Mac Engel

July 21, 2014

Cheaters never win — except in sports, business and politics

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says the biggest problem facing the NCAA needs to be addressed.

From the time we are little, we are taught by our parents, coaches, teachers, leaders and government officials that cheating is wrong and doesn’t pay. Then we grow up.

Following the lead of our fearless political and business leaders, now we know that, while cheating may still be wrong, the reward far outweighs the risk.

On the first day of Big 12 media days, commissioner Bob Bowlsby addressed the green-and-white elephant that has shadowed college football and men’s college basketball forever.

“It’s not an understatement to say that cheating pays presently,” he said. “If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.”

Probably? You have to be an idiot to get caught, even then it may not matter.

For the boss of the Big 12 to mention this, cheating must be pretty bad. Never has there been a better time in college sports to cheat; the reward is so great and the penalty so relatively insignificant — A.: The consuming public is numb to it; B.: The NCAA isn’t doing anything about it.

We are so used to business leaders brazenly breaking the law for financial gain or our political leaders authoring laws specifically for their own benefit that we are no longer surprised when we hear another adult in authority breaks the rules. Did anything happen to the men who helped orchestrate the collapse of Wall Street?

The NCAA is dealing with a number of situations that will forever change the function of that institution. Those $1,000 handshakes or other forms of cheating ranks about 85th on its to-do list.

Credit Bowlsby for, unprompted, having the man parts to call out one of college sports’ biggest problems. The only way to get anywhere is to at least acknowledge the issue rather than talk about increased stipends or the Ed O’Bannon case.

“I think the vast majority of people in intercollegiate athletics are of high integrity; they’re doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “But right now, if you want to cheat, you can do it and you can get away with it. And there are benefits for doing that. And that needs to change.”

He added:

“I am not really very [far from] being of the mind that some sort of uniform federal statute isn’t a good idea. That would say it’s against the law to influence where a student athlete will go to school. To influence the outcome of a contest. To provide a benefit. Because, at least then, the NCAA enforcement mechanism ... could get into your tax records or we can get into your bank account. They’d have subpoena power and the right of perjury.”

That sounds a lot like a government agency.

The only genuine way for the NCAA to deter sports crimes is to invoke the death penalty. But the ramification of SMU’s “Death Penalty” in 1987 was so severe that it hurt the school, and enrollment and is not something the NCAA has ever used again as a means of punishment.

More than 20 years later, the financial machine that is college sports is so great the NCAA would be hurting itself, and other schools, to impose such a penalty ever again.

Some college football teams, such as Michigan, Texas and Alabama, are Bank of America — they are too big to fail. To derail those programs in a major way would be to deliberately cut off a major portion of its financial pie.

The worst punishment the NCAA hands down now is a reduction in scholarships and the loss of a bowl game. Even if the NCAA had ever come down on Auburn for its alleged illegal recruiting of quarterback Cam Newton, it was ultimately worth it since the Tigers won the national title.

This is neither a call to simply give up and professionalize college athletics or a plea to adhere to some impractical form of idealism. Part of the attraction of college football and men’s basketball has always been the darker side and the preposterous stories of rich old guys lavishing their wealth on an 18-year-old so he will play for their alma mater.

For Bowlsby to mention cheating before the start of his 2014 season, it must be pretty bad and an issue big enough for the NCAA to address.

Right now, Bowlsby is right — it very much pays to cheat. A deterrent is in order. It would be nice if we could tell our kids it’s not worth it without feeling like we are lying.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at

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