Monday, March 5, 2012

Is There Such a Thing as a Clean Major College Program?

Duke clean up to now...but how long?
I am honestly starting to wonder if anything is as it seems in college sports.  The money that has become so big in the major college sports has slowly eaten away at any sense of integrity within the money makers (football, basketball, hockey, water polo).  The list is so long I couldn't name all the potential scandals, actual scandals, past scandals and rumored scandals if I sat here and did research for the next year.  Not to mention the fact that as I did that research more scandals would pour in and never allow me to finish the research of past because I'd be trying to keep up with the present.  It never ends and no team, program or coach is above it.  Just this year some major programs that many thought were above slimy scandals have been dirtied by investigations and worse: Penn State football, Syracuse basketball, UConn basketball and UCLA basketball.  So I am wondering, is there anyone out there doing it the right way?  And, just how long will it be until my Duke basketball program is caught up in one of these scandals (and it actually sticks)?

I am just waiting for the scandal to hit Coach K and company.  I am either cynical enough, or just being realistic, to think that over two decades of amazing success has to have been built on a few skeletons that are sure to be found in some closet down at Cameron Indoor.  Corey Maggette is one of the most well known close calls for Duke.  It was found that Maggette took payments while in high school from an AAU summer league coach.  This surfaced after Maggette had left Duke, and according to Duke, they knew nothing of it during the recruitment of Maggette or while Maggette was a member of the Blue Devils.  The NCAA never punished Duke for playing a player who was technically ineligible (in a season that included a Final Four run mind you), while it has punished other programs for similar issues even when said programs didn't know about the player's ineligibility.  So you have to wonder what else has been looked over and what will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and opens the flood gates to even more issues that have happened under Coach K's reign?

It breaks my heart to say that, but it is reality.  Even if Coach K did everything right, as it seems he actually did in the Maggette case, he could have his entire record tarnished and his reputation crushed just like Joe Paterno.  Paterno's case is much different than the Maggette case, obviously, but it is an example of one wrong move ruining decades of work. 

Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim have done amazing things building their respective, title winning programs.  Yet, UConn may not be able to participate in any post season play next year (they are appealing the ruling) due to a poor score on the NCAA Academic Progress Rate.  Also one of their star point guards, Ryan Boatright, was suspended for part of this year after his family took money from an agent.  Then there is Syracuse, with the Bernie Fine scandal all around them and now today Yahoo Sports reporting they may have played up to 10 players in the past decade who failed Syracuse's own drug policies.  Which would be a violation of the NCAA's "Willful Violators" clause, "which is a violation that occurs during a pattern of deliberate or intentional rule breaking", per the story...I didn't know any of that crap off the top of my head.  

It never ends, then you look at who is number one in college basketball right now (lol...Syracuse is number two), good ol' Kentucky Wildcats.  Who coaches the Wildcats?  Oh the one and only John Calipari.  The sleeziest of sleezy in college basketball.  When there is a nine page article done by Sports Illustrated talking about all the crap you have done in your career breaking NCAA rules and you've had multiple runs to the Final Four vacated at multiple universities, you are a coaching crook.  Yet, here we go with another Final Four, heck title winning caliber team packed with amazing recruits about to make a run with Calipari at the helm.  Kentucky fans all have that little voice in the back of their head's right now nagging them with the reality that this run of great ball at Rupp Arena is probably being done against NCAA rules and will likely be vacated.

So who are you rooting for?  In the end, will it even matter who your root for?  Even programs like Minnesota, or should I say, programs that aren't very good, very often, run into these issues.  In 1998 I took on another team in addition to being a Duke fan and rooted for the Gopher basketball program as they were making a Final Four run.  Even an anti-homer like myself can fall in with a good run by a local squad and I was rooting Bobby Jackson and the boys on.  Ah, but it is but a memory now as it has been wiped from the record books with a cheating scandal of having tutors do homework for players.  Heck, we can't even root for the pro teams in Minnesota, we have scandal there too with Joe Smith being given illegal benefits outside of his contract by the Timberwolves.  

I know you are all sick of hearing about me being a Duke fan, but I am one and I am looking over my shoulder every day.  I cringe every time I see a headline of a recruiting or cheating scandal, hoping and praying the worst isn't going to come true, that if I click on that link, it will be Duke's program being ripped apart by sanctions.  

I fear it could be happening soon to Duke.  They are still actively recruiting Shabazz Muhammad, so much so he took his official visit to Duke over the past weekend and was at the UNC/Duke match up Saturday.  The best high school player in the land is yet to commit for next year, and is considering Duke, along with Kentucky (Calipari aka Sir Vacates), UNLV (Google "Tarkanian Scandals"), UCLA (see above), and Kansas (relatively clean history, but not scandal free, see 1989 and current ticket scandal).  So why does the recruitment of Shabazz scare me for Duke?  Well the NCAA has already warned schools of possible violations by Shabazz Muhammad, the violations being that a couple of visits to North Carolina schools, of which only Duke is still actively pursuing, being financed by two guys described as "family friends".  Again, likely Duke had nothing to do with this, but just like the Maggette story, it will be Duke on the headline if indeed Muhammad goes to Duke and the NCAA finds illegal activity by Muhammad.  It will be Coach K's reputation that will be hurt.  I as a fan am the problem, as I want Muhammad to go to Duke...even with the NCAA's warning, and I am the one that all the advertisers by up ad space for college games and supply Duke with gear in hopes of getting my dollar.  But I still want him, so that UNC doesn't smoke Duke again next year like it did Saturday.  Sad but true.

It is more of a "when" than "if" sadly that this will happen to me.  I am sure Ken, Derrick and the rest of you will pile on when it does happen and I will probably have most of it coming from ripping them and everyone else's squad for not being as good as Duke's in my mind and from still wanting a player like Muhammad.  Yet, if (when) it does happen, remember that your team probably isn't too far away from one of these scandals either.  For now, root for the cheaters, future cheaters, past cheaters and unknowing cheaters during March Madness and let the chips fall were they may later when the NCAA starts sniffing around the winners past.

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