When it comes to college sports, I’m a law and order guy.
In 1983-84, I worked in the old Southwest Conference, back when Southern Methodist was on trial with the NCAA and wound up getting the Death Penalty. The program eventually returned, but it’s never been the same, and that’s a good thing.
It was a small school trying to play with the big boys and got nailed doing the same thing the other guys were doing. The Mustangs just didn’t cover their tracks as well, and on top of that, they were repeat offenders. So their Top 10 program had to go away. Since its return, SMU has never come close to approaching the status it enjoyed when a well-paid Eric Dickerson was dancing through SWC stadiums.
I’ve also covered four different NCAA-related scandals at UK – two in football, two in basketball. I’ve read NCAA Infractions Committee reports and “covered” committee meetings (meaning, you sit outside the room and wait until they’re finished, then try to find out what went on inside).
It’s no fun. But, sadly, it’s necessary.
NCAA rules are about keeping a level playing field, which is a pipe dream at best. Utah State is competing for the same college football championship as the Florida Gators. Morehead State covets the same Division I basketball trophy the North Carolina Tarheels won earlier this season. Resources and varying levels of commitment dictate inequality among schools. But remember this – those same schools ARE the NCAA.
If you’ve listened on the radio or checked out the rantings in this space, you’ve heard it from me before: “The NCAA” so often vilified by fans, coaches and athletes is NOT a bunch of suits in Indianapolis (formerly in Shawnee Mission, Kansas), deciding on which school or athlete to persecute. It’s the membership, which votes on rules at conventions (where each school has an equal say) and designates committees to deal with those who some times break them.
The only reason they create so many rules is because there are so many coaches and boosters out there dreaming up new ways to cheat.
Some time ago, the membership decided to get tough on drugs – specifically, performance-enhancers. This is nothing new. Back when I was covering EKU football for WKYT in the 1990’s, we got word that one of Eastern’s defensive linemen had tested positive for steroids following a playoff game and was subsequently suspended.
But lately, with performance-enhancing substances marring sports all over the world, the NCAA membership stepped up its policies, procedures and punishments, trying to be as pro-active as possible.
That’s a good thing. People need to know the athletes they’re watching are clean. Only, this time, the net cast by college athletics’ governing body ensnared Jeremy Jarmon.
This time, the NCAA got it wrong.
Yes, he did take a banned substance, which showed up in a random test. And never mind the fact that the second test proved negative. That simply meant whatever he took had left his system. Jarmon admitted he had taken the stuff, and that it was his mistake – and his alone.
His appeal denied, Jarmon is through with college football, and it with him. And that’s where the tragedy lies. College football needs Jeremy Jarmon more than he needs it.
Jarmon took advantage of his scholarship. He’ll get his diploma. And he’ll end up in an NFL camp, either through the Supplemental Draft later this summer, or the conventional draft next spring. But he WILL get the opportunity to play more football.
The thought of never suiting up again to play for the Wildcats prompted tears in the warrior, tears that everyone could see, via TV or the internet, during the mysterious news conference UK called a few days ago. It underscored Jarmon’s thought process as to why he chose to come back for his senior season. He wants to play one more year of college football.
And had he been allowed to do so, his achievements off the field would have been trumpeted, and properly so, by UK and the NCAA as an example of a kid who got it right. He’s a guy who represents everything college athletics should be – a man to whom you can refer as “student-athlete,” the way the college suits want us to, without battling the urge to roll your eyes.
Whenever an institution gets nailed by the NCAA, the penalties seem to vary, sometimes wildly. We’re assured each time that every case is treated independent of one another; therefore, comparing and contrasting crimes and punishments is futile. And that’s a good thing. It means the committee members (again, college administrators, professors, etc.) are empowered with discretion. But here’s a question: Why didn’t they use it when it came to Jeremy Jarmon?
As the popular saying goes, Stevie Wonder could see this one. Jarmon was not looking to cut corners on his way to getting huge. In fact, he was trying to CUT weight, not add it. His mistake was seeking advice after he began using the substance, not before. And fate being as cruel as it could be, Jarmon’s name came up a few days later when it was time for a random test.
Sadly, his name instantly was lumped among the outlaws’. I read a post on Facebook entered by some clueless soul who endorsed the penalty, saying, There’s no place in college football for illegal drugs. Naturally, dissenting posters piled on within seconds (yours truly included). But it illustrated the mindset of the casual fan: If he’s been suspended, he must be a criminal.
Jarmon, as you know, is anything but. His career path is wide open. He’s made no secret of the fact that he wouldn’t mind pursuing an opportunity with the FBI, CIA or some other branch of law enforcement. A friend of mine, who’s never met Jarmon, watched the news conference on line and was so moved by the player’s class and sincerity that he suggested Jarmon include a videotape of the event with any job application. That’s not a bad idea.
Just think – had he been allowed to play during his senior season, every time the Wildcats appeared on TV he would have been singled out, not just for his skills as a thespian (CBS, on three different occasions, featured video clips of Jarmon performing on stage) but for the fact that he would have been a graduate student, coming off a summer spent studying abroad. He would have been the poster child for all that’s good about college football.
Instead, he’s been relegated unfairly to outlaw status in the minds of some, prompting remarks such as the one that made it to Facebook, and lord knows where else.
Full disclosure (and it likely already is apparent): I’m an unabashed admirer of Jarmon, for his work on the field and the way he’s always handled himself off the field. And yes, I’m a law and order guy when it comes to college athletics.
But in this case, I choose anarchy.
(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m. ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)