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Pay to Play? Business of basketball may lead to it

by Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor


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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - On the eve of Election Day, one wonders what to make of an America without moral or ethical boundaries.

When did the audacity of hope become such a laughable platitude -- a societal shift in morality met by the stringent pushback of powerful agendas and financial funding of endless, powerful pockets?

And when did Wall Street's greed and corruption and our fickle society's desire for bigger over better seep into a sports world that has become less about the game and more about the financial implications of the outcome?

Sports Illustrated's scathing agent-player expose, revelations of improper dialogue and illegal backyard BBQs involving Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl and the latest reported violation of Iowa football and basketball recruits meeting Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore just touch the iceberg of an institution severing at its core.

Iowa recruits meeting movie stars is a minor secondary violation in comparison to Pearl's pig roast, where he served Tennessee-style fixings and may have roasted his and his employer's legacy in the process. Pearl held a press conference, played the part of wrongful soul who wants to heal through tears and hugs and admitted to conveniently forgetting certain pertinent facts in the face of NCAA inquiry.

Yet, unbeknownst to any of us, Pearl's employer sent him a Notice of Termination of Employment Agreement a day earlier, ripping up his contract and leaving him...with the same job, at slightly less pay, and maybe even a frame to mount a termination letter that had nothing to do with termination at all. Pearl held a BBQ that he knew was an NCAA violation, and he told recruits and their families just as much. Pearl's silence was golden. And apparently so was everyone else's at the party.

However, he not only put his high-profile job in jeopardy, but also the collegiate careers of the recruits eating alongside him. Page 189 of the NCAA rulebook, 14.1.1 is pretty clear in stating, "an institution should not enter a student-athlete (as an individual or a member of a team) in any intercollegiate competition if it is acknowledged by the institution or established through the Association's enforcement procedures that the institution or representative(s) of its athletics interests violated the Association's legislation in the recruiting of the student-athlete."

Pearl knew what he was doing, and risking the collegiate eligibility of 16- and 17-year-old kids who he may have been entrusted in mentoring is damning in its own right, and apt justification for termination.

The letter said as such. "...Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I have determined that you engaged in gross misconduct, including dishonesty and other acts involving intolerable behavior," the letter read. "Gross misconduct," "dishonesty" and "intolerable behavior" are apparently just slaps on the wrist when you have won at least 21 games in each of your five seasons, led your team to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and one regional final and increased the athletic department's profit margin at a historical football school by turning your program into a cash cow.

Then you are safe at any cost. Pearl is just the latest, sexiest case of institutional chaos, but he is hardly alone. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun's program is under the ire of the NCAA as well, and the school is ardently behind him because Calhoun is a great father figure, a wonderful teacher and he transforms Storrs, Connecticut into a sports landmark for national media and passionate basketball fans each November through March. Wins equal money. And at a time when athletic department budgets are strapped due to lack of state funding, the more dollars and cents a program can bring in, the easier it is to justify the costs associated with making the big bucks.

It is Wall Street's guide to Business 101. The simple tenet that the means are justified by their success no matter the cost is preached from board rooms to coaches' offices. And therein lies the major issue with collegiate recruiting today.

We could spend valuable inches in this space discussing agent-player relationships in college basketball, how AAU and summer league coaches latch on to their valuable players and "mentor" them on collegiate choices and professional contract talks. We could talk about the reactionary suggestion by college commissioners to wipe away the July recruiting period in an attempt to cut down on both accidental and purposeful contact with recruits during unsanctioned games and tournaments.

The fact remains that coercion can be bought at any price and with any vehicle. The real issue stems from sports' relationship to big business, how athletic directors are running programs as conglomerates instead of university standard- bearers and places to teach and mold the character and skill level of talented young men in the pursuit of athletic success in a highly competitive industry.

If this is the road more traveled, the path beaten down by college basketball's power programs, then perhaps it is finally time to re-define the essence of amateurism and return to the uncomfortable, yet fast-becoming- necessary discussion of pay to play. If student athletes are treated as employees, part of a business theorem taught to MBA suits across the coaching profession, then maybe it is time to compensate them as such.

What do you think? Send your comments on the possibility of paying college basketball players to jtt128@comcast.net and I will post some of the best responses in next week's column.

In the meantime, stop the water cooler fodder associated with the vehicles of corruption. They will always be the devil's candy, and if one goes away, another will emerge. Controlling their desire to run the "industry" begins and ends with taking the industry culture out of the sport.

College basketball, like our country as a whole, is at an ethical and moral crossroads. Big business has far too much influence on our government and our amateur sports world. It is either time to truly change the atmosphere or alter the rule book to work more effectively within the culture established through means without an end.

Americans have a voice on our government's principles this November. The time for change in how college basketball programs operate is reaching its apex nearly as fast.

5 HOOPS THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK

1. Duke is a near unanimous choice in both the Associated Press and Coaches Poll as the preseason favorite to repeat as national champion, and with good reason. Point guard Nolan Smith and swingman Kyle Singler, two key cogs in last season's national title run, return, and the rich got richer with the addition of transfer Seth Curry (brother of tournament legend and current Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry) and touted freshman Kyrie Irving. Who can knock off the Blue Devils? More on that next week.

2. As mentioned briefly above, the NCAA Board of Directors decided to stay the course on July recruiting at least for one year, giving enough time to study the pros and cons of the situation. The pros obviously involve a coach's ability to scout and distinguish players' strengths and weakness in relation to their offensive system. The cons involve the attempted crackdown on recruiting ethics and the ability to limit AAU power brokers in a month when they typically thrive.

3. Pittsburgh suffered an injury to its frontcourt depth when it was announced junior Nasir Robinson will miss up to six weeks after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Robinson started all 34 games last season, including a 26-point, 11-rebound effort in a victory over Louisville last season.

4. Speaking of the Panthers, how about the courage shown by head coach Jamie Dixon in helping the occupants of a vehicle that hit the side wall and flipped several times on Interstate 279 two Saturdays ago? Dixon cut his hand on windshield glass as he tried to help the individuals out of the car. He said later he was "reacting" more than "responding," but he was called a "Good Samaritan" by Pennsylvania State Troopers. It's just another nice story involving a nice guy, and one heck of a defensive coach.

5. Who am I interested to see in early-season action? Touted freshmen Josh Selby at Kansas and Harrison Barnes at North Carolina have the world watching and passionate fan bases on their shoulders. Selby, in part, is responsible with replacing Sherron Collins and helping erase Kansas' disappointing second- round tournament exit last season. Barnes is in charge of putting North Carolina back on the map after a season in purgatory. Freshmen are always a buzz in Chapel Hill, but just think about the pressure on a combo guard expected to not just maintain lofty expectations, but return the Tar Heels back to their place in the very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "St. Armand's Circle is jumping. Everyone is dressed up for Halloween and I'm dressed up as Dickie V....Trick or treat baby!!!" @DickieV --Talk about a scary costume.

NON-HOOPS THOUGHT OF THE WEEK: (AND A VERY IMPORTANT ONE) We are best remembered not by our cause of death, but by the causes we championed in life.

Each of us has a personal story of sacrifice -- many across this nation are living that story right now. But while each story has a touch of sadness and many an untimely taste of finality, that is not their narrative.

No, these are narratives of perseverance. Hope. Sacrifice and strength. Make no mistake about it, cancer is an evil and often debilitating opponent, but the end game, both physically and spiritually, is far more about life.

Catie O'Brien is an extraordinary individual. Yet, I never met her. That speaks volumes for the continuing life she brings to thousands of young children just like her. The love she brings to her team of family and friends. The life lessons her profound story teaches those like me -- individuals who live in a fast-paced world and sometimes need a reminder to life's most precious gifts.

I speak of Catie O'Brien in the present tense because her story has no end; her wishes continue to come true, her presence still shapes the world in which we live. Listen closely to a story that not only moves emotions but moves mountains in its everlasting gifts to society.

Catie O'Brien was seven years old when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT). Because of its rare location in the spine, Catie was referred to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Despite 31 rounds of radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy, Catie's tumor returned. In December 2008, Catie's family -- with her blessing -- decided to stop treatment.

Catie went home to spend her final Christmas with those closest to her. She cherished her time with family, even as she became confined to a wheelchair and eventually couldn't see. When discussion turned to Catie's final wish, her mother expected to hear about a special toy or dream vacation...the sky was the limit.

However, after a month of thinking, Catie decided she wanted to help other children and families, just as St. Jude helped her. She wanted to raise enough money to run St. Jude all day on April 23 -- her eighth birthday. The cost of her wish was $1.4 million. She also wanted everyone to color April 23rd purple on their calendars because it was her favorite color...and she wanted to be remembered.

The Catie's Wish Foundation (www.catieswish.org) was organized to follow through on Catie's desire to help others. In her final months, she threw out the first pitch at a Harrisburg Senators game and met now-New York Jets defensive tackle Jason Taylor. Her family and friends wore shirts that read, "I'm on Catie's team."

Catie, I want to be a part of your team.

And here is how you and I can help. An updated version of my book, "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket" will be available in soft-cover at Amazon sometime in the next month. Click on the link below at that time to purchase a copy. If you want to donate right away, you can purchase a Kindle, iPad, iPhone or PDF version of the book right now at the link below. Forty percent of my personal profits will go directly to Catie's Wish.

It's that easy. And it will make a difference.

I never met Catie O'Brien, but she is someone special. She is still championing causes that instill the best parts of life in all of us.

That is someone I want on my team. Forever.


Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jared Trexler at jtt128@comcast.net.

Follow Jared Trexler on Twitter and Facebook.

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