WHICH OF THE following NCAA schools is currently on three years' probation for "a lack of institutional control"?
(c) California Institute of Technology.
Yes, the answer is ©, better known as Caltech, one of the world's great engineering schools.
Before we detail what dastardly deeds these nerds-in-Nikes committed, let's take a step back to consider the NCAA and its higher-profile member schools.
I would venture to say that virtually every Division I football and men's basketball program commits an NCAA violation - some major, some middling - on a weekly basis. This is a product of two basic truths:
1. The NCAA rulebook is rather encyclopedic, byzantine and far-flung; it's entirely possible you can be punished for changing a light bulb the wrong way.
2. Because of financial pressures to win at all costs, many schools routinely break rules; the old adage, "It's not cheating unless you're caught," still rules the day.
Every Big 12 school has been on probation at some point. In the SEC, only Missouri and Vanderbilt never have been on probation; in the Pac-12, only Stanford and Washington State never have been on probation.
Speaking of which, the University of Southern California is literally on probation about 25 percent of the time; in fact, to cut out a bunch of paperwork, I would just place USC on probation for the third quarter of every football game.
(Hey, allowing Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo onto your athletic fields is not exactly like letting Jonas Salk and Stephen Hawking through your library doors. Then again, USC stockpiles running backs like Johns Hopkins stockpiles lab reports.)
I doubt Lane Kiffin can brush his teeth in the morning without committing an NCAA violation.
I hate singling out USC - Correction: In truth, I love singling out USC - but it is a large, visible symbol of a great academic center losing its way in pursuit of greater athletic glory.
Anyway, as it turns out, Los Angeles is home to both USC and Caltech, just 15 smog-filled miles separating a habitual offender from a first-time offender.
This is the thing about Caltech - if those folks are cheating, they're doing lousy job of it. The baseball team's lost 237 straight games, the men's basketball team ended a 310-game conference losing streak two seasons ago, the women's volleyball team has lost all 168 of its conference games and the men's water polo team had a seven-year winless streak.
There are no athletic scholarships at Caltech - you have to be a student-scholar to be admitted.