If the powers that be at the NCAA were to pick two teams in this year's NCAA Tournament that they didn't want to see on their biggest stage, those teams would without a doubt be Syracuse and North Carolina.
Now, against all odds, the association's nightmare matchup is a reality. No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 10 seed Syracuse will meet in the Final Four, where they will be broadcast to the nation as representatives of the NCAA system.
What have these schools done to make the thought of them in the Final Four so cringe-worthy to NCAA president Mark Emmert? There is quite the list!
The NCAA loves to say that its focus is academics, but North Carolina had one of the biggest academic scandals in its history. The university found 18 years of academic fraud, in which players were steered toward classes that didn't exist. Essentially, the school did whatever it took to keep athletes eligible in lieu of a real education.
The NCAA has been slow to act on UNC's potential punishment. Emmert says the investigation is nearing its end ... when the university is already in the spotlight for basketball reasons.
Syracuse was accused of a number of allegations related to academic fraud, athletes receiving "impermissible benefits" and not following its own drug policy.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games this season, and the program received a number of scholarship losses, intended to punish the program this year and in the future. Instead, Syracuse is in the Final Four.
While punishing players for getting free stuff from boosters, like at Syracuse, is dumb, academic fraud is a serious issue, and one that should be taken seriously.
In reality, this is the NCAA's own procedures coming back to bite it. The association talks tough on academic fraud allegations, but despite all of its preaching, it really is just a corporation. It knows that Syracuse and North Carolina make it money, so it won't punish them too hard, even though it would rather they stay out of the public eye like this, at least for a little bit.
As the punishment for North Carolina grows nearer, it's clear the NCAA is not going to punish the men's basketball program too severely. In fact, most of the focus seems to be on women's basketball, despite the fact that former tutors and players have said that the men's team participated in the fraud, as well.
In the NCAA's perfect world, it would lay down pseudo-tough penalties on UNC and Syracuse intended to hurt them for a year or two, but not enough to actually hurt their programs. Then it could talk tough on academic fraud while keeping two of its money-makers intact.
Instead, North Carolina and Syracuse are playing as representatives of the NCAA's system. That might not be what the NCAA wants, but it's representative of the reality the association has created.
* * *
Best NCAA Tournament Player: Was it Carmelo Anthony or Christian Laettner?
Be sure to subscribe to SB Nation's YouTube channel for highlight videos, features, analysis and more