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Brand the new NCAA Sheriff

October 17, 2002 Columns No Comments

School Ties

by David Mosse

Somewhere in Lubbock Bob Knight is either rolling in laughter or seething in anger, and the smart money is on the latter. This past week the NCAA announced that none other than Myles Brand, the man who unceremoniously pulled the plug on Knight’s Indiana career, would replace Cedric Dempsey as President.

While inheriting one of the most prestigious jobs in all of sports, Brand also faces enormous pressure. These are turbulent times for the NCAA as the ongoing cash-scandal at Michigan is once again raising questions over corruption. In addition, the record number of players either bypassing college or leaving school early has brought the debate over paying college athletes to its apex.

Of course, these problems are directly related. High school kids who feel the burden of taking care of their families are in a hurry to cash in on their god given abilities. Colleges realize they must provide some financial incentive to hold on to these kids and such students, who choose their college for the wrong reasons, are unlikely to ever depart from the school with a diploma in hand.

Thus many argue that a simple solution to the problem is to legalize the payment of college athletes. After all, players would get their money while pursuing an education and colleges wouldn’t need to resort to illegal methods. Graduation rates rise, corruption declines, and everyone is happy.

Sadly, advocates of such a measure don’t seem to mind that it would forever destroy the integrity of college athletics. How long until schools engage in bidding wars over seventeen years old kids? And if the NCAA tries to implement some sort of nationwide cap on the amount being paid, how long until colleges find ways to circumvent the rules and we end up right back where we started? Finally, are we really willing to subject ourselves to arguments about small schools being unable to compete financially with bigger schools?

Call me naive but I still choose to believe that more schools don’t cheat than do and more kids pick Universities for the proper reasons- location, academics, and diversity-rather than simply going to the highest bidder. The current system can work and should work if the NCAA simply does a better job of enforcing its rules and punishing those who break them.

It’s unfortunate that so many of our top collegian stars come from impoverished backgrounds where their athletic gifts serve as the meal ticket for their family and friends. However, this speaks to a larger problem in our society that should be left to those in Washington to solve. It is not the job of athletic programs to compensate for the decrepit state of inner cities.

Ironically, one of those responsible for stirring this debate is Chris Webber who, back in his Fab Five days, told a sad story of not having enough money for dinner one night yet walking past a bookstore and seeing his jersey on sail for $75. Today, we know that Webber could have treated himself to a four-course meal, courtesy of Wolverines’ booster Ed Martin.

Rather than surrendering to the corrupt and softening the rules simply to make their actions legal, the NCAA and its new president should take a firmer stand than ever against cheating. If it means leveling an overly harsh sentence against the next couple of schools found guilty of wrong doing, so be it. A message needs to be sent that Brand’s regime will not tolerate what took place at Michigan.

Through increased scrutiny and stiffer penalties, Brand should be able to weed out much of the corruption without jeopardizing the purity of college sports. In doing so, he will ensure that kids choose the right schools for the right reasons, thus raising the chances that they remain at their Universities longer.

Naturally, the appeal of the NBA will be too strong for some and kids will continue to bolt from the collegian ranks. There is no way to combat this other than to make school as enriching as possible in the hopes of persuading kids to stick around. And it wouldn’t hurt for coaches to educate their players on the plight of Omar Cook and Leon Smith among others, so they fully understand the risks involved with leaving early.

It may seem like an archaic notion but if provided with all the facts, some kids will make the right choices. When former Florida State running back Warrick Dunn announced his decision to return for his senior year with the Seminoles, he offered a simple explanation:

“I’ve been poor for the last 20 years,” said Dunn.” I can be poor for one more year.”

Presumably, Dunn received the blessing of his family in making his decision and opted to enjoy one more year of bliss while further preparing for the challenges that lay ahead. In some cases, that extra year is a luxury a player’s family cannot afford and the decision is taken out of his hands. Once again, such cases are beyond the reach of the NCAA.

The only strategy for Brand is to do his best to clean up college sports and hope kids, when given a choice, will make the right decisions. Under no circumstances should he succumb to the pressure of paying student-athletes and in the process tarnish one of the last bastions of good, clean fun.

Professional sports more than satisfies our fix for watching selfish, big headed players, with no attachment to their teams, only playing for money. In this regard, college should not prepare kids for the future.


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