Basketball staggers into the Big Dance

How about another school to join the bad boy club? Is there an epidemic out there or is it just part of March madness? Whatever. Basketball programs throughout the country have been confessing, confusing, and otherwise wiping their hands of their overwhelming guilt.

One team quit for a season rather than play without their ineligible teammates, and schools have taken themselves out of NCAA tournament consideration with confessions of misconduct. Wow!

It's really sort of refreshing that all of this actual cheating comes to the surface at the same time. The worst case involves the Jim Harrick family in Georgia.

Duh. Does that surprise anyone?

Zebras don't change their stripes. The interesting part of his problem stemmed from a relationship gone bad with one of his players. Of course, Harrick's son, the bagboy, was caught red-handed, "taking care" of the player in question. He then tried to cover it up before the son was outright dismissed by the university. As it turns out, the kid who spilled the beans is really a bad kid. He had been kicked off the team for academics, attitude, and legal problems.

Unfortunately, when you cheat, it comes back to bite you. It really doesn't make any difference if the kid is bad news. With Harrick there has always been a shade of gray. Washington had recruited against him years ago when he was at Pepperdine. Harrick had Dennis Johnson, who was with the Boston Celtics and a Pepperdine graduate, go visit a prized Seattle hoops recruit when the Celtics were in town to play the Sonics. He also did the Malibu celebrity introduction trip with the same recruit. I know because the recruit himself, Doug Christie, told me.

I reflect back on the years when the same conference that let Harrick walk away, with relatively few consequences from UCLA, was the same conference that laid the football Huskies out with the prejudicial, illegal, biased investigation and sanctions of the early 90's.

The message could've been that real violations are OK if they happen at the LA schools. There is no way around it because there is a lot more outright cheating going on in basketball than there has ever been in football. Right here in our own conference, California got caught missing payments to a player's parents. Harrick used his daughter's SUV to help land a recruit. Problems with agents giving money to prospects at UCLA and USC got them a slap on the wrist. Illegal parking passes to players at UCLA received no sanctions. UCLA softball schemed a championship by using a soccer scholarship to get a great pitcher from down under and rode her to a national championship. They were busted, confessed, and allowed to keep their championship. Basically they got off scott-free. Keyshawn Johnson admitted getting money in recruiting and continues to break the rules by helping his school land and keep WR Mike Williams who is the Trojan's version of Washington's Reggie Williams.

There is a double standard in this conference. The media center of LA takes those schools off the radar screen. They basically get away with whatever they want. Yet, Rick Neuheisel and his problems tend to dominate the attention of the conference. He or his assistants can't breathe without logging it for the NCAA and the conference. It could be my own paranoia, but I just think the conference and/or the TV doesn't want anything bad to happen to the LA schools because of their prime time location.

It is really too bad that the ethical standards are not universal. But reality is everyone marches to their own version of what is the truth. Jim Harrick doesn't really think he has done anything wrong. His values and ethics of honesty are just different from what I believe. So were O.J. Simpson's. The fact that there are so many infractions all surfacing at once makes the indiscretions of Lorenzo Romar's program seem very minor. Comparing improper contacts to academic fraud and illegal benefits seems like a no-brainer to me.

Face this fact - recruiting is not the area where most violations take place anyway. It is after kids get to school that most of the illegal activities occur. Cheap housing, free admittance to clubs, car deals with balloon payments, discount clothing and audio-video, free golf, assisted academics and celebrity status. These are the areas of greatest concern. Simply monitoring all the cars that your student-athletes drive is a major task in itself. This doesn't even account for cell phones, computers, and beepers and all the charges related to them. It doesn't include all the transportation costs a kid gets by having a car at college.

Believe me, the conference and the NCAA is blind to certain schools and vigilant of others. I saw it first-hand. There are too many things happening all at once not to believe that people are still bending the rules, and it's not just in football. Rather, it is in all of the other sports, starting with basketball. The major source of revenue for the NCAA is the basketball tournaments. Period. They want to be delicate with the sport that feeds the octopus. This is also why there will soon be a football playoff. There is just too much money left on the table and the NCAA will eventually go for the dough.

Because you really can turn a basketball team around with a couple of good players, it makes sense to be aggressive as you can in the recruiting process. The recent influx of reported infractions in basketball bear this out.

It isn't there, however, that the NCAA should be watching. Their efforts should be more directed at what happens to kids after they become stars.

What is most disturbing is the continued disregard for academic integrity that is perpetuated in basketball and has also surfaced in football. California, one of the top academic schools in the country, was penalized a bowl trip this year because of academic fraud. Minnesota was similarly penalized in basketball, and now eligibility cases at places like Georgia and Fresno State make it very difficult to fathom why coaches like Cincinnati's Bob Huggins can keep his job despite his 0% graduation rate.

That's right. Not one of his players ever gets a degree.

Was there any question that Tark the Shark would get caught at Fresno? Come on. More academic fraud? Get out of here.

I'll sure be glad when the tournament begins so we can forget about all the mess that is currently surrounding the game.
LaBron Makes needs to sign his Nike contract now and end the amateur façade.

Let's get the tourney going and forget about the fraud.

I'm going skiing ‘cause my brain is getting flawed.

Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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