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North Carolina scandal’s conclusion shows NCAA only punishes when it wants to

Also, the FBI seems a lot better at this...

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After years of investigations, notices of allegations and the NCAA frying smaller fish for the sake of it, the North Carolina Tar Heels academic scandal has concluded. The verdict, from the Committee on Infractions?

For fuck’s sake.

North Carolina didn’t get a goddamn thing thrown at them, after all of that. All of the discoveries about sham courses keeping star athletes eligible, and widespread academic wrongdoing on the part of faculty... all of that amounted to nothing but a technicality.

The NCAA says it didn’t punish UNC because the courses in question didn’t ONLY benefit athletes.

I wish I could say I’m surprised. Sadly, I’m not — even in the wake of the FBI doing the NCAA’s job for it just a couple weeks ago. And I don’t even have an axe to grind with UNC. Sure I’m not a fan of them in head-to-head matchups, and of course I wasn’t thrilled to see the Syracuse Orange fall to them in the Final Four a couple years ago. But I grew up rooting for the Tar Heels (along with SU) and half of you think I’m a still a secret UNC fan. This is solely about what a school deserves to get punished for — and what another school (HI, SU) got for lesser transgressions.

We’ll have more of a side-by-side look at things over the weekend, but the basics we all know: Syracuse was hammered by the NCAA for a couple forged papers, having a standing drug policy and the late Fab Melo’s struggles with his second language (English). Even after those sanctions were walked back in part, the damage was done. The 2016 Final Four run helped gloss things over. But the sanctions put Syracuse basketball in an unenviabe spot in recent years, one exacerbated by unexpected departures.

Syracuse even “did the right thing” by removing Melo from the team during the 2012 NCAA Tournament run — one that ended in the Elite 8 without the center, and almost certainly would’ve led to a Final Four trip (at least) with him.

And yet, we still got hammered, while UNC (which won multiple championships during the investigation timeline) will get off completely unscathed.

The NCAA is worthless.

Not just for what they did here in comparison to Syracuse. But what they’ve done in comparison to nearly every other school’s punishments. Football and basketball programs are hit with sanctions in an ad hoc manner that’s largely dictated by PR and business needs.

Want to make an example out of someone? Wait ‘til it’s a noteworthy private school (Syracuse, USC). Want to avoid losing a major revenue generator’s postseason presence? Hand out lesser sanctions like Louisville got — for far more serious offenses than SU’s -- or don’t hand them to UNC at all. Penn State’s once-enormous punishment was walked back after two years. There are still plenty of PSU fans yammering about JoePa statues being returned to their rightful place today. They really “learned their lesson.”

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The moral of the story here: If you’re going to break the rules, break them for everyone. If you’re going to have an optional policy, just make sure you follow it. And if you’re going to cheat, don’t bother admitting guilt or trying to appease the NCAA. Just keep winning and the NCAA will let you slide to avoid the embarrassment of stripping a champion of a trophy.

Even if they took those away later, would it really matter? USC fans still count the titles “vacated” for them. Syracuse fans still count the 1990 lacrosse championship among its honors.

Unless an outside body gets involved (hi, FBI), the NCAA will remain like this; Worthless, feckless, ineffective at its stated mission. While they keep “defending amateurism,” they also continue to be compromised by their focus on the bottom-line as it relates to that amateurism. The UNC scandal is not the first or last instance of the NCAA proving it’s useless. But it may be the most important yet.