College coaches and whole athletic departments often suggest self-sanctions before the NCAA can do the sanctioning for them.
On Wednesday, the NCAA accepted as sufficient the self-sanctioning of Baylor women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey and men’s head basketball coach Scott Drew, both of whom have apparently been recruiting players more energetically than the many and tangled rules permit for several years.
This would seem to be a very small deal if the men’s team hadn’t just won a school record 30 games and made it to the Elite Eight, and if the object of lots of Coach Mulkey’s rule-bending hadn’t been Brittney Griner, who led Mulkey’s team to an NCAA championship earlier this month.
Penalties? Coach Mulkey will lose two of the 15 scholarships she’d had at her disposal. Coach Drew also lost scholarships, and he will be suspended for two games next season. The Baylor basketball programs have been put on probation for three years, which means not much unless somebody involved with one of them breaks the rules again and gets caught.
It could have been worse. In fact, at Baylor, it has been a lot worse. Nine years ago one of the players on the men’s basketball team murdered a teammate, and then-head coach Dave Bliss tried to engineer a cover-up based on portraying the dead player as a drug dealer. Self-sanctioning was not an option in that instance.
In that context, the failure to abide by the NCAA’s rules regarding phone calls, text messages, and casual meetings with potential players to discuss Baylor’s advantages, academic and otherwise, is small potatoes. In a statement this week, Kim Mulkey said “I believe strongly in following the NCAA rules and will always try to do so in the future.”
It will be easier for her to do so then than it was when Mulkey’s daughter and Brittney Griner were teammates on an A.A.U. team.
“Hey, Brittney, you wanna come over to the house for cookies and milk after practice? You could ask my mom about the library at Baylor, or the pool…”
I may be wrong, but in the lucrative and competitive business of college basketball, wherein the labor is not paid but the coaches are paid plenty as long as they win, and wherein lots of university presidents have hitched their public relations programs to the NCAA tournament, and wherein violations that have been going on for years and sanctions proposed long ago do not become public until after all the nets have been cut down, it must be hard for a coach to keep from smirking when he or she says, “I believe strongly in following the rules.”