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NCAA's call against IU still doesn’t make sense

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Maybe it is the lawyer in me, but I am naturally a contrarian.

Pick a side, and the other is mine.

Tell me the sky is blue, and I am brainstorming about why it is really red or orange or yellow.

There is something refreshing and cathartic in taking in all sides with an equal passion.

Of course, this sometimes drives my wife nuts, as well as some of our readers.

Still, looking at the unpopular side of an issue makes life interesting. There is never only one way to look at things.

Until now.

For the past two weeks, I have wrestled with the curious decision to suspend two IU freshmen basketball players for one-third of the season because they were helped along the way by a “booster” who gave $185 to the Varsity Club before either player was even born.

While others have lambasted the NCAA for an inexplicable decision, I have struggled to explain it, confident that this all makes sense if only a little perspective is added.

Sifting through facts and explanations in the hefty penalties against Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin with my lawyer hat on, this suddenly would make sense, I reasoned.

It’s two weeks later, and it still does not.

At least, it does not except for one rather unseemly conclusion. The NCAA, which pretends to operate with a rule of law and due process as a guide, has revealed itself to be a petty, vindictive star chamber. Decisions are made based on a desired result, not as a product of reason and principle.

Here, the desired result apparently was to send a message to AAU coaches who come too close to the recruiting process.

Unfortunately, one man’s meddling is another man’s humanity, as the case of Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin demonstrates.

Meet Mark Adams.

Adams is an amateur basketball coach who also runs a charity called A-Hope, whose purpose is to find young athletes in Third-World countries and give them an opportunity to train in America.

He finds them financial aid, sponsors and even takes them in his own home at times, as he did with these two.

Adams also teaches them basketball as a ticket to a college education. His A-Hope recruits have gone on to a number of colleges, including Michigan State, Tennessee and UCLA.

Compelling story. They ought to make that into a movie. Oh wait, they did.

The true story of Michael Oher’s transition as a wayward high school football player to a star at Ole Miss in “The Blind Side” is strikingly similar.

Taken in by an empathetic family who also happened to be big-time Rebel boosters, Oher’s rise above his circumstances was celebrated.

Mosquera-Perea, from Colombia, and Jurkin, from the Sudan, signed with IU. The move was fully transparent and reported to the NCAA. That was key because Adams also had taken a position with the university.

It certainly was not illegal in any way. But the NCAA began to sniff around.

What they found was that Adams and his wife belonged to the IU Varsity Club 20 years ago. As part of their membership, they donated $185 to the athletic program.

Aha, said the NCAA. That makes Adams a booster. Since A-Hope and Adams helped the impoverished students with living expenses, that made them ineligible.

The punishment is to miss a full third of their freshmen season. There was hope last week that the NCAA would soften the penalty, as it had with UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad.

Indeed, I was clinging to that hope in a belief that this would all make some sense, even if that meant bad news. Surely, if the NCAA were going to so significantly alter the eligibility of these two young men, the initial action based on the meager donation two decades ago would be justified by some smoking gun — wild profiteering, signing bonuses, sordid scandals.

It did not happen. Instead, the NCAA, which had been measured, if obscure, earlier in the process, turned downright petty. Adams received “permissible” complimentary tickets to IU games, the sports fiefdom said.

Huh? That created “unique access and continuous involvement” in the IU program.

Not illegal or even wrong, mind you, just unique.

That is sad, simply sad.

Sad for Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin, who have done absolutely nothing wrong, even according to the NCAA, but will continue to sit on the bench for Saturday night’s game with Coppin State. (They will return to face Butler Dec. 15.)

Sad for Adams, who is the clear victim of character assassination by the NCAA, which has parlayed his purchase of a Varsity Club bumper sticker two decades ago into a mortal sin.

But mostly sad for the NCAA, an organization that had shown signs of rising above the tempestuous world of college sports but now has shown itself to be more sinister than the most corrupt program under its jurisdiction.

Really, if you can’t make the case, then give it up. Instead, NCAA President Mark Emmert’s gang has piled on two innocent college players simply because they can.

To his credit, IU coach Tom Crean greeted the news with his usual upbeat take.

“The attitude, humble spirit, personalities and ability to deal with adversity that Hanner and Peter have astounds me daily. 2 special people,“ he tweeted to fans.

One can only wonder why the two IU players weren’t given a book deal like “The Blind Side’s” Oher, rather than sanctions. Maybe they should have asked Sandra Bullock to be their adoptive mother.

Nothing else makes sense in this tale that leaves the NCAA looking like a vindictive taskmaster rather than the builder of young athletes.

By the way, the sky may look blue, but it really is not. That is just an illusion created by a process called Rayleigh scattering, which sorts out the blue shorter wavelengths high above us.

If only the twisted logic of the NCAA was as easily explained.

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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