The NCAA sent Oklahoma football a message Wednesday. Pay attention. It's really that simple. Mind the store. Keep your eye on the ballplayers. Practice prevention instead of trying to clean up a mess. The NCAA infractions committee billed the Sooners with a "failure to monitor,” which is more embarrassing than anything else, and while OU says it will appeal such a charge, it doesn't have a case. That's exactly what OU football did. Failed to monitor its players by sending them to work for Big Red Sports and Imports, where general manager Brad McRae obviously was on a variety of shady sides. That's why OU faces today match their crimson shirts. This is a program that worked mightily to wipe out the outlaw image of the past, and the NCAA's announcement — on the second-slowest sports day of the year, behind only Christmas Eve — meant there again were the Sooners, on the ESPN crawl all day long, guilty of what the NCAA termed "major” violations. The effects of the NCAA's ruling are mostly intangible. Damaged reputation. Recruiting murmurs. The loss of two scholarships for the 2008 and 2009 seasons could sting; the Sooners will sign fewer players, and you never know who might have been snagged with that last offer or two. Mark Clayton in 2000 is a prime example of a borderline recruit; turns out he could play a little. The probation extension through 2010 is little factor unless OU finds itself in NCAA custody again, and if OU runs afoul of the NCAA again anytime soon, there's only one thing to say. TIMBER! One reason the NCAA committee was so displeased with this Sooner case was because it saw many of the same crimson faces the previous spring, in the Kelvin Sampson telephone caper. The infractions committee has a lot of county courthouse judge in it. "Don't let me see you here again.” The kooky penalty is the decree that OU's 2005 victories no longer exist, that the Sooners suddenly are 0-4. That's one appeal the Sooners could win. That's a penalty against fans and historians who count up records and wins. Maybe that's an intended shot at Bob Stoops, and maybe Stoops cares about his overall win-loss record, but whether he's got 78 victories or 86, he's not going to catch Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno in this lifetime, so what does it matter? You can't turn back the clock. You can't rewrite history. "Above all, we do not believe that erasing the 2005 season from the record books is fair to the over 100 student athletes and coaches who played by the rules and worked their hearts out for a successful season that year,” said OU president David Boren. Trouble is, Boren doesn't have a lot of credibility on this appeal. After the dubious officiating at Oregon in September, Boren asked the Pac-10 to vacate OU's loss to the Ducks. Now he's on the other side, saying the result of eight games should stand, even though the Sooners used a quarterback technically ineligible. You can't have it both ways. Truth is, that attitude permeated OU's reaction Wednesday. The Sooners didn't show much conciliation in the press-release comments of Boren and Stoops. There was a trace of defiance from Boren — "It is appropriate that the action taken today by the NCAA does not limit the ability of our football team to succeed in the upcoming or future seasons” — and Stoops said ditto, almost literally. Falling on your sword often is the way to go, even when you don't feel like it. Yes, it's embarrassing. But that's what OU football is today. Embarrassed. The NCAA sanctions do not mean the Sooners will have to build back their roster. The sanctions mean the Sooners will have to build back their reputation.
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