This just confirmed: The NCAA is badly broken.
That’s about the only way to explain the latest developments coming out of Pasadena, where Division III Caltech—one of the premiere collegiate institutions in the country—was tagged with multiple NCAA sanctions and could be in danger of restoring its historic 310-game conference losing skid. The NCAA cites Caltech for having lacked “institutional control” by allowing 30 ineligible student-athletes in 12 sports to practice or compete over a period of four academic years.
Of those 12 sports teams, Caltech’s egregiously bad basketball program made the list. Worse yet, one of those years under scrutiny coincides with the season when Caltech snapped its infamous 310-game streak of futility.
Caltech, which defeated Occidental in February 2011 to end an in-conference losing streak that spanned 26 years, rekindled its losing ways during the 2011-12 season. The Beavers were uncompetitive once again, finishing the year 0-14 in league play. If the NCAA imposes penalties on the 2010-11 team, which had at least one ineligible player competing on its roster, then Caltech may have to vacate its win over Occidental and could find itself now mired in a 324-game conference losing streak.
As for the supposed transgressions of which Caltech is accused, this is where the plot thickens. Per the NCAA report:
“The student-athletes were ineligible due in large part to Caltech’s unique academic policy that allows students to “shop” for courses during a three-week period of each quarter before finalizing their class schedules. During those three weeks, because they were not actually registered in some or all of the courses they are attending, some students were not enrolled on a full-time basis. Other student-athletes failed to meet good academic standing requirements.
The committee noted that Caltech’s failure to have procedures to verify the full-time enrollment status or academic standing of the student-athletes contributed significantly to the lack of institutional control. Caltech did not have a written process or procedure in place for performing certification duties and ensuring the eligibility of all student-athletes.”
In other words, the NCAA is holding Caltech accountable over a technicality. Certain Beaver players became temporarily ineligible while shopping for courses during a school-sanctioned three-week class “shopping” period. These athletes were in complete compliance with university rules while working to juggle a rigorous course load at the nation’s leading tech school.
But because Caltech didn’t actively monitor the athletic eligibility of its players relative to NCAA bylaws—as opposed to the university’s own policies—the players, unbeknownst to themselves or to their school, had tarnished their eligibility for the 2010-11 season.
Here’s the kicker: Division III schools do not issue athletic scholarships, which means all 12 members of the Beavers basketball team are at Caltech for academics, above all. These Caltech athletes—if you can even call them that—are clearly not NBA hopefuls using college as a stopping point before delving into the professional ranks. Their 310 consecutive conference losses proves as much.
These Caltech athletes, math-letes, whatever they consider themselves, are some of the brightest, future chemical, geotechnical and aerospace engineers of the world. They’re some of the only college hoops players in the United States who struggle more on the court than in the classroom.
The U.S. News & Worldly Report ranked Caltech the No. 5 university in the country in its most recent rankings. The Times, meanwhile, ranked Caltech the No. 1 university internationally in its 2011-2012 World University Rankings. The NCAA shouldn’t worry about the academic standing of these kids.
Perhaps a tighter inspection of some of the blatant recruiting violations happening almost every day at major college programs would be a better use of time. And maybe borrowing one of the Beavers players to run the NCAA’s compliance departments would be a better use of assets.
The NCAA ought to be more worried about its own personnel than the academic pedigree of some of the smartest student-athletes in the nation. Caltech’s engineers are doing just fine. As long as you keep them out of the basketball gym, that is.