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Essential questions: NCAA investigation could provide useful information

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Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012 12:07 am | Updated: 4:15 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial

Most of the mistakes that allowed ineligible athletes to play sports at the University of Alaska Fairbanks don’t appear serious enough, individually, to justify the NCAA’s “major infractions investigation.” However, given the number of mistakes, it’s not surprising the NCAA wants to take a closer look.

It appears the university already has begun to address the problems. It self-reported the mistakes and has taken steps to make sure they don’t continue to occur.

The hindsight offered by the investigation still could prove interesting and instructive.

The mistakes allowed students to play on sports teams when they were not eligible to do so. Some students hadn’t filled out paperwork to declare changes in their degree programs. Some had failed to take enough courses or enough of the right courses to remain eligible.

In all, these problems involved 17 students across four years, although all but one infraction fell within a three-year period. That doesn’t seem like a particularly large number, but it could reveal a trend.

If it was a trend, did it reflect mere benign neglect in the university’s advising system? Or did the mistakes show that the athletic department was trying intentionally to skirt the rules to keep favored athletes playing?

Given that the NCAA has decided to launch a major infractions investigation, it must think those are important questions to answer. It’s hard to argue with that decision.

The students involved weren’t having trouble with their grades. Rather, they were taking the incorrect classes. UAF self-reported those mistakes. Both of those facts argue against any allegation that the mistakes were part of a systematic effort to skirt the rules.

However, taking incorrect classes and diverting one’s efforts to a different major without declaring it can be ways of avoiding harder, upper division classes, thereby potentially boosting GPAs.

Also, one could ask what prompted the self-reporting in the first place. Did the institution identify and act on these problems by itself, or did it act only after others discovered the problems and blew the whistle? The investigation should answer those questions as well.

If the investigation finds that the problems were intentional, it will help university officials guard against such deviousness. If the mistakes were just mistakes, officials can use the information to head off similar problems. Either way, the results should be useful.

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