NCAA needs to look in mirror after Maason Smith suspension
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NCAA needs to look in mirror after Maason Smith suspension

Mar 21, 2024


Maason Smith thought next Saturday would be a chance for redemption. Arguably the most dominant piece of LSU‘s defensive line, the defensive tackle tore his ACL in the opening series of last year’s matchup with Florida State. The Seminoles upset Brian Kelly‘s debut, pulling out a 24-23 win.

After months of recovery, a trip to Tallahassee was circled on the calendar. Fully healthy, Smith would have his chance to right last year’s wrong.

Wishful thinking.

The NCAA had different plans, as Smith will sit out the most anticipated game of Week 1 due to a one-game suspension. Despite cooperating with an NCAA investigation, he will be sidelined over an improper benefit.

Turns out, rouhgly one month before the interim NIL policy went into effect in July 2021, Smith and former LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte signed a few autographs for cash. It’s a completely legal benefit in today’s world of college football. Boutte fulfilled his suspension last year, sitting out LSU’s blowout of New Mexico. Baton Rouge radio host Matt Moscona was the first to report how close it was to NIL’s legalization.

Smith’s injury meant he never sat out last year. The NCAA is making sure not to let this one go, however, making the LSU defensive tackle miss the top-10 matchup. It’s yet another utter failure from the college sports’ governing body.

The NCAA denied at least two appeals LSU, according to Yahoo Sports, even rejecting the school’s reasoning of NIL’s legalization.

As the organization cries to Congress for help with a federal NIL bill, it has yet to enforce its interim policy. Let’s not even get into the ramifications of politicians controlling the future of college football. But talk to most NIL collective operators at the Power 5 level and most will tell you nobody is holding their breath for Charlie Baker or the NCAA’s enforcement to make a move. Some have upped their pay-to-play schemes because there is no fear of punishment coming.

The closest anyone has seen to the NCAA stepping in was an NIL-adjacent case this past winter, when an investigation concluded the Cavinder Twins had dinner with Miami booster John Ruiz during their recruitment process. Miami was put on a one-year probation.

Want to know the real reason why NIL is supposedly the Wild, Wild West? It’s not because of the influx of cash or lucrative financial packages being offered to top recruits. Most of these operations have been in place for decades. The booster machine did not just turn on in July 2021. The NCAA is pleading for Congressional assistance because it’s nervous to penalize an institution. Why does the term the Wild West even exist? Because there were no laws on the American Frontier.

Many in college athletics would find it refreshing for the NCAA to step up and come down with an NIL infraction. But penalizing Maason Smith for a paid autograph shortly before the NIL Era came into existence is ludicrous.

Most of the NCAA’s problems are self-inflicted. The catch-all punching bag of college athletes causes half of the messes it has to clean up. Baker, who took over as NCAA president this spring, even admitted in June the last NCAA regime fumbled NIL from the jump.

Penalizing one of the sport’s top defensive linemen over something so minimal is a real head-scratcher. Even when the NCAA makes a few consecutive smart moves, the next step always seems to be a public relations disaster.

It’s time the NCAA takes a look in the mirror. College athletics is at an inflection point. Yes, college football has seen plenty of tribulations in its 154 years. Surviving conference realignment and NIL might be bumpy, but the sport will prevail.

Will the NCAA make it through, though? As the governing body tries to address some major concerns at the Division I level, it is trying to make constituents at the Division II and III levels content. The gap in each’s differences is larger than ever.

Suspending Maason Smith for an activity that is now legal accomplishes nothing. The NCAA lacks common sense, something it has not had for years. Asking Congress for help has gone from a war cry to a child’s whine.

A word of advice: Try to govern membership schools where it matters. Stop penalizing athletes for meaningless victories. And take a hard look at what the college sports world thinks of the organization.

Maybe that will give the NCAA a much-needed PR win.

Maason SmithLSU‘sFlorida StateBrian Kelly‘sNCAAKayshon BoutteNew MexicoMatt MosconaCharlie BakerCavinder Twins MiamiJohn Ruiz