Ugly Times For the World of College Athletics
The men’s basketball Final Four each year is the culmination of the NCAA’s biggest, brightest, richest and most watched showcase of student-athlete accomplishments. Tomorrow night concludes what has been one of the most exciting series of games and surprises in the 73-year history of the NCAA Championship Tournament.
How we wish this was an authentic representation of honorable educational and athletic pursuits by major colleges and universities around the nation.
But that is hardly the case this year, a period of the ugliest record of misconduct by institutions, coaches, athletes and others that I can recall in my 60 years or more of writing about National Collegiate Athletic Association infraction cases.
There have been so many misdeeds involving intercollegiate athletics in recent months that one might think there was a conspiracy to darken the NCAA’s annual and dazzling March Madness, which spills into April.
Actually, no such conspiracy exists. It is just an overabundance of the usual slush and slime of major college sports coming out when those rather hypocritical “educators” of the NCAA would prefer to cover up the sins of their business under the cloak of a glorious basketball spectacle. And if they keep wiping egg off their faces, they have only themselves and their greed to blame.
As you watch tomorrow night’s championship game, make sure you take with a grain of salt any reference to the wonderful and glorious world of intercollegiate athletics. At present that world is so muddied it appears to be little more than a pile of dirt that must be swept away and replaced by a cleaner planet.
Over the past few months Alabama, Auburn, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oregon, South Carolina, Southern California, Tennessee and others were touched by scandals involving their coaches, athletes and associates.
Coaches Rick Pitino of Louisville, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, Bruce Pearl of Tennessee, Jim Tressel of Ohio State and others were involved one way or another.
Auburn, currently under NCAA investigation concerning the recruitment of its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Cam Newton, suffered a couple of serious blows in recent days. Four of its football players were arrested, March 11, and charged with robbery and burglary. They were dismissed from the team immediately.
Then four former Auburn players said they were paid thousands of dollars for playing at that Alabama institution under Coach Tommy Tuberville, who was fired after the 2008 season. Tuberville is now the Texas Tech head football coach.
These accusations by the “Auburn Four” became public during the telecast of “HBO Real Sports” last Wednesday night.
Stanley McClover, an Auburn defensive lineman, 2003—2005, said he was not only paid by Auburn but received money during recruiting visits to Louisiana State, Ohio State and Michigan State. He also claims he was offered sexual favors during the recruiting visit to Columbus, Ohio.
Ohio State has run into an NCAA quagmire as five Buckeye football players have been suspended from the first five games of next season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits such as free tattoos. Coach Jim Tressel, who apparently tried to cover this up by lying to his superiors about the matter, will also be suspended for those five games and be fined over $200,000.
But Tressel has not been fired for lying. Obviously, Ohio State only fires its football coach if he punches an opposing player or loses too many games.
Connecticut’s basketball coach, Jim Calhoun, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, has been suspended from Connecticut’s first three Big East Conference games next season and the Huskies are restricted to 12 scholarship players for three seasons. All of this is because a former team manager allegedly provided a potential Connecticut player with food, lodging and transportation during the 2008 recruiting process.
Then there is John Calipari, the Kentucky coach, who left the coaching jobs at the Universities of Massachusetts and Memphis just before the NCAA clamped down on those institutions for rules infractions. He seems to have a knack for getting out of town just before the sheriff comes knocking.
What an advertisement for this year’s Final Four — Calhoun met Calipari last night in a playoff involving those who are expected to set examples for our kids.
Bruce Pearl, the University of Tennessee basketball coach, is another one who was caught lying when he did not tell the truth to the NCAA during its investigation of his recruiting practices. Pearl was suspended from the first eight games of the Southeastern Conference schedule last winter. Oh, how punishing that was!
But finally Pearl did get booted by Tennessee. This happened after the Vols reached the NCAA Basketball Tournament last month only to be trounced by a mediocre Michigan team, 75-45, in their opening round. It seems losing was a worse crime than lying to the NCAA.
Remember back in January when Auburn won the Bowl Championship Series version of the National Championship by beating Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl? That title might be revoked by the NCAA if Auburn is found guilty of rules infractions. And there is a lot out there for the NCAA to investigate.
The NCAA might also cancel the Fiesta Bowl’s license to operate as a result of revelations involving political donations from the bowl’s treasury. This Arizona bowl has existed for 41 years.
Just last Tuesday, John Junker, the chief executive of the Fiesta Bowl, was fired by the bowl’s board of directors. Two other top Fiesta Bowl executives resigned at the same time.
Both the bowl’s board of directors and the Arizona state attorney general are conducting investigations concerning Fiesta Bowl money that was donated to Arizona politicians and why the bowl paid to fly some politicians and their families around the country on various junkets. It is possible that criminal charges will follow. Also, the Fiesta Bowl’s non tax status as a charitable organization could be rescinded.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, said his organization could withdraw its sanction of the Fiesta Bowl as one of the four sites for the BCS National Championship game. This is a very lucrative game rotated among the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls.
Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals reached the NCAA Basketball Tournament last month only to be a victim of one of the major upsets this year when Morehead State beat Louisville by a point in the Cardinals’ opening round.
This surprise came a few months after Pitino testified at a trial of his former mistress who was found guilty of trying to extort money from him. She threatened to tell all.
The mistress got seven years for extortion while Pitino remained the head basketball coach at Louisville where he is hired to supposedly help prepare young men for their future lives.
When, oh when, are the mighty leaders of these institutions of higher learning going to clean up their act?
Until they do, the NCAA Final Four will only be a show of how to profit greatly from a questionable form of operating instead of a noble example of education merging with athletics.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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