The University of South Carolina announced Wednesday that tight end Weslye Saunders, who had been under suspension for one reason or another since the NCAA began its investigation into alleged agent-funded trips, had been dismissed from its football team.
But here's the interesting part. Saunders also was one of a reported five Gamecocks football players who had been advised by the school to move out of an upscale Columbia, S.C., hotel after the NCAA questioned their living arrangements.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina's coach, said he was aware players were staying there but didn't know the details.
Think about that for a minute. A college football coach knows players are staying at an all-suites hotel five minutes from campus and isn't curious about the room rate? He doesn't call the manager to ask? He doesn't summon the players to his office and ask them if everything is on the up and up?
According to its Web site, the Whitney Hotel is sold out for the next couple nights. A one-bedroom suite is available on Sunday night and is $129.22, including tax. Stay for the week and the rate is discounted to “only” $797.52. Spurrier has had players living there for however long and, apparently, wasn't a bit curious about the arrangements.
You know why? He didn't want to know.
Pete Carroll had to hear the rumors that Reggie Bush could bring down the storied USC program because he was accepting improper benefits. You think Carroll ever checked into Bush's financially troubled family shacking up in a $700,000 home owned by a budding sports agent?
He didn't want to know.
Steve Fisher coached Michigan basketball — you might remember the Fab Five — and walked past Escalades and Range Rovers every time he parked at Crisler Arena, but never wondered who was driving them?
He didn't want to know.
Ignorance is bliss if and when the NCAA visits a campus near you.
And, boy, is the NCAA making visits these days.
South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee (pick a sport), West Virginia, Florida, and Michigan have programs and/or players under investigation, or are awaiting penalties, as we speak. And those are just the biggies and the ones we know about.
When the cases are closed, there likely will be additions to the 173 “major infraction” sanctions handed down by the NCAA — 74 at Division I-A football-playing schools — since 1999. Those penalized in that time frame, according to the NCAA's legislation database, include Notre Dame, nine of the 11 members of the Big Ten (only Penn State and Northwestern go unmentioned), and even five schools from the Mid-American Conference.
College sports must be the dirtiest legal business going. It may not be fair, but it's hard not to paint every school and coach with the same brush, whether it's a matter of bending or breaking the rules or whether it's blissful ignorance over what some of their, ahem, student-athletes are doing with their meal money.
Why such a dismal, rock-bottom attitude? Well, blame Bruce Pearl. It would figure that if he's cheating, they're all cheating.
Some 20 years ago, Pearl was the Iowa assistant who turned in Illinois to the NCAA for supposedly breaking rules during the recruitment of a basketball player named Deon Thomas. Pearl paid a whistleblower's price in the good-old-boy fraternity, considering it took a dozen years after that for him to get a Division I head coaching job.
Now the coach at Tennessee, Pearl admitted to lying recently to the NCAA. Reportedly, in 2008, he entertained several high school juniors at his home, an off-campus violation for a head coach with underclass recruits. He said it didn't happen. The NCAA had a photo that indicated otherwise. Oops, said Pearl.
On a totally unrelated note, I guess, is this from Jeff Benedict, who writes a series called “Sports and Society” for Sport Illustrated's Web site, SI.com. He researched and reported that 70 college football players and 15 college basketball players were arrested between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year for felonies or for misdemeanors involving violence, weapons, or substance abuse. Presumably, four of those 15 basketball players were part of a New Year's Day traffic stop that produced two guns and marijuana … in Knoxville, Tenn. Oops.
Just when you think it can't get any scummier, well, it gets scummier.
Look, it's OK to fork over hundreds, even thousands of dollars for those season tickets and prime tailgate spots; it's OK to fly the alma mater's flag from your front porch on game days; it's OK to wear the colors, to Hail the Victors, to Script Ohio, and to shake down the thunder and cheer, cheer for old leprechauns.
Be proud and hope for the best. But always remember one thing. College athletics are a cesspool.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg
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