NCAA’s North Carolina decision reveals other challenges

Noah M. Horwitz

The NCAA has found itself in a bit of a quandary of late. School after school continues to be in the spotlight for, well, unscrupulous practices. Academic fraud, players getting paid — that should be mandatory, not a scandal, but I’ll leave that to a subsequent column — and other shameful acts have beleaguered programs, but none have been quite as shameful as Baylor University’s non-response to sexual assaults carried out by football players.

So when the NCAA last week announced that it was moving all championship series out of North Carolina because of the state’s anti-transgender laws, some locals felt that the agency should look inward first.

“I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor,” said Kami Mueller, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Republican Party, in a statement in response to the decision. “Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking — and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation’s collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field.”

Of course, this sort of misses the point. ‘Someone else is doing something worse than I am’ is not a very clever excuse. But the offensive comparison aside, the dunderheaded statement may have just a sprinkle of wisdom hidden within it.

The NCAA should be concerned about the athletes that participate within its programs. And it should also be concerned about everyone who is indirectly affected by them. The safety and well-being of other students and members of the public at large should also be paramount. 

Part of this is accomplished when the NCAA makes principled stands like the one it made in North Carolina. Of course, proponents of HB2, the controversial law in question, pointed out that the NCAA plays games in China, a place with a human rights record worse than North Carolina’s, to say the least.

This again misses the point. There is no contest to see who can commit the most shameful acts. They are all wrong. Perhaps the NCAA should reexamine its policy of playing games in autocracies. But that does not justify another wrong. This is basic stuff that I thought people learned in kindergarten. 

The NCAA has a lot of problems. It makes a tremendous amount of mistakes. But the stand it took in North Carolina — which has now been followed by the Atlantic Coast Conference, in which the Tar Heels compete — was indubitably the right thing to do. So now, the NCAA should do more to solve those aforementioned problems.

In 1986, the NCAA handed down the so-called “death penalty” to Southern Methodist University’s football team, canceling an entire season and canceling all the home games in another one. It was the harshest penalty the NCAA has ever given to a Division I school, and SMU has never recovered. The cardinal sin? Giving money to players.By that standard, Baylor should be excluded from competition for a decade for its sins. The NCAA has made a good start with its actions regarding North Carolina, now it’s time to confront the demons in their own backyard.

Horwitz is a first year law student from Houston. Follow him @nmhorwitz