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The NCAA's mission, in its purest form, is admirable.
It's just the hypocritical, arbitrary, outdated way the NCAA tries to accomplish its mission that's counterproductive and asinine.
Surely by now you've heard about what happened to Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, the talented wide receiver who was suspended for the rest of this season for lying to the NCAA about visiting with former NFL star Deion Sanders.
In a rare NCAA move, college's governing body actually handed out a swift, harsh punishment. But in an all-too-common NCAA move, they overreacted and got it wrong.
Consequences and justice are two different things. Unless there's a smoking gun we don't know about, the NCAA's decision to suspend Bryant didn't make a lick of sense, neither did their explanation. The appropriate punishment for Bryant would have been a multiple-game suspension. Put that in perspective by looking atwith some recent infractions committed by college athletes. Oregon suspended LeGarrette Blount, presumably for the season, for punching another player in the face and going after belligerent fans in the crowd. The NCAA ruled Oklahoma players Rhett Bomar and J.D Quinn ineligible for a year after they knowingly took money for summer work they didn't do.
Was Bryant's lie more serious than any of those offenses? Was anyone endangered or given a competitive advantage?
Put yourself in Bryant's shoes. One of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history wants to meet with you. You, as an aspiring professional football player, are dying to ask him what the NFL is like and what you should expect. You also want to peek inside his world and see how "Prime Time" really lives. You hang out with him and the next thing you know, NCAA investigators are asking you questions.
So what do you do? You remember the NCAA's rulebook is as long as a Tolstoy novel. You don't think you did anything wrong, but you don't really know for sure. You don't have the OSU compliance department on speed dial, so you panic. You lie. You lie because you want to keep playing. You lie because you don't want to disappoint your teammates and your university. It's lying out of fear versus lying out of malice.
Should that cost you the rest of your season?
"I made a mistake; I wish I hadn't," Bryant told ESPNDallas.com in a video interview.
I get that panic isn't a good excuse for lying to the authorities, but as far as anyone knows, that was Bryant's only wrongdoing. It turns out his meeting with Sanders wasn't an NCAA violation, so Bryant was punished over a rule he never broke.
It's been theorized that the NCAA made an example out of Bryant to prevent other athletes from lying to NCAA investigators, but the Bryant decision seems more about ego than deterrence.
For most college football players missing even one game is excruciating, so if Bryant were told to sit out four to six games, that would have been enough of a warning shot to other college players.
But don't think the NCAA is immune to the criticism it has received for how it handles major violations committed by major programs. At this rate, the NCAA won't punish USC for the Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo scandals until both athletes are eligible for AARP -- assuming, of course, USC is ever punished at all. Despite the fact that there's a paper trail from here to Nova Scotia that suggests USC was in the wrong, the NCAA is "still investigating."
It's decisions like the one in the Bryant case that not only make college sports a complete turnoff, but also make anyone unable to trust that the NCAA is operating in the best interest of its athletes. Suspending Bryant doesn't do anything but give college football fans one less Heisman Trophy candidate to watch. It's not like his powwow with Sanders gave the Cowboys any advantage. Bryant didn't gain anything financially, so how exactly was justice served?
The junior hasn't officially announced he's going to the NFL and is currently appealing to the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee for reinstatement, but if you're him, why even bother?
Bryant, who had 19 touchdowns and 1,480 receiving yards last season, is expected to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. Considering how thoughtlessly the NCAA ruled, why would he ever want to put himself under their twisted jurisdiction again?
Bryant's suspension definitely sent a message about the NCAA, and that's that self-righteousness is more important than justice.Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org