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The Voice: NCAA must avoid 'collateral damage' in punishments

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWhen the Badgers and UNLV open the college football season next Thursday, there will be joy across the land. In Badger Nation, there is great anticipation and a high preseason ranking. For many, next week cannot get here soon enough.

National media members also cannot wait for Sept. 1. Why? Because they get to report on an actual game, not the many off season problems that have made for a brutal last several months.

Last week's news of an NCAA investigation into the University of Miami's football program is the latest in a string of high-profile schools under the microscope. This one is worse for a couple of reasons. A rogue booster who claims to have given players extra benefits ranging from boat trips to cash tends to make some of the other violations pale in comparison.

But what really makes this one sting is that some of those who must deal with it are folks I know, and more importantly, are folks who had nothing to do with whatever might have happened.

Athletics Director Shawn Eichorst and his right-hand man Steve Waterfield made the move to Coral Gables just four months ago. Football coach Al Golden and basketball coach Jim Larranaga are preparing for their first seasons at Miami. I don't know the coaches personally, but I do know the administrators. Try to imagine what they have walked into at "The U."

Both Golden and Larranaga have excellent reputations. So too do Eichorst and Waterfield. UM President and former UW Chancellor Donna Shalala is very lucky to have them on board. While Eichorst admits there are difficult times ahead, he strikes me as someone who operates on logic far more than on emotion, a trait that will come in handy for the next several months. Shawn Eichorst did not sign up for this mess, but the University of Miami is in good hands with its first year AD.

So how do we fix the on-going problems in college athletics? Earlier this month, NCAA President Mark Emmert had a summit with 50 university presidents. If there are going to be more meetings, it might be a good idea to include some coaches. It also might be a good idea to include those who have broken the rules -- from former coaches, players, boosters, agents and runners -- anyone who is actually part of the problem and is willing to talk about it and be part of the solution.

No offense to those in academia, but I tend to doubt that many have a working knowledge of what really goes on in the high pressure, win big and win now world of major college athletics. I don't say this to insult school presidents.  I just believe their world is a bit different from the average coach.

UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez is one of many who says the NCAA rule book is way too thick. Focus on what is most important and enforce those rules accordingly. It is encouraging to note that Emmert agrees with those sentiments.

As for enforcing those rules, it is best to zero in on the party or parties directly responsible, such as coaches who allow such behavior, or any other person of authority who turns a blind eye. Emmert himself has talked about being sensitive to what he calls "collateral damage," in other words, penalizing those who had nothing to do with the violations. People have talked about Miami possibly facing the death penalty, but I tend to doubt that will happen. To be honest, I hope it does not happen.

My hope in all of this is that the NCAA can somehow beef up its enforcement staff, and make it clear that the risk of breaking the rules will far exceed the reward of not getting caught.

In the meantime, is it Game Day yet?