Monday, November 26, 2012

When Did Common Sense Go Out of Style

NCAA Hammers Caltech!
Not one picture of athletics
on Caltech's homepage

Ho-Hum.  Another major university is caught cheating to gain an edge in the lucrative field of winning athletic contests.  A tired theme and one that repeats itself year after numbing year.  It's a vicious cycle of breaking the rules to attract blue-chip talent so you can win more games so you can attract more blue chip talent so you can be a perennial contender and, let's not forget, attract more donations from proud alumni and sell more hats and sweatshirts.  (disclosure:  I refreshed my University of Kentucky gear after they won the NCAA basketball championship last year)

And so it goes, until you are successful enough to attract the blue-chippers without cheating, Alabama, Kentucky (I hope), Duke, etc.

So forget academic integrity, that's only meant for the classroom; this is big business and it's only cheating if you get caught anyway, right?  The more revenue we earn, the more science labs we can build (or we can use the money to buy new and increasingly uglier football uniforms every week like the University of Maryland).

USC won't be in the Rose Bowl
this year!
So let's focus on those two athletic powerhouses in Los Angeles; USC and (no, not UCLA) Caltech.  USC is on probation about 25% of the time (you can't attract recruits with just sunshine and beaches?) 15 miles away lies Caltech, admittedly one of the finest institutions of higher education in the country; school-education, get the connection?  

Caltech is a Division III school like our own Catholic University  That means they offer no athletic scholarships. You have to be a student-scholar to attend Caltech and Catholic University.  But unlike Catholic University, who has it's share of successful campaigns in the Old Dominion Athletics Conference; Caltech, a charter member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, is experiencing a bit of a slump.

     -  Baseball  team has lost 237 straight games
     -  Basketball team went 310 winless conference games up until two years ago
     -  Women's volleyball lost all 168 of its conference games
     -  Men's water polo is winless for the past seven years

Clearly they are bad cheaters if this is the best they can do after violating the NCAA rules. 

How many cars, jobs, houses did Caltech provide it's athletes to draw the ire of the NCAA?  Like their winning percentage, zero.  Their violation is allowing so-called "part time students" to participate in NCAA contests. Caltech encourages its students to "shop" for classes at the beginning of a semester.  They do this by attending a couple classes before registering for that class.  So technically a student is part time (registered for less than 12 hours) before finalizing their schedule (what, a week? two weeks?) and thus, ineligible to compete under NCAA rules.  This occurred a total of 30 times over 4 years across 12 sports.  A Caltech, or even UK student, can tell you that's an average of .625 students/sport/year. Clearly an outrageous attempt to gain a competitive advantage!

Consider some of the classes, Caltech offers and you might want to take a test drive before buying; "Signal Transduction and Biomechanics in Eukaryotic Cell Morphogenesis", "Markov Chains, Discrete Stochastic Processes and Applications".  Quick, turn away and spell any of those words out loud!     

There is a silver lining to this ridiculous example of overreach by the NCAA.  One, while men's water polo is probably doomed to another 7 year drought (pun intended), Caltech will most certainly produce, over those seven years, a plethora of young, inquisitive scientists that will help make the world a better place to live. And isn't this the purpose of higher education, to educate and train young people to serve society and mankind? 

Now in fairness to the NCAA enforcers, who probably have a satellite office in LA on the USC campus nearby anyway, I have to note that Caltech turned themselves in when discovering this egregious breach of ethics.  (watch out Harvard, you also allow class shopping)  But wouldn't the reasonable, I dare say common sense response be to chuckle and write them an exception and better define the rule to accommodate those institutions that are really trying to do it right?  Can you spell Morphogenesis?  If not, stand down Mark Emmert and the NCAA. 


Stewart McHie
Director, MS in Business Analysis

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