By Tony Adams, Sports Editor, The Belton Journal.
Note: The opinions and points of view expressed in this editorial are solely the writer’s and does not reflect the opinions of The Belton Journal.
Many people asked me my thoughts on the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ ruling on UMHB Football’s self-reported infractions of use of Head Coach Pete Fredenburg’s 2006 Subaru by a former player back in 2016 and 2017.
Before I provide my thoughts, let us set up the scene.
The school reported the violations in comprehensive self-report to the NCAA’s enforcement office.
The case was reviewed through the NCAA Summary Disposition process, which was a collaborative effort in which UMHB, Fredenburg, and NCAA enforcement staff agreed upon the facts of the violations. The lack of dispute allowed the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (COI) to proceed without a formal hearing.
The facts were clear in the report. The school took aggressive action in the summer of 2018 when they suspended Fredenburg for three months without pay and the first three games of the 2018 season by the school. They also self-imposed $2,500 fine, a two-year probation and enhanced compliance training.
“I’ve spent my entire career as a football coach investing in kids,” said Coach Fredenburg. “In this instance, I unintentionally broke NCAA rules. I regret this, and I accept responsibility.”
UMHB President Randy O’Rear said the university had taken the investigation seriously from the first day and fully cooperated with the NCAA.
“Mary Hardin-Baylor is committed to a culture of compliance, and the actions we took reflect that commitment,” O’Rear said. “The record shows we responded quickly, investigated vigorously, immediately self-reported the violations, and independently took decisive corrective steps.”
However, the COI apparently did not think that the punishment was enough. They also tacked on a penalty of vacating wins and records during the 2016 and 2017 season, which included the withdraw of the 2016 Division III National Championship.
The COI declined to remove the added penalty, and UMHB elected to file an appeal to the NCAA’s Infractions Appeal Committee (IAC).
“Although the university recognized the seriousness of the violations it has self-reported, it respectfully disagreed with the Committee on Infractions decision to add to our self-imposed sanctions the vacating of wins and records for the 2016 and 2017 football seasons,” said O’Rear. “In light of all the circumstances surrounding this case and as a matter of principle for all the student-athletes who had no part in the infractions, we requested an expedited hearing on that one issue of disagreement.”
The key is that UMHB is saying that they were wrong. The guilty party was punished.
So here is my question: where is the upside of self-reporting and self-punishment?
In life, we are taught to help our fellow man in need. By the letter of the law and interpretation, the violation happened. There is no dispute of that fact.
However, it is not like there was a 2017 Lamborghini or a super-expensive vehicle involved. It was a spare, unused vehicle in the coach’s driveway. Most people would not have even thought twice to loan a spare vehicle to one in need. It is the human condition. It is the way of life.
Fredenburg is one of the most generous people in our area. If there is a cause or a need, he’s never more than a phone call away, as are all of the UMHB coaches.
What I have a serious problem with is the COI not seriously considering the fact that UMHB cooperated in each and every part of the investigation process. Fredenburg took the punishment that the school handed down with grace and dignity, when most of us would argue, fuss and fight about it.
But to attack the whole program with a 2016 and 2017 win and record vacate ruling? And vacation of a Division III National Championship?
You want to take away Blake Jackson’s Stagg Bowl Most Valuable Player Trophy? I’d like to see you try!
You want to erase the memory of Matt Cody’s interception that is etched in the minds of Crusader fans? Sorry. I was there. It happened.
How about the countless thumps that Tedrick Smith and Haston Adams laid on people?
How about Ajay Fanene’s big interception against Mount Union in the semifinals?
And, let’s not forget Baylor Mullins on the fake-punt and sidearm throw to Trinton Ynclan.
I still get chills when I watch it. That play was ice cold.
Let’s just call this one right now. The COI stepped in a Texas-sized cow patty, which has created a nation-wide stink.
Now, there may be a few out there that support the decision. Probably some genius in the Midwest starting a t-shirt campaign declaring their school as the 2016 D-III National Championship or another school clamoring for a conference championship ring from the past two years.
Division III is athletically a non-scholarship level. If a player is a walk-on and doesn’t have an academic scholarship, they are playing for the love of the game and an education is the only benefit.
No prostitutes were purchased in this case, no covered-up crimes, no students taking tests for athletes, no steroids, or slick recruiting practices were happening.
And the university cooperated through the process. A coach loaned a car for the player to go to work to earn money to eat. Plain. Simple.
The sad part about this is that it boils down to a moral dilemma. It is personal values and beliefs versus the letter of the law. Coaches tell parents during the recruiting process that they will do everything they can to take care of their children within reason or rules.
Now, I know that the school is appealing the vacate ruling and, well, they should. The players on the field are being penalized for something that had absolutely nothing to do with and gained no competitive advantage on the field. And, additionally,
UMHB is a program that had never had a violation in history to that point.
The university self-reported the violation and self-punished one of their most-respected coaches in the university and in the coaching profession, who understood the violation and took the hit in the process with grace, dignity and humility. To error is human. To overreact is the NCAA. The NCAA COI didn’t think it was enough and took the entire program back behind the woodshed for another go.
For an organization that claims to look out for student-athletes, the NCAA is doing everything but that.
The self-imposed punishment was already harsh when you consider the money that the coach lost, the three games the team played without their head coach, and the school was going to pay out. But it was enough for the coach and the school to endure.
What message are you sending to other schools that self-report and self-penalize? Deny, deny, deny, investigate, and find what you find? Let the chips fall where they may?
It is almost the same as if I took two dollars from our petty cash box at the office to go get a coffee, I tell my boss about the two dollars later and I pay five dollars back and he has me sent to prison for 10 years.
Or another example would be a six-year-old child always taught to tell the truth, taking a cookie from the cookie jar, tells his parents and they ground the entire family until he’s 18.
Sounds ridiculous, right?
So how does Crusader Nation feel about the ruling? Simple. A banner that was at the UMHB game against East Texas Baptist on Saturday had a picture of the National Championship trophy, where a cannon would normally be, that read “Come and Take It: 2016 National Champs.”
To put it kindly, angry.
There is a change.org campaign petition going around that had over 4,850 signatures as of Tuesday morning to change the vote by the NCAA on UMHB. That number will most likely be over 5,000 by the time this editorial goes to press.
Additionally, the school that the COI just did this to is the host school of the Stagg Bowl in Shenandoah again this season.
If the NCAA’s track record follows suit, they will most likely exercise its weight again through the appellate process and get it wrong again. Maybe the appellate committee will realize the harshness of the COI’s punishment and reverse the vacate ruling.
Either way, the NCAA has made a ton of enemies in Crusader Nation and has opened a great number of eyes across the Division III landscape.
You can erase records, but you cannot erase memories. Rest assured, memories are long, as is the list of upcoming opponents for the Crusaders, whether on the field or through the NCAA appellate process.
Opponents will definitely have their hands full for the foreseeable future.