NCAA brand of hardball is a disgrace

February 10, 2000|By Wendell Barnhouse | Wendell Barnhouse,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Erick Barkley, St. John's. Jamal Crawford, Michigan. JaRon Rush, UCLA. Kareem Rush, Missouri. Andre Williams, Oklahoma State.

Call them the NCAA Five, not the Fab Five. And also know they are victims of a sinful system and an organization that has less heart than the Tin Man.

Barkley and Crawford are serving suspensions handed down by the NCAA. So is JaRon Rush. His brother, Kareem, and Williams are finished serving time in the NCAA penalty box.

Here are their "crimes: " Barkley traded cars with a friend. Crawford, with his mother's permission, lived with a benefactor while he attended high school in Seattle. The Rush brothers accepted money and gifts from a summer Amateur Athletic Union coach. Williams had his prep-school tuition paid by a man who has helped dozens of other needy students improve their lot in life.

"I think a lot of people who govern our sport do not have empathy for the socioeconomic backgrounds of the youngsters playing our sport," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is good friends with St. John's coach Mike Jarvis. "The word empathy is not there."

The NCAA has targeted basketball and summer recruiting. As part of the cost-cutting frenzy of the 1990s, a summer recruiting period was established. In a three-week period in July, coaches can one-stop-shop for recruits at events around the country where teams of high school players compete.

This move de-emphasized recruiting during the school year and emphasized recruiting in the summer. And the summer scene is controlled by shoe companies and a number of questionable characters. In Kansas City, for instance, Myron Piggie ran an AAU team that featured the city's best players and played all over the country. Piggie also was on Nike's payroll. The Rush brothers played for Piggie's team. For that, they've paid a heavy price.

Barkley is being punished because he swapped cars (his 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee for a 1995 sports-utility vehicle) with an old friend whom the NCAA suspects could become Barkley's agent.

The NCAA objects to Seattle businessman Barry Henthorn purchasing a $12,000 1988 Mercedes for Crawford and giving him thousands of dollars in cash, plus free living arrangements, when Henthorn was not Crawford's legal guardian.

"It seems like a bad dream," Crawford said. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Yes, you did, Jamal. You were blessed with athletic talent. And that talent, which helped set you apart in high school and which could earn you millions as a professional, is a curse when it comes to dealing with the NCAA.

Here's the NCAA rule in question: There must be no "preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual's athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation."

Any parent of a newborn should be on the alert. If your child has aspirations of becoming a scholarship athlete, you must avoid any possible violations for 18 years or so. Big Brother is watching. And as far as the NCAA is concerned, it doesn't matter if a gift giver has absolutely no ties to a school nor influences an athlete's matriculation decision.

Jarvis, a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, used the words "communism" and "Gestapo" to describe the NCAA. Strong words.

"I hope and pray I see the day when there is no NCAA," he said. "This is about America. This is about human rights."

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