“If you flip Montana, there’s no going back.”
– University of Washington President Raymond B. Allen, 1948
Alright, I made up that quote, but a conversation to twist the knife on Oregon took place that fall. With Cal and Oregon tied atop the Pacific Coast Conference, a tiebreaking vote amongst the members was set. The legend goes that the rivalry between the Ducks and Huskies, who had been geographical rivals since 1900 in football, escalated to a Hatfield-and-McCoy level it is today when Washington convinced fellow PCC member Montana to vote for Cal. The die was cast, making way for seven decades of fan tackling, bowl lobbying and logo stomping. The fact is, Huskies have been screwing over Ducks for years.
The jersey-popper is Ole Miss guard and resident SEC troll, Marshall Henderson. That moment above happened seconds after Henderson’s two free throws with six seconds left ended up being the difference in the Rebels’ 63-61 victory over Auburn on January 26th. Henderson then immediately seeks out and taunts the Auburn student section, much to the crowd’s gesturing disdain.
Every time that GIF cycles through, I smile. It is a moment of karmic realignment, seeing the collective indignation that is inflicted on a fanbase whose football team two years prior created the same sentiment amongst Oregon fans. They may not see the similarity, but I can smile knowing that their misery, temporary in real time, can cycle in perpetuity until things feel right.
This, of course, is the closest Oregon fans will ever feel to having the National Championship rectified, which makes last week’s news about the 2010 team that much more difficult.
In case you missed it last week, noted A-Rod steroid outer Selena Roberts wrote a story for her site, Roopstigo.com, reporting that Auburn, amongst other new allegations, paid draft-eligible players to stay in school and changed grades for players to make them eligible for the National Championship game; most notably running back Michael Dyer. The article re-ignited the dialogue about whether Auburn’s program deserved sanctions, including the potential vacancy of the Tigers’ 2010 title. For Duck fans and others with a vested interest in seeing Auburn penalized, it renewed hope in the possibility of redemption and validation for Oregon; the acknowledgement that the Ducks deserved to be crowned champions.
For me, I just want all the stories with that Auburn team to go away. Every time another story emerges from 2010, it’s another reminder of the laughable subjectivity of the NCAA’s prosecution tactics. They will continue their pursuit of schools like Miami, but ignore the PR hit they take from their procedural disasters, and refuse to thoroughly investigate a program that has produced a continuous stream of improprieties for three straight years following its title. The NCAA is an organization that can offer Penn State sanctions with dangerous expediency, but hangs a Sword of Damocles over Oregon’s program for three years over an alleged payment of $25,000, or the same amount of money Cam Newton makes every four minutes and 21 seconds in the NFL. We could have a Richard “The Fixer” Perry–esque slideshow of Gene Chizik handing every player a bag of money with a handshake in a long line, graduation stage-style, and Auburn fans would still assert it was photoshopped, and the NCAA would say “we’re investigating it” while eventually doing nothing. That 2010 team is bulletproof when it comes to sanctions.
Every story since the initial clearance of Cam Newton in December 2010 has been a reminder that the NCAA will continue to overlook the possibility of fire at a school that has had smoke billowing from its football program for three straight years. Hearing stories of further violations does nothing but remind us that NCAA enforcement is nothing more than a game of chance, where the difference between having your number called or not determines whether a program is set back for years, or whether immunity is granted to teams for their means of obtaining a championship. Ever since that title game, I was certain that reality determined sanctions.
“By the way, thanks for the career advice. Kept my job anyway.”
– Mark Emmert to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. Dodd had written a column in February calling for Emmert’s job.
Dodd hasn’t been the only one calling for the NCAA president’s job lately, just the one most visible on his radar. Emmert’s tantrum at his Final Four press conference showed precisely why he is incapable of properly leading the NCAA: quite simply, he hasn’t reached the level of maturity of those college-aged athletes he oversees. His response to Dodd shows his ability to hold grudges, a behavior that calls into question how even-handedly Emmert governs his organization. What would happen if the man charged to responsibly lead the nation’s college athletic programs allowed his personal biases to take over?
When Emmert was hired by his alma mater, the University of Washington, in 2004, he told the university and its supporters that UW would be his “last stop”. Many of those supporters were disappointed when he took the NCAA job in 2010; feeling betrayed by Emmert’s departure. He may have left Seattle for another job, but what if it turns out he was telling the truth all along? What if instead of abandoning the university, he was pushing their objective on a national level?
How would that apply to Auburn? Consider the two schools that would be most impacted negatively by an Auburn national title: Oregon (Auburn’s opponent) and Alabama (Auburn’s chief rival).
Who is Oregon’s chief rival? The University of Washington, Mark Emmert’s alma mater.
Who is Alabama’s head coach? Nick Saban, whom Emmert helped hire while chancellor of LSU, only to have Saban bolt Baton Rouge to coach the Miami Dolphins before returning to the SEC at a rival program.
If Emmert could hamper two programs he had biases against by doing nothing, that’s a move he makes every time.
The NCAA had been investigating Auburn and Newton for five months prior to Emmert’s first day at the NCAA, leading to Newton’s suspension on November 29, 2010. Auburn applied for Newton’s reinstatement the next day, and one day later, on December 1st, Emmert’s 31st day on the job, Newton was reinstated. Not even Penn State got that kind of processing speed. Emmert knew that Auburn stood no chance against Oregon without Newton, or possibly even vs. South Carolina in the SEC Championship, and likely intervened.
Auburn wasn’t the only school that Emmert protected. He placed USC and Penn State on heavy sanctions while allowing North Carolina, involved in what was alleged to be one of the biggest cheating scandals in NCAA history, to be exonerated. By doing so, Emmert not only removed the last shred of integrity in the NCAA’s argument of where it places academics, but by varying sanctions wildly, Emmert built in protection for future schools he wishes to pardon, while allowing himself to set up past precedence to remove scrutiny for those schools he wants to hammer.
As for the witch hunt of current target Miami, we know Emmert holds grudges, but how far back? Miami was the school that prevented Washington from capturing a unanimous national title in 1991. Could that be part of the motivation for his ongoing assault on their program?
Still, Emmert has saved his greatest wrath for his alma mater’s long-time rival: The University of Oregon. By allowing Oregon’s potential sanctions to go on unresolved into its third year, he has caused the fear of penalties to supersede the penalties themselves. While heavy-penalized USC just completed their two-year bowl ban, the Ducks just completed their third consecutive recruiting class with their penalty status unresolved. The Trojans are in the midst of a three-year scholarship reduction (due to an appeal process that pushed out the time frame), yet has been able to leverage its situation. At one point last season, the Trojans had far-and-away the best recruiting class in the nation, despite having only 15 scholarships to offer because, as recruiting reporters stated, the USC scholarship, of which there were fewer, actually carried more weight with recruits because of the “elite status” of that limited offer. USC failed to close well in recruiting, but that was more the result of on-field outcomes than the scholarship limits.
The fear of the needle is always greater than the pain of the shot, and the man who has the greatest control over the length of that fear is a Husky. As stated earlier, Huskies have been screwing over Ducks for years.
At least, that’s the hope. When viewed as master plan, Oregon fans can see the humor in what the NCAA has done to Oregon in the last three years; another grenade lobbed in the Oregon-Washington rivalry. That makes fans feel better than considering a haphazard sequence of lackadaisical enforcement and selective prosecution. We need this conspiracy to be true; no matter how absurd it is, because without it, the transgressions against Oregon and the enabling of Auburn just feel sad, sad enough that the idea of a vengeful NCAA president hell-bent on petty attacks makes more sense than whatever the NCAA and its president are doing these days.
UPDATE (6:42 PM PDT): Rachel George of USA Today is reporting that NCAA director of enforcement Dave Didion is leaving the NCAA to take a job at…Auburn. You can’t make this stuff up.