UCA football took a big hit when senior starting linebacker Justin Heard was suspended for three games for NCAA violations. However, Heard’s punishment does not fit the violation, especially when compared with other NCAA violations at other universities.
Heard was suspended for helping his brother, junior defensive back Josh Heard, buy textbooks. Heard made a mistake when he gave away his athletic scholarship money, but this was an honest mistake from a player who was trying to help his family.
Heard’s three-game suspension is excessive for his violation. At larger universities, NCAA often has a habit of responding to much more serious and selfish violations with relatively light punishments.
In 2010, five Ohio State football players were suspended for five games for selling thousands of dollars worth of awards, equipment and championship rings. They also used their status to get discounts on tattoos.
These violations were met with a relatively light punishment for their severity. Heard’s three-game suspension was more more severe, considering what he did. Using excess scholarship money to help his brother buy books is far more altruistic than selling football pads for thousands of dollars and using popularity to get discounted tattoos.
Heard made a mistake and committed a violation, which requires punishment. Scholarships are recipient-specific and can’t be shared. However, when Heard realized what he did was against regulations, he attempted to fix his mistake before he was caught, showing that he truly was unaware that what he was doing was against regulations.
At most, Heard should have been made to repay the scholarship money used for his brother. His violation was not serious enough to derail his college football career.
In 2010, when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was transferring to play for the Auburn Tigers, his father Cecil Newton attempted to solicit more than $120,000 from the university for his son to transfer there. While it was never proven that Cam Newton was involved, no punishment was ever pursued.
Heard’s violation can’t simply be ignored, but his punishments do not fit the wrongdoing. When players at larger universities who bring in more money to the NCAA commit serious violations, they are generally given light punishments that do not properly punish the players. However, when a player from a smaller university helps his brother buy books, he’s immediately suspended despite trying to fix it.
The NCAA should take care to make punishments fit violations better. If more famous players from larger universities continue to get lighter punishments for serious violations, more people will begin to see the NCAA as a corrupt organization more worried about money than making sure college athletics are fair.