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Why Always Us? An Insider Look at the SMU Mustangs

Once again, the SMU Mustangs are facing NCAA allegations. For people who have followed this team, this school, and the history of SMU athletics know, this is far from a surprise.

SMU has long been a punching bag for the NCAA, dating back to the days of Eric Dickerson, Craig James, and the Southwestern Conference. As the only team to receive the so-called “death penalty” from the NCAA, SMU and its fan base have always had a chip on their shoulder, believing that they are constantly the target and example of systematic issues in the NCAA.

That being said, the most recent allegations against SMU have left Mustang fans asking: why always us?

While Larry Brown refused to comment on the allegations and NCAA hearing when asked about it by ESPN, it’s hard for Mustang fans to be anything other than pessimistic regarding the outlook of the NCAA’s ruling. Brown faces a “lack of coach control” charge, citing apparent violations regarding shooting guard Keith Frazier and improper academic benefits he received from former SMU assistant Ulric Maligi and an athletic department secretary. Maligi has taken an indefinite leave from the program, and Frazier was ruled academically ineligible in January last season, but neither has been dismissed from SMU.

While SMU fans see this as yet another attempt by the NCAA to make an example out of a small, private school from a non-power conference, we’ve seen a lot of activity from the NCAA recently levying sanctions on schools with academically questionable activities. Consider the violations by Syracuse this past year, where the NCAA found inadequacies by Jim Boeheim to control the off court actions of his players, thus resulting in loss of scholarships, vacated wins, and a nine game suspension for Boeheim.

While the alleged SMU violations do not nearly reach the levels of Syracuse, they are certainly cut from the same cloth.

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Additionally, there’s the case of UNC, which reportedly conducted so many violations with regard to special treatment for athletes, that it took a 59-page NCAA report to fully enumerate the improper help that North Carolina’s athletes received. Unlike the SMU violations that, as far as we know, involve just one player and one assistant coach, UNC’s issues seem to envelope the entire athletic department and represent a far greater breach of trust with the NCAA. While North Carolina has yet to face sanctions, I certainly anticipate the Tar Heels receiving a harsher penalty than the one Syracuse received.

With those two scandals in mind, let’s revisit the case of the SMU Mustangs. One SMU player, who was ruled academically ineligible in January, received improper coursework assistance from one assistant coach and one secretary. No “athletes-only” courses, no basketball advisors, no hint of a institutional or systematic problem. Just an isolated incident for one player who needed some extra help in school that the NCAA does not allow. When the SMU Mustangs’ violations are put in perspective, it seems a bit odd that the NCAA is investigating them at all.

Don’t get me wrong, if the NCAA finds SMU to be in violation of some rule regarding improper academic benefits, it should be punished, but far less than Syracuse and North Carolina. In fact, a portion of the Syracuse violation (likely a fine or loss of scholarships) seems appropriate should the NCAA find evidence that Ulric Maligi illicitly helped Keith Frazier with his coursework.

However, this is far from a chance for the NCAA to yet again make an example of SMU. Thus, I expect this investigation to go swiftly, and hope that the NCAA will choose a sanction that fits the violation, rather than one that punishes a school that in the grand scheme of college sports, didn’t do anything that everyone else isn’t doing.

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