Imagine a team out of control, arrogant and defiant.
For so long, it has gone where it wished and done what it wanted, and to heck with anyone who had a problem with it. Its decisions are so confounding, and its actions are so baffling, that you cannot help but wonder if anyone has ever read a rule book.
Yes, you can suggest all of that about the football program at the University of Miami.
If you prefer, you can also say it about the NCAA investigators on the edge of campus.
This time, the NCAA needs to get it right. This time, it needs to be thorough, it needs to be accurate, it needs to be wise. This time, it needs to bring Sheriff Andy and leave all of the Barney Fifes at home.
It can be a confusing organization, the NCAA. It moved too slowly with USC, and it rushed too quickly with Ohio State, and who knows what it was thinking with Auburn? It was too tough on Florida State, and too easy on UConn and completely out of whack with Georgia Tech. In recent seasons, there have been times the NCAA seemed to have determined its punishments through The Spinning Dartboard of Justice.
And now the NCAA is at Miami's door.
Why shouldn't as many eyes be on the investigators as vice versa?
This is not a call for heads at Miami, nor is it a plea for mercy. As I wrote last week: If these charges are true, it won't be pretty. But until the facts have been uncovered, none of us knows what the right punishment should be.
What I would like to see here is a patient, methodical investigation by the NCAA. More than a hundred players should be interviewed. Dozens of coaches. Nevin Shapiro. Documents should be reviewed. Phone records should be checked. Tough questions should be asked. Basically, the NCAA should care as much about Miami as Yahoo.com did.
That doesn't seem like a lot to ask, does it? But when has anyone been satisfied when the NCAA left town? No, no, I'm not talking about the angered fans whose team has had its chances of winning lessened. Every time a school is punished, you hear from them. They're never happy with punishment, and the media is always to blame, and besides, they will tell you, everyone does it. And so on.
For an organization that is in charge of answers, however, there are a lot of questions about the NCAA.
Honestly, why did it take the NCAA so long to get to the Reggie Bush scandal? Once it did, was the punishment excessive? USC got a two-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships over three years and had a national title and a Heisman taken away. It was harsh enough to make Ohio State, North Carolina, Oregon and Miami a little nervous.
Then there is Ohio State. If you remember, the NCAA announced that five players would be punished in 2011, but yeah, it was okay for them to play in the Sugar Bowl. That's silly. As soon as a player is dirty, shouldn't he be removed from the roster immediately? Of course he should. And could someone please explain, one more time, why it isn't a lack of institutional control when the head coach (the recently deposed Jim Tressel, in this case) knows his players are outside the rules and keeps it a secret?
Then there was Auburn. Granted, this was a tough one for the NCAA, because there hasn't been any evidence to suggest that Cecil Newton (the father of quarterback Cam Newton) asked Auburn for money (he did ask Mississippi State) or that his son knew about it. Still, why did Auburn rule Cam ineligible and have the NCAA immediately reinstate him the week of the SEC title game? If the NCAA didn't know anything, why should it do anything?
Compare the Newton case to that of Baylor basketball player Perry Jones, who was suspended the day the Big 12 Conference tournament started. His violation? His mother Terri had borrowed $1,000 to help pay her mortgage. Not from Baylor, but from Jones' AAU coach, an old friend of the family. She said her son didn't know about it.
It goes on. Georgia Tech was hit with four years probation and vacated the 2009 ACC title because wide receiver Demaryius Thomas reportedly was given $312 worth of clothes (and because Tech wasn't cooperative enough in the investigation), most of which he returned. Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden was stripped of victories because of cheating in a music course, a course he didn't know about in a building he couldn't find. I still find that silly. (Although not as silly as when the NCAA threatened to punish Clemson because its players were wearing illegal underwear before changing its mind.)
I know, I know. The NCAA is overwhelmed these days with the scandals at Miami and Ohio State and North Carolina and Oregon and Boise State and Tennessee and, it seems, everywhere else. It is an ugly, rotten time for college athletics, and it's hard to clean the sleaze off of so many goal posts.
It is because of that, however, that the NCAA investigators are counted on to be the justice department of college. Instead, they seem confused, reactionary, arbitrary. Think of it like this: punishment without logic isn't justice. It's just bullying.
Ask yourself this: Do you trust the NCAA? It's a telling question, isn't it?
This time, the charges against Miami are so reckless, so plentiful, so scandalous that a nation will pay as much attention to this investigation as to any in the history of college football.
Along the way, perhaps we should pay attention to the investigators, too.