Time for Hill to go to hoop

Mayo case shows depths of college basketball's fall

On Congress' Next Big Job

May 22, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

Don't come looking here for any angry condemnations of Congress for sticking its nose into steroids and Spygate. Our elected national representatives are not only entitled, but also obligated, to do what they can to clean up whichever multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-supported sports business proves incapable of cleaning itself up.

Congress just needs to take it further. Think you need to be a watchdog for the public against drug cheats and coaching cheats? You really need to be a watchdog for all of the lives wrecked by the crooked system that dominates basketball in this country.

Is there a better reason for Congress to seriously intervene, for example, than this scummy mess involving O.J. Mayo, Southern California, a major sports agent and a couple of "runners" (one of whom ratted to ESPN recently) alleged to have funneled money to Mayo as far back as junior high school?

There are a lot more stories involving kids such as Mayo than involving kids who endanger their lives through steroids. And certainly more than those involving people directly affected by what the New England Patriots did. These are kids, specifically young, black males, funneled from harsh backgrounds through youth basketball, high school, college and the pros, coming out somewhere along the way without the education, life skills or even money constantly dangled before them.

These aren't baseball record-holders being cheated or AFC title-game opponents being cheated. These are generations of already-victimized American citizens being cheated.

Mayo is just the latest and loudest problem in a mess that goes back not a few years as do steroids and Spygate, but deep into the past century. It has been reported recently that a starter for national champion Kansas had his grades altered while in high school. Kentucky offered scholarships to eighth- and seventh-graders.

The NCAA's Academic Progress Rate again showed that college basketball programs perform worse than all other intercollegiate sports; schools as prominent as Kansas State and Tennessee had scholarships taken away, but others escaped punishment through waivers that are questionable at best and controversial at worst.

Every few years, Congress takes on one tiny aspect of this, then abandons it, then takes on another. Last month, it was the Bowl Championship Series; two years ago, it was the NCAA's tax-exempt status; two years before that, it was alcohol ads on college game broadcasts. So far, Congress' reach and sights have been too short.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, president of the Black Coaches and Administrators, appeared with the panel on reforming youth basketball at the Final Four last month and will speak at next month's meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Washington.

Noting that nobody takes "a holistic view of this problem," Hewitt said yesterday: "I would love to see ... if lawmakers will ever take it as seriously or get to the bottom of it as much as they do with the steroids issue."

Should Congress take it on, though? Hewitt paused. "You know, that's a great question," he said.

"I don't know if I want to get into `should,'" said University of Maryland chancellor William Kirwan, co-chair of the Knight Commission, "but do I think that there's a possibility they will get into intercollegiate athletics. I would say yes, for a whole variety of reasons."

Those reasons, he added, "are right in areas where Congress wants to increase certain sensitivities to."

So, can this happen? Unfortunately, one person who probably could make it happen, Rep. Elijah Cummings, was unable to return calls to The Sun, an aide said. Part of his district, West Baltimore, is directly and disproportionately affected by the dysfunction of the entire basketball landscape.

He also never hesitates to get engaged in dust-ups with big-time sports, as proved by his role on the House committee that witnessed the various steroid hearings, including the one with Roger Clemens.

No issue anywhere in sports needs his, and his colleagues', attention more than this one.

The war and the economy don't need to wait in line behind the cesspool basketball has become. But Clemens and NFL coach Bill Belichick absolutely should.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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