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Friday, June 17, 2005

More Than a Tip

of the iceberg, that is. Click here and here for news about this sordid scandal involving college football recruiting.

A booster gets convicted for paying a high school coach to steer his player to his school. And now he gets sentenced. Is it cynical to suggest that this booster is simply the only one who has gotten caught? And, if that's the case, did the booster get convicted because he simply was the only one stupid enough to get caught?

My view: a) this booster isn't the only one and b) there are other investigations out there that will yield more indictments and more convictions. Make no mistake about this, though, this is high-stakes stuff, for various reasons. One, there's a lot of money tied up in major college football, ergo the potential for bad behavior. Two, there's a lot of ego. Many boosters aren't wealthy enough to own their own professional sports teams (one rival Pac-10 coach once joked, somewhat ruefully, that Oregon had a great "owner" in its alum and principal booster, Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike), so the next best thing to stoke their egos is to be an important part of a major college football (or basketball) program. Note, of course, that in this context it's hard to figure out what "important" really means, but to be important in this context, you have to donate the money. Three, there are a lot of connections, particularly in the smaller states, cities and towns. In other words, what this really means is that some of the people with the juice (we're talking bucks here, not steriods) spread the money around not only to their favorite athletic programs, but also to their favorite politicians. That's not to say that certain boosters have made themselves untouchable. It is to say that anyone who prosecutes them had better have a good case -- or else risking prosecuting night court vice cases in Tajikistan. Don't think that Mr. Joe Bob Big Booster, who shows largesse everywhere, isn't larger than life in certain regions.

The underlying case itself is a sad affair, and the kid is clearly a victim. Someone who was supposed to be guiding him went on the take and sold the kid out to the highest bidder. The kid's career went nowhere, and who knows whether he has a remedy here -- against that HS coach, who probably doesn't have a lot of money, against the booster (who might have more) or against the school he went to (and you probably can't prove that the school sanctioned the booster's behavior, and we have to presume that it didn't know about it). He might well not.

Funny, but I thought college football was just an extracurricular activity for highly motivated student athletes, whose free educations, when coupled with the connections they make playing football, will lead them to better lives. In the end, the metrics that show the successes of these kids are more important than, for example, a national championship trophy where the path to that trophy is littered with broken promises, bad grades and no futures.

The problem with the booster's behavior is that it's hard to stop, because even if the schools take a hard line on it, a wayward booster will still be a bad actor. The NCAA should consider doing the following: (i) if somehow a school was involved, they get the death penalty the way SMU did about 20 years ago; (ii) if it's a booster only, with no school involvement, the school should lose scholarships; (iii) if there are repeat offenses, probation and loss of scholarships, loss of the right to appear in a Bowl Game. These types of sanctions will deter bad behavior.

It is probably true that schools don't really know how the HS kid who looks so dazzling on Friday nights under the lights will turn out on Saturdays before a hundred thousand people with bigger and faster players to contend with. So, coaches have a little bit of a "let the recruiter" beware syndrome they have to be mindful of. The kids, likewise, should have a bit of a "beware of the recruiting process" syndrome and ask hard questions if their mentors are pushing schools really hard. Let's say, for example, you're from New Jersey and you've expressed an interest in Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but your HS coach is pushing an SEC school. Is it because his prior players went there and excelled? That's a good reason. Is it because he went there? That's not a bad reason. Is it because he has good relationships with the coaches at that school that he's built over the years? Again, not a bad reason. But if there's no real connection, you have to ask the hard questions and, at the same time, give new ideas a chance.

It's not easy being a teenager.

It's probably a lot tougher being a teenager in serious demand.

Especially when the adults are the ones acting like children.


Blogger Jonathan said...

The Albert Means case is truly a sad state of affairs. If you really want to know the full story google the name` Gary Parrish and the Commercial Appeal. Gary broke this story, here in Memphis, a couple of years ago and people really felt sorry for Albert. The NCAA even let him leave Alabama to come to Memphis without penalties; ie sitting out a year. Mike Dubose was fired, they went on probation, and had their reputation sullied.

Alabama was not the only one implicated in this pay to play scheme: Kentucky,Michigan State, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. It also came out in the sentencing that Albert Means was paid $60,000.00 of the $150,000.00, given to Lynn Lang. This is chronicled in Sports Illustrated, either last week or this week I not really sure.

Your suggestion that schools get the Death Penalty that was handed down to SMU, is a bit niave. There is no way that the SEC or the NCAA will allow this to happen because of the money involved in football and the political ramifications involved. If you want another Civil War give Alabama the death penalty and see what happens; this idea holds true for most SEC schools except Vanderbilt, who is around to boost the conference GPA.

9:21 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comment, Jonathan, and welcome to the blog.

Thanks for pointing out that other schools were implicated. Here's to hoping that they get investigated (and sanctioned, if the results of the investigation so warrant) too.

I don't think I'm naive when I suggest that a school like Alabama could get the death penalty. SMU was at or near the top of the college football world when it got the death penalty, and the Southwest Conference played as good a brand of college football as anyone then. The money is all relative, it was big then, relatively speaking, too, but the NCAA acted swiftly and harshly. Sometimes the behavior is so bad that the regulators have no choice.

Perhaps the BCS should be named the (Big) Bucks Championship Series.

8:35 AM  

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