by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
When Northwestern puts together its football non-conference schedule, the Wildcats try to play "like-minded" opponents. "Like-minded" typically means a private school with strong academics, and it's why NU has played Boston College, Vanderbilt, Duke and Rice in recent years, and why Stanford and Notre Dame come on the schedule later in the decade. The Wildcats recruit against these schools, so that makes these match ups even more important.
However, all you have to do is glance at Northwestern's non-conference basketball schedule to see that the "like-minded" mantra doesn't really apply to hoops opponents. Take Texas Southern, NU's first opponent, for example. NU has never had a major NCAA violation, while Texas Southern essentially doesn't follow NCAA rules, as described by ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan. That might seem a bit hyperbolic, but when you consider the Tigers' history, it's actually quite accurate. Just look at the NCAA report after Texas Southern was cited for lack of institutional control in early October:
- Texas Southern has either been on probation or had violations occurring on campus, or both, for 16 of the past 20 years.
- At various times, the university reported it was taking action on the violations when it actually wasn't
- The school allowed 129 athletes in 13 sports over 7 years to compete and received financial aid and travel expenses when they weren't eligible
- The school didn't sufficiently investigate 24 players with academic issues and allowed 12 of them to received unearned credit
- Texas Southern is considered a "double repeat violator"
- The football program is banned from the postseason in 2013 and 2014, while the basketball program is banned from postseason play this year
And my favorite:
- "The men’s basketball team also failed to serve its academic performance program penalty. During the 2009-10 season, the university was required to limit scholarships and restrict its athletically related activity to five days a week. The team awarded two more scholarships than allowed in the penalty and did not adhere to the practice restrictions."
That's right, Texas Southern was sanctioned, and literally did nothing to adhere to those sanctions.
It's much tougher for small, poor schools to adhere to the NCAA's rules than it is for major conference schools to do so, especially the academic rules. However, Texas Southern basically did whatever it wanted, which is a bit over the top. The real question is what there is to do about this kind of thing from an NCAA standpoint. Clearly, the Tigers' athletic department didn't care about many of the sanctions in the past 20 years. Postseason bans are presumably a bit more effective — after all, Texas Southern finished second in the SWAC and nearly won its conference tournament last year, which would have resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth. However, what reason — other than the threat of the death penalty — does a typical SWAC or MEAC bottom-feader have to not break every rule in the book to try to climb to the top? That's a bit extreme, of course — you'd assume that people generally want to win the right way. But as long as NCAA rules put poor schools at a disadvantage, rules will continue to be broken in the sport's weakest mid-major conferences.