Several Division I schools have recently made headlines for alleged amateurism violations (Kansas and Georgia Tech, to name some), but now, a Division III school is receiving rare media attention for all of the wrong reasons. Last week, the NCAA stripped The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team of its 2017 national title and vacated all of its wins from the 2016-17 season for a self-reported amateurism violation. Institutions usually self-report NCAA violations to proactively avoid harsh punishments from the NCAA by admitting to their wrongdoings before the NCAA finds out on its own.
Apparently, UMHB felt that it violated rules blatantly enough to fear punishment from the head office, even amid the current college hoops scandal and legislation being passed that threatens the structure of the NCAA as we know it. And the head office responded quickly and severely, even with all of its current distractions. So what did UMHB do to stand out in the chaos?
Head football coach Pete Fredenburg allegedly let his players borrow his car over the course of 18 months of his tenure. A 2006 Subaru.
If this sounds absurd at face value, it’s even more ridiculous when you look at the Division-III Manual. According to Bylaw 188.8.131.52: “Staff members may provide reasonable local transportation to student-athletes on an occasional basis.” There’s a similar rule in the Division I Manual, which is why I think it will only be a matter of time before a D I school finds itself in trouble with transportation rules.
Personally, I don’t think Fredenburg did anything wrong, given the phrasing of the legislation, but I’m not the one making the rules. “Reasonable” and “occasional” are ambiguous, which, unfortunately, lends power to the NCAA. That gray area will likely come in handy for the head office, as UMHB has appealed the punishment, and for good reason. Unlike the scandals permeating Division I, Coach Fredenburg seemed to have good intentions when he violated the NCAA’s amateurism rules. When asked about letting his players borrow his car, Fredenburg said “I have a passion to help youngsters. [The athlete] desperately needed some help. I felt like I was okay with the interpretation of the rules. I had an old car that was in my driveway and I loaned it to him.”
The sentence worth repeating is “I felt like I was okay with the interpretation with the rules.” Apparently, the NCAA is not, which is why its policy is so vague. At the end of the day, the NCAA owns the interpretation of its rules at the expense of its member schools.
Another point worth noting is that Division III athletes are not allowed to receive athletic scholarships. Per the Division III Manual’s philosophy statement, athletic intuitions “shall not award financial aid to any student on the basis of athletics leadership, ability, participation or performance.” These athletes don’t receive any scholarship money to compete. Isn’t it “reasonable” to allow them to borrow a 2006 Subaru?
Still, the NCAA is rarely, if ever, reasonable, even with its true amateurs: Division III athletes are the ones who are playing for the love of the game and who most closely reflect the NCAA’s purported nonprofessional ideal. But amateurism is all but obsolete at the Division I level, and it looks to me like the NCAA is flexing its power as long as it can. This time, it’s targeting its actual amateurs.