Time for NCAA to do what’s right

By Jim Gazzolo

It’s time for the NCAA to put its money where its mouth is.

Instead, the governing body of college athletics usually just puts it’s foot in it’s mouth. But maybe that can change. 

Ever since the first college football mega-contract was signed with a television network, the NCAA has proclaimed it is never about the money. 

The common response has always been it’s about the student/athletes, always making sure the word student came before athlete. Kids over money came from one side of the NCAA’s mouth while the other gobbled up every possible dollar it could. 

Well, the ball is in the NCAA’s court this spring. Let’s see what they do for a group of college athletes who are hurting like no others right now.

The NCAA has moved the Football Championship Subdivision — the group formerly known as Division 1-AA — playoffs into the spring due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, the big colleges get to play in fall if they want. OK, so money still matters, but the NCAA can at least save a little face here locally.

Currently, the McNeese State football team is on academic probation for the upcoming six-game mini-spring season. It’s sort of a summer replacement television show for football.

The Cowboys were supposed to be suffering through their punishment this fall, but then there was no fall football. Now there is almost no McNeese State.

Hurricane Laura hit the campus, and sports facilities, as hard as anything in Southwest Louisiana. The baseball and football stadiums have been ravaged and the pride of campus, the relatively still new basketball arena is currently unusable. 

Millions of dollars in upgrades blown away in the matter of hours if not minutes. 

Along with that, the dreams of all athletes on campus were put on hold. More importantly, so were there lives. 

For the second time in six months, players were sent home. There is no place to live on campus and just as few housing options in the town. 

A double-whammy like never before. 

Spring can’t come soon enough, but even a true freshman who sticks around five years likely won’t see the campus or Lake Charles itself looking like it did before Laura blew through town. Their lives, along with the fans who supported McNeese, have changed forever. 

This is where the NCAA can come in.

Since the first day word came out about the probation that keeps McNeese from the football playoffs, the athletic department and school officials have stood up and taken full responsibility for the mistakes. Despite all the distractions the academics have improved.

If the NCAA really is about what’s good for the athletes then they will give McNeese a pass and let them play in the playoffs this spring if they earn the right. The Southland Conference should lead the way by saying the Cowboys can win the league title if earned, but asking that group to help out in Louisiana might be a little much to expect.

I’m not for forgetting McNeese’s academic woes, nor do I believe in punishments going unserved. But this group of football players have little or nothing to do with those transgressions.

Fact is, they have either come to McNeese or stayed at McNeese despite the one-year playoff ban and all other issues from Covid to hurricane. They should be rewarded for that kind of loyalty in a world where transferring out of troubles is all too common.

At the very least these Cowboys should be given a pardon from the NCAA. Maybe just time served would work if college football’s stuffed shirts would rather call it.

Truth is, the coach at the helm of the Cowboys’ journey down this path is gone. His replacement is also gone. Frank Wilson is here and he has been through more than enough.

There is more for the NCAA to consider. Lake Charles and McNeese State have been good for their division of football and their conference, always sitting close to the top in attendance. The community could use the good news. 

Hearing the Cowboys are again eligible for the postseason this spring may not put a new roof on a fan’s home, or a new fence for the backyard, but it could give them a little hope, a sign that the future is a little brighter, a very, very small silver lining in a very, very dark cloud.

If nothing else, the NCAA can call it time off for good behavior for a group of kids who didn’t give up on their school or their community.

It would also show the NCAA isn’t just about money.

By doing this maybe we won’t snicker the next time the NCAA says it’s all about the student/athlete.

 

 

Jim Gazzolo is a former sports editor and columnist and now writes for CBS-Lake Charles. 

Categories: Sports