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Mulkey Suspension Brings Little-Known NCAA Penalty Into Spotlight

Today the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee suspended Baylor head women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey from the next NCAA tournament game her team participates in, whether at Baylor or some other institution. In addition, the committee issued her a public reprimand for her comments regarding the officiating in Baylor’s loss to Louisville during last year’s NCAA tournament. Baylor was also in essence fined by the committee through the withholding of travel per diem that the NCAA gives to teams participating in championship events.

Coaching suspensions are all the rage in the NCAA right now. The use of suspensions started in the infractions process with men’s basketball, grew to include football, and now should become a standard part of major infractions cases with the new enforcement structure and penalty matrix. But for a few years, the NCAA has issued even harsher penalties for misconduct during NCAA championships, by suspending coaches and sometimes student-athletes from postseason competition.

One of the first and biggest suspensions involved the controversial end of a match between UC-Santa Barbara and UC-Berkley in the 2010 men’s soccer tournament. A controversial red card against UCSB and a late penalty kick awarded to Cal touched off an ugly scene with a number of UCSB players confronting the referee after the match. In total, three UCSB players received postseason suspensions, including one for three games. The other two never served the suspensions because they left for professional leagues.

Since then the use of suspensions has continued, including a number in men’s soccer. Following the 2011 men’s soccer championship, two New Mexico student-athletes were suspended for a fight following their match against South Florida. One was upheld on appeal while the other was overturned. A UCSB assistant received a postseason suspension after the 2011 NCAA tournament. And following the same championship, the men’s soccer committee reprimanded two student-athletes and said suspensions would have been imposed, but the athletes had exhausted their eligibility.

The NCAA also recently suspended UCLA head men’s water polo coach Adam Wright from UCLA’s next NCAA tournament match for misconduct during the 2012 men’s water polo tournament. Wright confronted and verbally assaulted the officials following his team’s elimination by Southern California. In all these cases, the travel per diem for the involved student-athletes and coaches has been withheld as well.

Not only is Mulkey’s suspension higher profile than some of these other cases, but it also moves postseason suspensions into a new area. Previously suspensions looked to be reserved for cases involving the verbal or physical assault of officials or opponents. Mulkey’s suspension is for repeated comments about the officials over multiple NCAA tournaments. That means someone like Kansas head coach Bill Self or Ole Miss’s Marshall Henderson must be careful with their words and actions after receiving reprimands this year.

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