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NCAA has become an all out circus

Memphis' James Wiseman sat out of an NCAA college basketball game against Alcorn State Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

I’ve never been a big fan of the circus.

I vividly remember going once as a kid and being so unimpressed that I started playing under the bleachers. While living in Colorado, I took my oldest daughter, Anna, to a circus and still couldn’t see the fascination.

To each their own, I guess.

So it pains me to see what a circus the NCAA has become.

There’s a litany of things I could point to, but the latest came when the punishment for Memphis basketball star James Wiseman was handed down Wednesday.

Wiseman, projected to be a top pick in next year’s NBA Draft, accepted money from Tigers coach Penny Hardaway to help his family move to the Memphis area while Wiseman was in high school so he could play for Hardaway’s prep team, Team Penny, as well as East High School, which Hardaway also coached at the time. Because Hardaway had donated money to Memphis, including a $1 million donation to build the Penny Hardaway Athletic Hall of Fame, the NCAA views him as a booster and therefore unable to provide financial assistance to prospective athletes.

Even though Hardaway had a relationship with the Wiseman family prior to giving the financial assistance because the NCAA deems him a “booster” he was prohibited from giving the Wiseman’s money.

No one disputes the facts here. I understand there’s a violation and the NCAA feels obligated to levy punishment.

The punishment, however, doesn’t seem to fit the crime.

Wiseman was suspended for 12 games and will be eligible to return for the Tigers’ Jan. 12 game against South Florida. He also must donate $11,500 (the same amount Hardaway gave to Wiseman’s family) to a charity of his choice.

So let me get this straight. An organization, so ostensibly concerned with maintaining amateurism that it prohibits players from being compensated in any way, shape or form for being an athlete, is now forcing an athlete to pay a large sum of money in order to reconcile a violation? Meanwhile, the coach who gave the money and the school who employs him walk away scott free.

In what universe does this make sense?

If the NCAA wants to continue the argument that athletes shouldn’t be paid to play, the last thing it should be doing is levying monetary fines against those same players. And, while the amount makes sense from a tit-for-tat perspective, $11,500 is no meager fine.

The optics here are just so egregiously bad, it’s hard to fathom a group of people thought this was the most appropriate punishment for a kid barely out of high school.

It’s decisions like this that will continue to give support to the groundswell who believe players should be paid, and it’s just the latest in a long line of laughable penalties doled out under the auspices of keeping “competitive balance” and “amateurism” in college sports. Neither of which have truly existed for a long time.

But until major changes occur, the show will go on.

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