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Published: Friday, 5/15/2009

Colleges turn blind eye to recruiting mess

One thing to remember next year while you're filling out your NCAA tournament bracket, trying to trade your first-born child for a Final Four ticket, hearing Dickie V nominate another coach for sainthood, and waiting for CBS to cue up "One Shining Moment." College basketball at the highest level is a cesspool.

It's not just guys like O.J. Mayo or Toledo's own Nate Miles, although cases that allegedly involve them exemplify all that is wrong with college hoops - from the one-year-wonder system to shady AAU entourages (and not high school coaches) being at the center of recruiting, to leaches called "runners" whose job is to steer a player to a certain college or promote unions between future stars and slimy agents or both.

As the NCAA dives deeper into the allegations surrounding Mayo's one year stay at Southern Cal, including the most recent charge that USC coach Tim Floyd made a direct cash payment to a Mayo "adviser" who helped deliver the much-traveled prodigy, one question stands out. It's not so much what USC knew, but what it should have known.

We'll leave the first part of that to the NCAA's investigators. The other part is easy. USC, and any number of schools like it, should have known better. Period.

We're speaking in generalities here, but if a star player is loaded down with bling, carries a Blackberry and three cell phones, drives a Hummer while his Escalade is in the shop, needs a nonfictional Ari Gold type (see Entourage, HBO) to schedule his appearances, arrange his flights, and enroll him in his next high school, which often is a case of interstate commerce, well, then a university should have known better.

These players don't belong in college and have no interest in being there, but what's a poor kid to do if he's ready for the NBA and the NBA won't take him?

Starting with Kevin Garnett in 1995 and including Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and, finally, Dwight Howard in 2004, dozens of the best high school players in the country went right to the NBA draft without stopping at go but definitely collecting $200.

After LeBron and Howard were back-to-back No. 1 picks, the college basketball purists screamed that enough was enough. What the purists didn't stop to consider, perhaps, was just how impure the result would be if pros were forced to remain amateurs, at least above the table.

That's what the NBA did with a rule that mandated its draft picks be a minimum age (19) and at least one year removed from high school.

The colleges enthusiastically applauded the change. Miles Brand, the NCAA president, is campaigning for the rule to be amended to say student-athletes - don't you love that term? - must remain in college for two years. He'd best be careful of what he wishes. Right now, it's a one-year sleaze factor. Brand doesn't have enough investigators for it to be expanded.

This is not to paint everyone with the same brush. Not every athlete arrives for his brief stay on campus with undo baggage.

But too many players, middle (money) men, and coaches are crossing paths while wallowing in the same muck.

Watch what eventually happens to USC or to Connecticut for its recruitment of Miles. It's what could happen to any number of infected big-time programs if they get unlucky. The athletes are long gone before the sanctions hit. But the programs remain.

That's why colleges should know better.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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