Arizona played well Monday in an 88-74 win over Colorado that improved the Wildcats to 7-1. They moved up to No. 37 at KenPom. They moved up to No. 46 at Torvik. They looked like a possible NCAA Tournament team.
But they will not be an NCAA Tournament team.
The news was delivered to the players Tuesday morning, then announced to the public via a released statement Tuesday afternoon — specifically that Arizona is self-imposing a one-year postseason ban effective immediately in an attempt to get what is sure to be a serious punishment from the NCAA in the rearview mirror as soon as possible. Arizona said it believes this decision is in “the best long-term interests of the university and the men’s basketball program,” and I can acknowledge that’s probably true given the way these things typically work. But, as I’ve said and written many times, most recently when Auburn self-imposed its own one-year postseason ban last month, this is not something that should be allowed.
It’s just a wrong thing to do to the players — although, let me be clear, it’s hard to feel too bad for most of Arizona’s players considering everybody on the roster other than Ira Lee enrolled at Arizona after former assistant Book Richardson was arrested and charged with federal crimes that doubled as NCAA violations. So if these players wanted to avoid possibly being banned from the NCAA Tournament during their college careers, they should’ve picked a school without an obvious NCAA cloud hanging above it.
You live and you learn, I guess.
Or, at least, I hope.
Either way, self-imposed postseason bans are still ridiculous. They’re almost always examples of schools gaming the system with little regard for the student-athletes enrolled. They’re almost always examples of schools sacrificing their mediocre present with the idea being that it’ll give them a better chance to maximize a more-promising future. And even though Arizona is, as previously noted, off to a 7-1 start, this team is undeniably mediocre relative to normal Arizona standards. So, yeah, the shoe definitely fits here.
And why now?
Arizona has had its notice of allegations from the NCAA for more than two months, has known it’s facing multiple Level I violations for more than two months, which means there’s no reason Arizona could not have reached this same decision two months ago. So why now? A cynic might suggest that doing this now, as opposed to two months ago, greatly limits the good options for the players enrolled. It would be a shame if such played a role in the timing of this decision. Unsurprising, sure. But also a shame.
So what do I hope?
I hope the NCAA handles Arizona’s self-imposed postseason ban the same way I hope it handles Auburn’s self-imposed postseason ban — by completely ignoring it and making it clear that the NCAA will decide how and when the programs are punished, not the other way around. When you’re a teenager, you don’t get to ground yourself for the weekend and get credit for time-served when the weekend appears to be lame relative to the weekends you hope to enjoy in the future. That’s not left up to you. For similar reasons, this should not be left up to Auburn and Arizona. And I’d write the same about literally any other school.
Again, it’s just wrong.
Arizona’s players celebrated a win on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, they were told their season will end with a game against Arizona State on March 6. I’m sure the players will mostly handle it gracefully because it’s not hard to trick young people into thinking you didn’t do them wrong. But, make no mistake, Arizona’s administration did Arizona’s players wrong. And the fact that the decision wasn’t even surprising in the least underlines why the NCAA should end this practice forever, sooner rather than later.