Tag Archives: basketball

Laying Blame for College Sports Scandals

As a sports fan, I am no longer shocked or surprised by anything.  I’m guessing I’m not alone here.  Athletes get arrested at an alarming rate.  Rarely does a day go by without hearing of some sort of cheating, whether its performance enhancing drugs or marital infidelity.  Suspensions, violations, and probations are now expected during the course of any professional or college sports season.

Manny Ramirez got busted for taking a female fertility drug.  Yawn.  Brett Favre allegedly sent pictures of his privates to a woman while playing with the Jets.  Whatever.  Ben Roethlisberger had an “encounter” with a college student in the bathroom of a bar.  Double yawn.  Tiger Woods led a secret life, and slept with who knows how many women in who knows how many states.  I give it a shoulder shrug and a raised eyebrow.  Even if Lance Armstrong, the last hope for integrity and truth in sports, is proven guilty of doping, will we really be blown away?  I might bat an eyelash, but I’m not going to be floored.  In fact, my initial thought will probably be something along the lines of, “that took longer than I expected.”  Sad but true.

Scandal has become synonymous with sports.  It’s like acne on a teenager, it’s assumed.  We’re not nearly as appalled at the sports landscape as we used to be.  When was the last time you really gasped at a scandal?  It’s been a while hasn’t it?  There’s no more surprise, no more shock, no more asking “how can this be!?”  American sports fans are desensitized and apathetic toward all of it.

Former NFL agent Josh Luchs confessed to paying players (photo courtesy of SI.com)

 The latest example came this week when Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent, admitted to Sports Illustrated that he broke NCAA rules and regularly paid college football players.  In his first person article, Luchs says he gave hand outs to players in hopes they would sign with him.  I appreciate Luchs’ candor and the glimpse behind the scenes of what really goes on between agents and college players, but am I stunned by any of his revelations?  No. 

This is simply another kind of behavior that has come to be expected in the world of college athletics.  At this point, if you’re like me, you’re almost completely numb to any kind of NCAA violation.  Big schools cheat.  Small schools cheat.  Coaches have impermissible contact with recruits.  Players take money.  And the world turns.

Sure, there have always been schools out there breaking the rules, but today these violations are so pervasive it’s hard to find a university that doesn’t have a blemish on its record.  Our alma mater may cheat, but as long as we’re winning, it’s pretty easy to look the other way. 

I think I’m ready to come out of my scandal induced coma, and propose some real changes.  Not because I’m angry or disappointed or betrayed, but because I’m just so sick and tired of hearing about it.

There is plenty of blame to go around here, but a good chunk of it lands right in the lap of the NCAA.  It’s an archaic, poorly run bureaucracy that needs to be fixed.  When I think of the leaders of the NCAA, I think of a group of old men sitting around a table in a dimly lit room.  They are wearing glasses, suspenders, and bow ties, and they’re churning out new rules so quickly that their typewriters are smoking.  They are so far removed from what life is actually like on a college campus.  They know nothing of what a coach has to deal with or what it’s really like to be a “student-athlete.”  And they don’t care.

Listen up NCAA…there are TOO MANY rules.  How much time, effort, and money do you spend as an organization just investigating infractions?  I’m willing to bet it’s a bunch.  Why?  Because you’re creating rules faster than you can enforce them. 

Why not lighten up on the recruiting rules?  There are hundreds of rules coaches are expected to follow, and I can’t blame them for slipping up from time to time.  There is a limit to the number of phone calls and number of texts a coach can send.  There are only certain times of the year when recruiting is “open.”  It’s kind of like deer season.  There are certain periods when the recruit can sign a letter of intent.  There are rules for how a coach can recruit a high school junior and different rules for a high school senior.  There are rules for when and how a recruit can take a visit to a campus, and there are rules for what can and cannot happen during that visit.  Try reading the NCAA recruiting guidelines for division one football.  Go ahead try it.  It will make your head spin. 

A simple logo for a complex organization (courtesy ncaa.org)

The NCAA could do away with most of these rules.  The NCAA will tell you there must be a level playing field, and the kids have to be protected.  Remember the NCAA really cares about the kids.  Since when is a high school kid incapable of turning off his phone or throwing away his mail?  Let coaches pursue the kids, and let the kids decide when and how they want to.  Less red tape would mean fewer violations, fewer probations, and maybe coaches could get back to coaching.

Not only do these silly rules cost the NCAA money to enact and enforce, they cost the universities millions of dollars every year.  Every school now has to hire a compliance staff to keep up with the ever-changing NCAA legislation.  These compliance officers are paid to make sure players are eligible, see that no violations are occurring, and educate the coaching staffs to the new rules.  Have these compliance staffs solved the problems?  Are there fewer violations now than there used to be?  No and not even close.

This isn’t to say that some rules are needed.  I don’t think players should be allowed to take money from agents or have contact with agents.  But it’s the agents who deserve the brunt of the punishment, not the players, and certainly not the entire program.  Should the current players on the USC football team really suffer because Reggie Bush accepted benefits from an agent?  It’s absurd.

Why should current Trojans be punished for Reggie Bush's transgressions? (courtesy renovomedia.com)

The NCAA seems to think more regulations will equal cleaner programs.  It’s a nice concept, but it’s wrong.  There are more regulations than ever, and there’s more cheating than ever before.  Everyday brings a new headline.

UConn Men’s Basketball Team Admits Major Violations, Florida Football Misuses Facebook Commits Four Minor NCAA Violations, NCAA Accuses Michigan Coach of Violations, Memphis Forced to Vacate Wins from Final Four Season, NCAA places Alabama football on Probation, Trojans Hammered for Lack of Institutional Control…

And on, and on, and on we go.

I’m not naive enough to think that cheating can be eradicated from college sports or any sport for that matter.   Coaches and players will continue to come up with ways to cut corners and gain a competitive edge.  Those that do should be punished.  However, I’m exasperated by the callous nature of the NCAA and the complete refusal of this institution to look inward and recognize that widespread changes need to be made.  I don’t think we have to be so far away from cleaning up the landscape of college athletics.  I’m frustrated by the stubborn refusal of an organization to change.

I think I will remain mostly numb but I don’t want to feel this way anymore.  So please NCAA, please help me change.  Help me to see violations as the exception, not the norm.  Help me to care, help me get rid of the cynical sports fan inside of me.  That way if I am shocked, it will mean that scandal is rare instead of prevalent.  I want to feel again, I want to care, I want to be the sports fan of my youth.  Please NCAA, look deep into the blackness that is your soul, and try to change so I can change.

Meet Your New Role Model…Kevin Durant

Gather around kids, and listen carefully.

You know that Kobe Bryant jersey you got for Christmas?  Try selling it a garage sale.  The Carmelo Anthony bobblehead on your nightstand?  Let’s find a shoebox for ‘Melo.  Lebron James may be taking his talents to South Beach, but why don’t you take that poster of his to the trash can.

I’ve got a new role model for you and his name is Kevin Durant.  He is the man you should be imitating.  He is worthy of your admiration.  He won’t disappoint you on or off the court.  Let me tell you why you should be plastering your walls with images of Durant.  We’ll start with Kevin Durant the basketball player.

You may not have heard this since its football season and your dad has a death grip on the remote, but just last week Durant led Team USA to its first World Championship in 16 years.  Kobe wasn’t there.  Neither was Dwyane Wade.  At 21 years old, Durant was the clear-cut leader of the American squad.  In the semifinals Durant dropped 33 points on the Lithuanians.  Against Turkey in the championship, Durant drained seven 3-pointers on his way to 28 points and tournament MVP honors.  Durant didn’t have to be there in Turkey, half a world away representing his country.  He could have stayed home, rested, or taken a long vacation away from the game of basketball.  After all, NBA training camps start in just two weeks.  Most guys might want more of an offseason.  Durant just wants to play ball.

Durant leads Team USA to gold at World Championships (photo from kevindurant35.com) Click photo to travel to KD's website.

If there’s a way to defend Durant, NBA coaches haven’t figured it out.  Last season, Durant became the youngest player to ever lead the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game.  Consistency?  Durant has it.  He recorded a streak of 29 straight games with 25 points or more, the second longest streak of its kind in NBA history.  Durant never missed a game, and rarely missed a free throw.  He shot a blistering 47% from the field and finished his third season as a pro with 25 double doubles.   Each year, Durant’s numbers have gone up for points, rebounds, and assists.  All this while facing the best defender on every team he faces.  Most impressively, Durant propelled a young Thunder team to the playoffs and pushed the Lakers to six games in the first round.  Watch closely kids and you won’t see Durant whining to referees or demanding more shots.  He keeps his head down and his mouth shut.   You see kids, it’s a style we simply don’t see out of our idols too often. It’s a style that may not earn you maximum fame.  What it will get you is maximum respect.

Lebron James may have had a TV special dedicated to “the decision.”  James may have had millions of people hanging on his every word, but his shameless self-promotion turned him into a laughing-stock.  Trust me kids, trying to boost your own ego only makes you look petty, immature, and incredibly lame.  Durant signed a contract extension with Oklahoma City right around the same time as the Lebron spectacle.  Why didn’t you hear more about Durant’s signing you ask?  Because Durant is the anti-Lebron.  He announced his extension on Twitter.  No press conference, no media, no gimmicks, just 140 characters.  Truth is, Durant could have asked to opt out of his current deal in the fifth season.  You might have a hard time believing someone with Durant’s skills and star power would want to stay in Oklahoma for years to come.  It’s the truth.  Durant wanted a deal done quickly and easily because as he puts it, “This is where I’m committed, this is where I want to be.  I’m a loyal person.”  Remember that word kids…loyalty.  It’s becoming a thing of the past.

More than any accolade or accomplishment on the court, Durant understands the responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete.  In January, Durant wasted no time in donating $100,000 to aid the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.  Thanks to Durant, a run down rec center in his home state of Maryland got a renovation and the kids in the neighborhood now have a safe place to play.  Durant recently partnered with a record label to build a new music studio for high school students in the Washington D.C. area.  Here in Oklahoma, Durant took a needy family on a grocery shopping spree to help a woman responsible for caring for her six nieces and nephews.  He is heavily involved with the March of Dimes organization and is becoming known for giving out free pairs of shoes to his fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Durant lends a helping hand in OKC (photo from kevindurant35.com). Click photo to visit his website.

In other words, Durant doesn’t just play for Oklahoma City, he has a presence in Oklahoma City.  A kid from Maryland, who went to school at Texas, now makes his home in Oklahoma.  One of the brightest stars in the league plays in one of the smallest markets.  But you see kids, it’s not about the size of the city.  It’s not about the money, the recognition, or even about what anyone else might think.  It’s about playing a game with passion, and being the same person on the court and off.  What you see is what you get with Kevin Durant.  I hope you see what I see.  I see a whole lot of heart, I see a man worthy of your admiration, a man who deserves that space on your wall.