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9 of the Most Absurd NCAA Violations in Recent Memory

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Getty / Photoshop by Rebecca O'Connell

The NCAA has a lot of rules and, as a self-governing body, they rarely have anyone standing in the way when they want to add, remove, or alter these rules. Their list of guidelines and regulations is changing all the time, and this frequently results in violations by students, schools, or school employees that, when put in the context of how a modern society operates, look pretty darn ridiculous.

Because the NCAA heartily encourages and expects schools to self-report any violations, many schools follow compliance very seriously, either out of respect for the order of the law or, as is often the case, to highlight the association's inane nitpicking.

Here are some recent examples of ridiculous rules violations—most self-reported—according to the guidelines of the NCAA (a non-profit organization that, thanks to a separate set of wacky rules, boasts an annual revenue nearing one billion dollars).

1, 2, and 3. Oklahoma Football Team Eats Too Much Pasta; Coach Commits An Illegal Butt-Dial; Soccer Recruit Uses WiFi

In 2013, the University of Oklahoma self-reported a long list of secondary violations committed by the athletic department over an 18-month span. Included in this was a shocking confession: Three players ate more pasta than they were allowed:

Violation: Three current student-athletes received food in excess of NCAA regulation at a graduation banquet. The three had graduated from the school but returned for an additional season of competition. The players were provided pasta in excess of the permissible amount allowed. Resolution: The three were required to donate $3.83 each (the cost of the pasta serving) to a charity of their choice in order to be reinstated. The department provided rules education to applicable athletics department staff members.

The NCAA said they didn't make that rule or order the ensuing punishment, and insisted that these were both determined by the university. The Oklahoman pointed out, however, that the school had likely been responding to NCAA bylaw 16.11.1.10:

16.11.1.10 Incidental Benefits—Reasonable Refreshments. An institution may provide student-athletes with reasonable refreshments (e.g., soft drinks, snacks) for student-athlete educational and business meetings and, on an occasional basis, for celebratory events (e.g., birthdays). [R] (Adopted: 10/28/99)

Because the pasta constituted a full meal and not a snack, Oklahoma wanted to be extra-vigilant. In addition, the school reported an assistant coach's accidental butt-dial of a recruit that resulted in the player being declared ineligible pending further review:

Violation: Assistant coach Bruce Kittle pocket-dialed a recruit a day after receiving a permissible text message from the recruit. Resolution: Football staff was prohibited from initiating phone calls or correspondence with the recruit involved for four weeks and the recruit was declared ineligible for competition at the school barring NCAA reinstatement (self-imposed).

Besides pasta eating and butt-dialing, a woman's soccer recruit ran afoul of the rulebook when she charged her hotel's daily wifi fee to the university's tab:

Violation: A recruit, staying in the Embassy Suites on an official visit, ordered Internet service for $9.95. Assistant women's coach Graeme Abel did not notice the additional expense on the bill. Resolution: The recruit was ruled ineligible for competition at the school until repayment for the bill is made to the charity of her choice. The coaching staff was provided detailed rules education regarding additional lodging expenses. The form given to recruits on official visits was modified to include mention of additional lodging expenses.

4. Oregon Baseball's "Impermissible" Laser Tag

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Like Oklahoma, Oregon self-reported a long list of violations that would strike many as peculiar. Paramount among these: laser tag. The school treated the baseball team to a meal (one of 12 permitted during an academic year) and some mini golf and laser tag. Jody Sykes, Oregon's chief compliance officer, reported the afternoon of laser-based fun, assuming the NCAA would consider it "impermissible entertainment."

"There are some silly rules in there," Sykes told The Oregonian, "but we are part of the NCAA and we have agreed to be a member and we are responsible for those rules."

5. Geno Auriemma's Illegal Phone Call To Congratulate Little League Pitcher Mo'ne Davis

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Mo'ne Davis was the feel-good sports story of the summer of 2014, but when UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma called the 13-year-old little leaguer and fellow Philadelphian to pass along his congratulations, the NCAA slapped him with a secondary recruiting violation. The bylaws state coaches aren't allowed to call prospects until their junior year of high school—not even to say a quick, "Way to go."

6, 7, and 8. Mississippi State's Illegal Table, Recruiting Stickers, and Caps and Gowns

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The Mississippi State Bulldogs self-reported a list of 21 secondary violations during the 2013-'14 school year, including improper stickers and the use of an egregious table. For "Junior Day" invites to football recruits, the school applied stickers to the envelopes which is, according to the rulebook, a no-no. They also had a table in the locker room to hold equipment which, under the guidelines, constitutes a "special addition," so they had to report it.

They school also confessed to activity that fell under "Extra benefits provided to student-athletes." In their report, they listed the violation thusly: "Barnes and Noble bookstore did not charge student-athletes a late fee for their cap and gown rentals."

9. South Carolina's Improper Icing On Cookies

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From an AP report on South Carolina's self-reported secondary violations to the NCAA, which were submitted in 2014:

Impermissible iced decorations on a cookie cakes given to prospects.

BONUS: Illegal Dunks By North Florida Basketball Players

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There's a rule—specifically Section 4, Class B, Article 1e—in the NCAA Men's Basketball rulebook stating that players can't dunk during the last 20 minutes of pregame warmups. Should they violate this, the other team is rewarded two technical free throws at the start of the game. This is what happened when Tennessee Tech beat the University of North Florida in 2014, and North Florida had illegally dunked during pregame. Tennessee Tech hit their two freebies, and you can probably guess what the final score looked like:

Tennessee Tech 82
University of North Florida 80

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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