Szwaja's Sports Blog

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

So, yeah, I took December and almost half of January off. Here's what I've been doing: go to work for 10 hours every day, come home, eat dinner and watch one of three things 1) Lost, Season One 2) Bulls or 3) Illini basketball. I've been wanting to write about a few things but haven't had the chance to do so. See, my Internet time has been severely cut down. My sister, who recently had ACL reconstruction surgery, stole my Net adapter from my computer and set it up on her machine downstairs. That's where I'm writing this blog -- at the dining room table with the Scorpions layin' down some serious licks in the background.

Anyway, today let's talk about something that really pisses a lot of people off: the NCAA. I thought today would be an appropriate day to do so considering Randolph Morris is making his return to Kentucky basketball tonight. Some of you might see where this is going. Others may not, so let's lay down exactly what's going on here. Morris, like so many ignorant, "I'm going to rule the world" college basketball stars, declared for the NBA draft last spring way before it was time to do so -- he had only finished his freshman year.

Anyway, Morris decides he wants to participate in NBA pre-draft camps, so he starts talking to agents. These agents agree to pay his entry fee into these camps (this is common practice in agent/player relations). When an agent starts paying a player's entrance fees, that all but makes said player a professional athlete. Draft night comes, Morris never hears his name, realizes he made the biggest mistake he's ever made and goes crying back to Tubby Smith, who welcomes him back with open arms. One problem, what about all those fees those agents agreed to pay? Isn't that an NCAA violation? You bet your mortgage it is ... and a serious one at that. The NCAA declares Morris ineligible for the upcoming season.

Now I know what you're saying: "But, Mike, you said earlier he's back with the Wildcats." That's because the NCAA ruled about two weeks ago that they were cutting Morris' suspension down to 14 games instead of the entire season it originally ruled. Why, you ask? I read the AP story, but no real reason was given. They just kind of said, "Okay, Randolph, you're back."

I'll tell you why. Without Morris, Kentucky was just your average good college basketball team, a capable team who would do nothing in March because they had no interior size (thanks to Morris' departure). Plain and simple, that's bad for college basketball. Kentucky fans are arguably the best in the land. They fill a 23,000 seat stadium for every game. They travel well. Ashley Judd and her pigtails might just be the perfect celebrity face of a program. The Kentucky Wildcats aren't supposed to be in a position where their first two NCAA tourney games aren't near-guaranteed wins. Kentucky is a model program that the NCAA wants to see do well. So the NCAA will do everything in its power to ensure the Wildcats don't turn into the Mildcats, which is exactly why Kentucky has its center back on the court. And Mildcats they had become. 10-4 heading into tonight isn't Kentucky, with bad losses to Iowa, North Carolina and Indiana, not to mention the whipping Kansas put on them last week.

The NCAA figured, "We need Kentucky. They need a center. Get them a center." I don't need an AP report to tell me why Morris is back. I know why he's back. The NCAA sees dollar signs in Kentucky, and they want as much money as humanly possible come March. The Final Four is in Indianapolis this year. If Kentucky can somehow find a way to get there, they might as well not cut the arena in half and then let the Kentucky fans buy the place out. (FYI, even Morris might not bring Kentucky out of mediocrity, they're down 41-37 to Vanderbilt as I write this.)

So, you think I'm nuts? Exhibit B: Ohio State basketball. Former head coach Jim O'Brien admits he gave a recruit thousands of dollars to help the kid pay off his mother's bills. No sanctions, no slap on the wrist, no nothing. Never mind both O'Brien and the recruit admitted attending Ohio State was never a reality for the kid. A recruit is a recruit, you can't send any green his way. So, again, we ask ... Why? Ohio State isn't a basketball powerhouse, you say? I'll agree. But don't forget about their '06 recruiting class. Some are calling it the best class since the Michigan Fab Five. They're calling OSU's '06 class the Thad Five (a homage to head coach Thad Matta). Any NCAA sanction for the O'Brien payout means breaking up that recruiting class, which means breaking up a sensational story in the making. Look deep into the NCAA conscience: "Never mind that we're setting hugely consequential precedents that could greatly affect the lives of our "student" athletes here. We want our sports to flourish, and that's the bottom line." And don't forget about OSU football, where former players are claiming they were paid and given false classroom grades just so they could play on Saturday. "Sanctions, for OSU football? Are you kidding me? They deserve them ... yes, but we can't afford something like that? Just look at all the hype over the last Fiesta Bowl. OSU/Notre Dame is what dreams are made of." Same old story, plain and simple.

Just to set the curve, they can't give up. They have to throw a sanction here or there to smaller, less important programs. Look no further than University of Illinois football. Before I continue, yes, I attended Illinois, and I may be partial here, but this really fits the bill. Just a couple months ago, the NCAA sanctioned Illinois because a booster was paying former Illinois running back Marcus Mason while he was on the team. Ron Zook kicked Mason off the team during the summer, and the university turned itself into the NCAA when they found out about the violation. Still, the NCAA came down on Illinois. There were no bowl exemptions, but for the next two years, Illinois will have to report ALL the money that flows through the football program in writing. That will prove to be a daunting task, and, as a fan, I'm worried that somewhere along the way, someone will make an honest mistake and let something slip underneath the watch of the NCAA. Then, the NCAA will come down like a sledgehammer on the program, but they won't care. How much money can Illinois football make the NCAA? Not much compared to ... say ... Ohio State. Like anything else, it's all about money. Meanwhile, Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger sits behind his desk and hides like the a kid on the playground hiding from the bully. What Geiger doesn't know is that the bully doesn't have it in him.

Inside, he's really a coward. He talks tough, but it's all a show. He doesn't have the onions to back any of it up.

The scary part is that high-profile athletic institutions are watching, and they're starting to realize they're on the playground with a so-called bully.

Slowly, they're learning ... learning that they'll be able to get away with more than they ever imagined. And there's nothing anyone can do about it.


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