Sports Illustrated, that's why Maryland quarterback Scott Milanovich got hit so hard. Not that Milanovich was innocent -- far from it. But the NCAA wouldn't have reacted as strongly if SI hadn't recently published a three-part series on campus gambling.
Better take a stand.
This is a classic NCAA response -- a grandstand act that makes an example of one or two athletes, but doesn't begin to address the problem. Indeed, the effect could be just the opposite of what the NCAA desires.
"I fear it will cut off the flow of information," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said yesterday. "The gambling issue warrants attention and should be taken seriously. But we cannot control it or deal with it effectively unless we can get the information we need from student-athletes."
It's called cooperation, and it's the road to ruin with the NCAA, both for athletes and institutions. How else do you explain why Maryland gets nailed every time it turns itself in, while outlaw schools like Miami routinely spit in the NCAA's face, and walk free?
The NCAA is too incompetent and powerless to police more than 800 institutions, so it relies on the schools to do its dirty work. Maryland sins, they all sin. The difference is, Maryland has become more vigilant about reporting violations in the post-Bias era -- too vigilant for its own good.
However unintended, that's the message the NCAA keeps sending. SI established that campus gambling is rampant. The NCAA's idea of a deterrent is to suspend a record-setting quarterback and reserve basketball player for 75 percent of their games.
"I think it sets up a scenario in which people will say: 'There's no way I'm going to tell the truth. Look what happened to the two guys at Maryland,' " Yow said.
Cooperate. Come forward. Come clean. That, no doubt, is what Maryland advised Milanovich and Raydo. Why shouldn't they have listened? Milanovich bet a total of $200 over three years. Raydo bet between $130 and $160 in the fall of 1994. How severe could the penalties be?
Yow said in 16 of the 17 previous appeals of similar misconduct, the student-athlete lost between 10 and 25 percent of his or her eligibility the next season. That's why Yow recommended that Milanovich be suspended for two games (18 percent), and Raydo seven (26 percent).
"We absolutely agree they should be penalized," she said.
So, what was the NCAA's justification for giving Milanovich and Raydo unprecedented penalties, when they agreed with Maryland's recommendation of one-game gambling suspensions for three other football players?
You'll love this.
Because Milanovich and Raydo bet with bookies.
"A student-run gambling operation is certainly not as serious, at least in the staff's view," said Carrie Doyle, the NCAA's director of eligibility. "I feel that the difference between the two is pretty clear."
Evidently, Doyle didn't read the SI series.
These days, students are bookies.
"During two months of reporting, we found that it was impossible to visit a campus -- and we surveyed a dozen or more -- in search of organized gambling and not find at least a handful of sophisticated bookmaking operations run by students," the magazine reported.
Granted, your average college student isn't as menacing as your average organized crime figure, but who's to say a student bookie wouldn't threaten an athlete with extortion? It might not happen near NCAA headquarters in Shawnee Mission, Kan. But it probably does in the real world.
Ah yes, the real world. Where the NCAA basketball tournament is a gambling orgy. Where point spreads are set by Las Vegas, published by newspapers and debated by coaches. Where college sports produce millions in revenue, and student-athletes don't receive a cent.
The temptation to gamble is great, the integrity of the games is in jeopardy, the climate is ripe for a scandal. So, what does the NCAA do? Earlier this year, it sought unsuccessfully to ban from the Final Four sportswriters who work for newspapers that publish point spreads. As if that would have made gambling disappear.
Scott Milanovich and Matt Raydo deserve to be suspended, no one at Maryland disputes that. But Yow is right to ask, what is the point of such excessive penalties? Why should student-athletes cooperate the next time? And how will the NCAA address the larger problem?
The NCAA was grateful to Milanovich and Raydo, all right.
"The staff initially believed that a one-year [penalty] . . . was appropriate," the NCAA report on each athlete said. "However, the young man's cooperation was viewed as mitigation in this case and the staff believed that relief was appropriate."