Author: Joe Siegal
Even at the Division III level, athletics are often a major part of the public face of a college or university. They build a brand for the institution, keep alumni (and their checkbooks) attached to the school and, most importantly, provide opportunities for students to supplement their education through sports. At the moment, after the NCAA sanctions levied against Occidental’s football and volleyball programs, the college dons an unfortunate but telling black eye.
When it comes to sports, Occidental is no USC or UCLA. It doesn’t aspire to be and probably shouldn’t be. While there are exceptional athletes among the student body, Occidental’s athletic showings are generally not running across the SportsCenter ticker or the sports pages of the L.A. Times. Though around one in five students here are also athletes, they do not receive scholarships. Their work in the classroom comes first and should be what shapes the image of this and every other college.
This is precisely why it is particularly damaging for the athletics department at Occidental to mess up so publicly. It casts negative attention on the entirety of the college due to a department that represents just a small percentage of students. Coaches instigated the violations cited in the NCAA’s official report, which the college claims were instead self-reported and self-mitigated. While there are some students implicated, it would not be right to place the blame on their shoulders. NCAA bylaws, as they relate to student-athletes, are absurdly draconian and restrictive in the first place, and in this case, coaches bear the burden of responsibility.
These were instances of coaches attempting to gain competitive advantages for their programs to the detriment of their own players’ reputations and athletic careers. Coaches and administrators need to know better. As stated in the official press release from the Athletics Department, putting “time and resources into compliance education to ensure this does not happen again” is the key to preventing things like this from dragging Occidental athletics down further.
Ideally, as a member institution of an NCAA division that does not help schools to profit highly off of the talents of its student-athletes, Occidental athletics should rely on athletes and not coaches, donors or administrators to progress its teams.
Just as the success of Occidental as an institution of learning is contingent upon the drive and innovation of its students in academic fields, athletics can only progress as far as the athletes themselves can take their teams. Dancing around rules to strengthen teams has no place here, and it signals a flawed desire to prioritize athletic success.
Administrators and coaches need to recognize that their compliance with NCAA rules is of major importance. No matter how stringent and minute they may be, or how much it may or may not hurt on-field success relative to other schools, adhering to NCAA rules is necessary to keep Occidental moving forward not only as an athletics program, but much more importantly, as an institution.
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