Myck Kabongo, the NCAA, and the Media

Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

Revisiting the Curious Case of Myck Kabongo

Heading into college basketball season, the dominant narrative surrounding the Texas Longhorns revolved around the uncertain status of Myck Kabongo. For several weeks, the player, team, and overall program remained in limbo, as the NCAA continued their investigation. While awaiting a final ruling from the NCAA over his eligibility, Texas kept Kabongo firmly rooted to the bench as part of a self-imposed punishment. This eventually led to an absurd situation against UCLA, as Shabazz Muhammad scored 16 points against Texas while Kabongo stayed on the bench. If only someone had discussed Kabongo's case on an airplane...

Finally, near the end of UT's victory over North Carolina, reports broke that the NCAA was going to suspend Kabongo for the entire season. These reports were mentioned during the ESPN broadcast of the game and led to an extremely terse interview with Rick Barnes, who noted "the process" was still ongoing. This process officially ended a few days later, as the NCAA formally announced Kabongo's season-long suspension was being reduced to 23 games.

After thinking through everything, I have a few outstanding issues over this whole ordeal. Before moving any further, let me be clear: I'm not trying to turn Myck Kabongo into a martyr. He's not blameless, and he definitely deserved a suspension. That said, I'm upset with how this situation played out internally, externally, and through the media. Ultimately, I just wish the discourse was over what actually happened in this case, instead of what was initially reported. Let's backtrack a bit, and I'll explain what I mean.

During the UNC broadcast, the first report over Kabongo's season-long suspension came from Pat Forde and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. This report explained "in most impermissible benefits situations, players usually are suspended from three to 10 games and ordered to repay the amount of the benefits received. In this case, the penalty was made more severe because Kabongo provided inaccurate information to NCAA investigators when he was interviewed." Additionally, the report pointed out "the season-long ban is consistent with the penalty applied to former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2009 when he lied to the NCAA."

This explanation for the season-long suspension--that Kabongo lied to the NCAA--was reported everywhere. It was even mentioned on the Sportscenter broadcast right after the UNC game. I don't remember seeing a single report contradicting this basic assertion. All in all, this explanation seemed to completely encapsulate the situation. Kabongo would have been suspended for 3-10 games, but, since he lied to the NCAA, he was being suspended for the entire season. So it goes.

Following the initial report, Kabongo's story received a lot of attention and coverage from the national media. As shown by this excellent Barking Carnival article from jc25, the media's reaction to the suspension was mostly hostile. However, while most pundits were opposed to the season-long suspension, many articles acknowledged the Dez Bryant case as a legitimate precedent. After this initial flurry of coverage, the entire issue looked like it could be put to bed.

Then, on the Friday before Christmas, the NCAA unexpectedly announced Kabongo's season-long suspension was being reduced to 23 games. The full NCAA press release contained some critical pieces of new information. Most importantly, the release explained "according to the facts of the case submitted by the university, Kabongo accepted airfare, personal training instruction and then provided false and misleading information during two separate interviews with university officials." Additionally, in an article published by ESPN over the suspension reduction, Rick Barnes said Kabongo "made some mistakes early in this process, and he put himself in a tough position. That said, he was truthful and forthcoming when he talked with the NCAA." In this same article, an NCAA spokesperson noted the punishment was "based on the totality of the violations and not separated out" into punishments for accepting improper benefits and being dishonest.

In conjunction, the press release and ESPN article seem to firmly establish that Kabongo only lied to school officials. By these joint accounts, it appears Kabongo actually told the truth to the NCAA investigators, which contradicts the information from the initial report from Yahoo Sports. So, cool story, Hansel...why does this even matter?

Well, to date, I cannot find a single case where a player was suspended by the NCAA for lying to their own school's compliance officials, when they subsequently told the truth to the NCAA. This was backed up by statements from Jay Bilas during the Texas-Michigan State game. After noting Kabongo only lied to school officials, Bilas said something like "those types of issues are usually handled internally," which makes a lot more sense to me.

Let me put it this way. If I lied to my parents, they would have punished me. If I lied to the police, they would have charged me with a series of offenses. But if I lied to my parents and then told the truth to the police, then I don't see how the police could tack on any additional punishment. Which is exactly what seems to be the case here.

Plain and simple, Kabongo accepted $475 worth of impermissible benefits. As explained by the Yahoo Sports article from Forde and Wojnarowski, that's usually a 3-10 game punishment. However, due to lying to UT Compliance (and not the NCAA), Kabongo was initially given a season-long ban, which was later reduced to 23 games. As noted above, the explanation given by the NCAA was that the punishment "is based on the totality of the violations and not separated out" into benefits and dishonesty. I think that's crazy, especially since the additional violations (i.e. lying to UT Compliance) don't appear to have ever resulted in additional punishment for any other player.

In summary, while I'm still a little confused about the overall justification for Kabongo's suspension, I'm also extremely disappointed with how this all played out in the media. Once again, look at how this played out. During the UNC Broadcast, ESPN relayed the report that Kabongo was suspended "for lying to NCAA investigators." Everyone immediately made the Dez Bryant comparison, and, while most people were sympathetic to Myck, they also understood there was an existing precedent for the punishment. Except, as we know now, that was a false comparison. The entire country was led to believe Myck lied to the NCAA, presumably justifying his punishment, and no one really paid any attention to the discrepancies in the new reports. In fact, most people are glad the NCAA reduced the punishment for lying to 23 games, without ever discussing the further issues of why this case is different.

Conclusion

One of my pet peeves with articles over these types of situations is the player involved is often used as a mere platform to give a personal opinion. With this article, I tried to avoid this temptation. This article was primarily written to facilitate further discussion over the specific case of Myck Kabongo and how it played out in the NCAA and the media.

To that extent, I fully acknowledge there might be some angles to the suspension that I'm missing, and I'd be happy to be wrong. By and large, I'd rather find out Kabongo's suspension is firmly rooted in existing precedent, rather than remain convinced that his suspension is breaking new ground. While I've asked several BON authors and friends to proofread this piece, I think everyone is still is a little perplexed over exactly what happened.

Ultimately, Myck Kabongo made a mistake and deserved to be suspended. Unfortunately, I simply have not seen a comprehensive explanation that sufficiently justifies the length of his original or reduced suspension.

Hook ‘em!

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