA," Calhoun said. "I volunteered ... this is the first time I've publicly have said this, to sit out games this year. Because I took full responsibility of anything that happened within my program. Whether I agree or disagree with the NCAA is not important. I am the head coach at the University of Connecticut, therefore I should take full responsibility for anything that happened. Their answer was 'no,' and I said, 'All right, but I don't want to appeal anything,' that's why I'm not going to appeal anything. They said 'no.'"
"The three games is fine," Calhoun said. "I would live with that. If they feel they need something that's penal, that's OK. But I would have liked to have done it at the end of this season, and I thought that would've been more fair. Because, why start it up next year? Again, it's been two and a half years."
Despite the whole "full responsibility" thing -- part of Calhoun's argument to the NCAA was that he didn't know what happened in the Miles fiasco, that any infractions were the work of rogue assistants, and that's not exactly taking full responsibility -- the rest of the point seems valid. If Calhoun wanted to serve the penalty right away, why not let him? Those three games would have come in late February and early March, and they would have had much more of an impact if taken during Calhoun's current season -- a national title-winning one -- than any vague dates in the distant future.
That all said, the NCAA does have a few valid reasons for handling this the way it did. One such reason the committee on infractions might offer is this: It didn't want to punish Connecticut's current players. If the suspension comes in the future, the coach still feels the heat and still gets the permanent black mark on his ethical record, but the current players don't have to miss the NCAA tournament or play without their coach in the near term.
That might not be the reason, but it certainly was a reason. And, after all, you can't exactly let coaches dictate their punishments. Once your fate is in the NCAA's hands, it should stay there.
Still, if Calhoun's account is correct, then the NCAA probably should have considered the offer; frankly, it sounds better for both parties. Calhoun could have gotten the suspension out of the way as soon as possible. More importantly, the NCAA could have put some teeth -- whether intentional or not -- behind its decision to suspend the legendary coach. Instead, it heard the usual complaints, suffered the usual image problems and dealt with the usual outraged backlash. Same as it ever was.