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NCAA punishment too harsh, but Shaw has only self to blame

Matt Shaw has said he can one day picture himself on the big screen as a comedic actor, that he is always watching movies and reciting lines from them.

I have to believe he has heard this one:

Stupid is as stupid does.

Shaw has forfeited his final season of collegiate basketball at UNLV, simply thrown away an opportunity to finish a journey he worked so tirelessly to complete, because he wasn’t disciplined enough to follow rules.

It’s not the first time you have heard the story.

It’s not the thousandth.

On the surface, Shaw failing an NCAA-administered drug test after his team’s first-round tournament loss to Northern Iowa was reckless, careless, selfish, irresponsible. There are obligations that come with accepting a scholarship supported by taxpayers, and high on the list is to abide by the law.

But what the Shaw case also does is shine a light on a college drug-testing system best described as arbitrary. A kid can fail an NCAA test for marijuana — which is what Shaw reportedly did — and lose a year of eligibility. In the Olympic world, the typical sanction for a first offense for marijuana is a three-month suspension.

A few years ago, a Mountain West Conference basketball player was a second offender for marijuana on school-administered drug tests and sat five games.

Do you see the inconsistencies?

The NCAA testing program is about far too many athletes and not near enough money, about a limited list of banned substances it tests for and a limited range in the procedure itself. Instead of suspending a kid for a year for smoking pot, why not send more unannounced NCAA officials into college football weight rooms during the summer to test for steroids?

Why not use all available resources to catch those using far more dangerous and effective performance-enhancing drugs in specific sports? Because if the NCAA doesn’t think there isn’t a major issue with PEDs in football and track and basketball, then the suits in Indianapolis are taking their own bong hits.

There is just too much at stake financially not to realize athletes in major sports are using steroids and stimulants and endurance boosters and masking agents.

The NCAA isn’t near vigilant enough in its testing program. If marijuana gets you a year, then a positive test for steroids should cost you your college career.

Shaw’s positive test for pot ultimately did, a senior who used his redshirt season to mend from an injured knee. His career at UNLV is over.

He is 22 and deserves his fate. He had played in the NCAA Tournament before and knew well there was a chance he would be among those players randomly tested. This is all on him. He rolled the dice. Assumed the risk. Let his coaches and teammates and fans down.

He failed a drug test.

He also failed the IQ test.

But a one-year suspension is brutal. It’s really, really harsh. Who’s on the NCAA committee setting these sanctions, Ward Cleaver and that Jeff Spicoli nemesis, Mr. Hand?

"I think the (NCAA) uses the (one-year penalty) as a deterrent," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "I think it is saying to kids, ‘This is a serious penalty and don’t mess with it.’

"For anyone who abuses any substance, there should be a heightened awareness at the NCAA Tournament that testing will occur. We’re really disappointed in Matt. Regardless of what it might mean to (the team), he has to forgo his senior season and all the special things that come with that."

Shaw’s experience might have been the 6-foot-8-inch forward’s most valuable asset next year, when UNLV is expected again to be among the league’s best teams.

But not having Shaw shouldn’t keep UNLV from chasing Top 25 rankings and a league title. If anyone mentions next season how the Rebels would be so much better with him, then coaches haven’t improved the current talent well enough and new faces expected to contribute aren’t as good as some think.

Shaw is a loss that can and should be overcome before the season arrives.

Let’s hope he learns from this misstep, earns his degree and moves on to a happy and successful life.

But every time something like this happens, I remember first a nervous and embarrassed Hugh Grant sitting across from Jay Leno in 1995 and the talk show host asking: "What the hell were you thinking?"

For Matt Shaw today, ditto.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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