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The NCAA was wrong to cancel the UNC-USC charity game

The NCAA is supervised by morons.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Charlotte Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve likely heard about the UNC-USC charity exhibition game that was nixed by the NCAA. First reported by David Cloninger of the Charleston Post & Courier, we gave some quick insight about it on Saturday. Throughout the weekend, various news organizations picked it up. Eventually a clear answer emerged that explained the NCAA’s decision.

The NCAA is run by tone-deaf morons who can’t get out of their own way.

Last year, this was not a problem. The NCAA, in a shocking moment of clearheaded decision-making, allowed teams across the country to apply for waivers to play an additional game in the name of charity. Impromptu games popped up. Kansas and Missouri raised approximately $2 million in a renewed “Border War”, and UNC hosted a four team Jamboree. Everyone was happy. This was a good thing. Then the NCAA ruined it.

Here’s the deal. In the off-season the NCAA amended a rule that allowed Division-I schools to play two exhibition games. Those can either involve a lower-level opponent (usually a Division-II team) that is open to the public, or against a Division-I team in a “secret” closed door scrimmage. That may seem reasonable and by itself is not a major departure from previous years. UNC, for example, have already scheduled Mt. Olive and recently announced Villanova. Last year, that “secret” opponent was Memphis.

However, whereas last year teams could apply for a waiver for a third game for charity, this year they cannot. If they want to play an open-to-the-public Division-I opponent as a charity fundraiser, they have to cancel one of their other two exhibitions or scrimmages. This may seem like a logical concession. It most assuredly is not.

Open exhibitions against lower-level opponents are often contractually agreed to months in advance. If UNC cancels their exhibition and replaces it with a charity shindig, where does that leave Mt. Olive? A game they’ve had on their calendar for months, just disappears four weeks from tip-off because a hurricane didn’t have the courtesy to call ahead in March to issue a warning?

Not to mention, the small schools usually receive a small payout for showing up. Similar to regular season “money” games, these payouts help their program, athletic department, or school. To tell a team to just “cancel” one of these games isn’t just borderline unethical. It has economic impacts on an NCAA member institution that literally had no say in the matter.

If that seems backwards, you may be thinking, “Well, the secret scrimmage doesn’t involve money or contracts. Just cancel that, and the problem is solved”. That is a valid point, until one considers what secret scrimmages actually are. For the NCAA to consider these contests an “exhibition” is intellectual dishonesty at its finest.

Teams often wear reversible practice uniforms, like the ones that are worn during Late Night with Roy. They don’t have to replicate a true 40-minute game. Sometimes they devolve into both coaches reaching an understanding to focus on specific game situations. There are no official stats. A team manager usually runs the clock and keeps the “official” book. The referees may or may not be Division-I refs. Media are not allowed. Fans are not allowed. Unless you have a really good buddy on the coaching staff, the video is never exchanged.

There is zero uniformity or required standards for these scrimmages. They can involve four 15-minute quarters using a different officiating crew every period, if the teams so desire. Shooting fouls can be worth an automatic point, if the coaches agree. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the only rule is that there are no rules. Truthfully, many coaches prefer these scrimmages precisely because they don’t have to follow standard guidelines and can be tweaked to resemble nothing like a live game.

It takes a dysfunctional imagination that can only exist within the NCAA to consider these an “exhibition” – much less one that should require cancelation for a charity event. Even if you are of the opinion that this kind of contest can easily be canceled, consider that UNC’s opponent would still be without their own “exhibition”. It’s easy to suggest this scrimmage should be canceled. It’s much harder to actually do that when real-life teams are impacted, through no fault of their own. It is comical that the NCAA would put it’s members in that position.

The driving factor behind this decision seems to be the prevention of teams from gaming the system for a third preseason game. That seems noble, but in the case of charity it is idiotic. I can guarantee a preseason game for charity isn’t going to make a difference in a team’s performance in March. It won’t even provide a competitive advantage in November.

Generally speaking, placing a limit on preseason contests is a good idea. Otherwise large schools with vast resources could spend half of October playing against other teams, while small schools could not. Five extra preseason games may give a team an advantage. One hastily thrown together charity event will not.

You want to see teams gaming the system? Check out this list of games from last season. Kentucky vs Morehead State. Penn State vs Lafayette. Providence vs UCONN. Hurricane Irma, the storm that started the trend, made land fall in Florida. A follow up storm, Hurricane Harvey, buried Texas in water. All of those schools (and a few others), are at least 1000 miles away from both of those states.

I won’t begrudge anyone who wants to play a game for charity, but it’s easy to make an argument that those games were intended to capitalize on the NCAA loophole. Those contests were schedule in the name of regional unity, charity, and extra competition. Hell, North Carolina’s four-team Jamboree could be lumped into that category. Not that there is anything wrong with that. All those schools should be applauded for their efforts. The NCAA apparently thought differently.

This season, the two largest state (and NCAA) institutions in North and South Carolina can’t get a waiver for a “third” game. It doesn’t matter that their states were directly impacted by Hurricane Florence, unlike any of the previous games mentioned. All that matters, is a third exhibition doesn’t give half of the 2017 Final Four an extra 40 minutes of preparation for a 32-game regular season. Screw the only people who would actually benefit from the rejected charity fundraiser — the citizens of North Carolina and South Carolina who are dealing with approximately $22 billion in damages.

A spokesman for the NCAA said, “In summer 2018, the Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee and the Division I Committee for Legislative Relief established guidelines for waivers to permit two Division I Institutions to compete in an exhibition contest to raise funds for catastrophic event relief efforts. In establishing these guidelines the staff was directed to deny waiver requests that involved a third exempt exhibition or scrimmage.”

I added the italics to emphasize that this was a blanket order not allowing for common sense to determine an outcome. A scalpel could have been used to carve out a solution. Instead, the NCAA reached for a butter knife, threw up their hands at the first sign of critical thinking and hid behind a bureaucracy that is only rivaled for ineptitude by the federal government.

To be fair, this decision was not isolated to the Tar Heels and Gamecocks. The NCAA denied waivers for other teams this offseason.

Kansas and Missouri wanted to hold another preseason Border War, but were turned down. The difference in that instance is that Kansas actually has two open exhibitions on their schedule against Emporia State and Washburn. So, an event that raised almost $2 million last year, can’t be played because Kansas didn’t have the foresight to keep an open date “just in case” a natural disaster occurred and did not “want” to cancel an already contractually obligated game.

Seriously? Who on earth can reasonably defend this? The only choices teams have are:

  1. Cancel events that have been scheduled for months, leaving opponents out in the cold
  2. Leave an open date just in case a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, Biblical plague, or nuclear apocalypse strikes in August or September

Were the people that run the NCAA born this stupid or do they choose to be this willfully ignorant? Or were they born ignorant and choose to remain stupid? Only the NCAA, with it’s greed, idiocy, and insanity can be this tone-deaf.

But don’t worry folks. Clemson and UNC-Wilmington are going to pack 5,000 seat Trask Arena. Penn State and West Virginia were also given approval for a charity game. I’m sure the NCAA is waiting for public praise of those decisions as they bask in the glow of their self-adulation.

In the meantime, someone should remind them of Dean Smith’s wise advice.

You should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do it.