BY REBECCA AGULE
Somewhere, atop his high horse, NCAA President Myles Brand smiles smugly, raising a glass of overpriced brandy to toast his recent victory over the little guy and football fans everywhere.
When the Brand era began, many believed we might see a kinder, gentler – dare I say more standardized – NCAA. This was the man who finally stood up to legions of Hoosiers and took Bobby Knight to task. Brand seemed willing and ready to protect recruits, students and student-athletes from abuse by both coaches and the system.
The NCAA runs ad after ad touting the great things to be accomplished by its participants outside arenas and off of fields. I even let my guard down enough to entertain hopes that institutions like the University of Miami might become more than simply vocational schools for the NFL. In reality, it was simply hot air being thrown at the idea of emphasizing the “student” aspect of student-athlete.
In my presumptive hopefulness, I forgot about the nature of the NCAA, the world’s largest purchaser of red tape. This is the organization that feels it necessary for female cross country runners to sit through lecture after slideshow after panel on the perils of gambling, lest one be tempted to get paid for taking a dive in mile three. How could I have been so foolish?
As seen throughout the summer leading up to the 2004 college football season, the boys in Indianapolis have effectively evicted any equity or consistency that might have snuck into their offices. Nice work, gentlemen, nice work.
Joshua Cribbs is suiting up; and an uninjured Willie Williams would be lining up for Miami. But Jeremy Bloom isn’t even allowed on Colorado’s bench; and Mike Williams is looking for a job.
For those needing a quick refresher, Cribbs is Kent State’s record setting quarterback… with a record. In January of 2004 he was jailed on charges of domestic violence and marijuana trafficking. But after pleading guilty to the marijuana charges, Cribbs and his several 100-100 (passing and rushing) games have been welcomed back with open arms.
Willie Williams, the highly touted recruit to the University of Miami, first unintentionally exposed the hearty recruiting excesses of several schools as he documented his official visits, complete with lobster dinners, game jerseys and private car services, in a national diary. Only after signing with Miami did anyone begin to mention Williams’ litany of offenses dating back to 1999, culminating recently with what one might call giving an unwanted hug to an unsuspecting Florida girl. But when every major recruiting service in the country calls you the nation’s best prep linebacker, what the police might say about your past becomes null and void. Miami was more than happy to keep his roster spot open and ready.
Jeremy Bloom was a wide receiver for the University of Colorado Buffaloes. And is an aspiring Olympic skier. Bloom signed an endorsement deal to help him afford to train with the U.S. National Ski Team. Despite no relationship between his skiing endeavors and his football – and Bloom’s offer to break his endorsements once he learned the NCAA wanted to withdraw his eligibility – Brand and his stooges have deemed him quite literally worse than a criminal (see Willie Williams above). He remains ineligible to play football.
Mike Williams’ only mistake was trusting the legal system. A month before the USC receiver left school as a sophomore and hired an agent, Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett won a court decision overturning the NFL rules prohibiting players from entering the draft less than three years removed from high school. Williams hopped Clarett’s coat tails and sought to enter the 2004 draft. But Clarett’s case was overturned on appeal, leaving him, and Williams, out of luck. Despite the fact that he was following the latest court ruling at the time, the NCAA deemed Williams’s act a deadly sin, and has not allowed him back into school.
If the NCAA is so concerned with the education of its athletes, shouldn’t the three year holding pattern placed on NFL prospects really be four years? Or is there some special three year plan for revenue sport athletes that they don’t publicize? I highly doubt the ranks of college sports are crawling with hundreds of athletes like Emeka Okafor, a University of Connecticut center who was able to complete his degree in just three years before heading to the pros. Essentially, the NCAA refuses to admit that it has devolved into an organization that exists to line the pockets of sponsors and the rosters of pro teams.
Well, perhaps such rulings aren’t so void of consistency. The NCAA wants us to know that it condones criminality and scorns legitimacy and honesty. And the decisions of 2004 did nothing if not emphasize this.
My last weekend at home before leaving for HLS orientation, I traveled to FedEx Field for a proper tailgate and the BCA Classic between the USC Trojans and Virginia Tech, assuming it would be my only chance to see live top-level college football this fall. The game proved to be more exciting than expected, but the whole time it felt wrong that Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart didn’t have Mike Williams waiting for him downfield. When a player as electrifying as Williams is forced from the game due to the befuddled inanity of the NCAA, the fans end up the losers.
It’s not that I was naïve enough to actually associate sanctity with college athletics, but the hypocrisy flaunted by the NCAA over recent months has been above and beyond the call of duty. Fine, Mr. Brand, stay up on your high horse. I hope you get saddle sores.
Rebecca Agule is a 1L. Her column will appear regularly.