Nick Wagner
Brigham Young guard Nick Emery (4) looks to pass to a teammate during an NCAA college basketball game against Coppin State in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — Congratulations, NCAA! You’ve been unable to punish college basketball’s elite programs, so you picked on BYU.

BYU’s the little guy sitting in the front row of the harmless West Coast Conference class. BYU even tattled on itself by reporting the misdeeds of a booster and a player and then aided the NCAA investigation. So what do NCAA officials do? They give BYU the equivalent of a punch in the mouth and then pile on.


Look, the Cougars deserve sanctions. Even if you think the pinheads at the NCAA are money-grubbing hypocrites whose mission is to control the hired hands, it doesn’t matter; BYU agreed to abide by the rules.

Nick Emery, a guard whose illicit pay far exceeds his production and value, accepted benefits, such as they were. Only at BYU does use of a VW Jetta and a trip to — huh? — “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” — constitute payola (where was the Escalade and the Vegas floor show?). All that was missing were tickets to Donny and Marie. Anyway, he also received Broadway tickets, stays at a resort, free golf, etc., etc., determined by the NCAA to be worth some $12,000, which is a steep price for a career 14-point scorer.

“My intentions were never to hurt the program or the university,” Emery said.

That’s because he never expected to be caught. When and if that happened, he had to know it would hurt the school.

And it did. The NCAA laid it on: 47 vacated wins (games in which Emery played), two years probation, the forfeiture of a scholarship, a nine-game suspension for Emery.

BYU officials are outraged, as they should be (so were most observers, judging by media reaction). The NCAA’s punishment does not fit the crime and is seemingly capricious and arbitrary. It makes no sense based on the violations themselves, but especially compared to previous sanctions applied — or not applied — to other schools. Either NCAA officials are rolling dice in the back room to determine penalties or they’re simply looking for a little guy to push around. To wit:

The biggest scandal in the history of college basketball was revealed more than a year ago and still the NCAA has done nothing. It involves alleged payments as high as $90,000 and has resulted in federal charges of bribery, fraud and corruption. Please, don’t say NCAA officials are waiting for the conclusion of the ongoing criminal trial; the NCAA has never let that get in the way, always acting as judge and jury where its members are concerned.

The violations are already known in the so-called Adidas scandal thanks to a paper trail and wiretaps. Agents, coaches and players were involved in cash payments to steer those players to certain schools. In other words, they are buying and selling players.

Assistant coaches at Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State and Auburn were fired by their schools, and head coach Rick Pitino was fired by Louisville. But the NCAA hasn’t done anything.

There is a long list of schools that have been implicated — among others, Louisville, Arizona, Miami, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Alabama, USC, North Carolina State, Seton Hall, Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, Michigan State, Utah, Wichita State, Xavier …

What are the chances the NCAA will take on that crowd?

Among those that have dodged sanctions: Utah. Kyle Kuzma is alleged to have received $9,500 from an agent while playing for the Utes. Coach Larry Krystkowiak said he didn’t know about it, which is the same defense BYU head coach Dave Rose is using, not to mention nearly every head coach at suspected schools. It’s a weak defense — if they didn’t know, then why not? — but it seems to be working (Rose was recently given a one-year contract extension that will keep him at BYU through the 2020-21 season).

The massive bribery scandal is much more serious than the violations at BYU, except those other schools are the powerful elite of college basketball.

Similarly, North Carolina dodged sanctions last year despite giving credits for students — many of them athletes — for courses that weren’t taught. Even the university concluded that it had engaged in academic fraud. And yet after a lengthy investigation by the NCAA it wouldn’t punish the school.

But the NCAA will force the Cougars to vacate 47 wins. To put that in perspective, consider the cases during the last 10 years in which the NCAA has vacated wins by college basketball programs:

• The NCAA ordered that 123 of Louisville’s wins from 2011-15 — including an NCAA championship — be vacated. The penalties were based on the revelations of a book written by escort Katina Powell, who revealed that a former Louisville staff member had hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with recruits.

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• The NCAA ordered that 108 of Syracuse’s wins from 2004-07 and 2010-12 be vacated because the school used players that had repeatedly violated drug policies and continued to play, and because players and staff members received cash from a booster.

• Southern Mississippi was forced by the NCAA to vacate wins for fraudulent academic credit and impermissible financial aid.

• SMU, a serial NCAA violator, was forced vacate 10 wins for academic fraud.

• Oklahoma vacated 13 wins for committing violations while already on probation —impermissible benefits (including cash payment to a player) and lying to investigators.

Most of those violations are much more serious and more systemic than a free trip to Harry Potter World, whatever that is.