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Corrupting Our Utes

Thank God for the NCAA. Without it, college sports would have
more thugs than a Snoop Dogg video.

Last week, for instance, the NCAA brought notorious Utah coach
Rick Majerus and his outlaw basketball program to justice. Just
look what the NCAA nailed this cretin on:

--Unashamedly purchasing a dinner in 1994 for his player Keith Van
Horn at a Salt Lake City deli. At 3 a.m., no less! So what if Van
Horn's father had died that night? Or that Majerus was the one
who had to tell him? Or that Van Horn wanted Majerus to stay with
him until his 8 a.m. flight home? This ain't Dr. Phil!

"I guess I should've reached over as he was getting on the plane
and said, 'Hey, you owe me $9.90 for the ham and eggs,'" Majerus
says.

Do you see? Do you see the attitude?

--Brazenly buying a bagel for a player. Who cares if the player
was upset about his brother's recent suicide attempt and had come
to Majerus to talk? "I could've talked to the kid in my office, I
guess," Majerus says. "But if you go get a bagel, it kind of
relaxes a kid. It's not coach-player anymore. It's two guys
talkin'."

Bah! It's one guy cheating, and, in truth, Majerus got lucky. The
report never states what kind of bagel Majerus bought the kid.
For instance, an "everything" bagel is a considerably larger
offense in the eyes of the NCAA. And don't even get me started on
the ramifications of lox.

--Twice--twice!--allowing assistants to buy groceries for players
who didn't have enough money to eat: $20-$30 for a player whose
meal plan hadn't begun yet and $20 for a prospect who hadn't yet
received his scholarship. "I just felt sorry for those guys,"
Majerus says. "Maybe because I was that kid once, you know? No
money, no friends, and you haven't eaten for two days."

Sentimental hogwash!

Majerus just doesn't get it. Take the pizza. In one instance he
bought himself and a player a pizza pie at a Salt Lake eatery. So
what if seeing Majerus not eating pizza is like seeing Carmen
Electra in a nun's habit? Buying the pie was still wrong. And it
doesn't matter that according to NCAA rules, Majerus would've
committed no infraction had that very same pizza been a)
delivered, b) sent up by room service, c) carried back to his
room or d) served at home.

In fact a coach can serve his players catered lobster and caviar
in his home if he wants, at least on occasion. (True, Majerus
doesn't have a home. He lives in a hotel room year-round. Is that
the NCAA's fault?) But when you wantonly go to a known pizza
joint, mister, you're just begging for it.

And I don't want to hear how clean the Utah program has been
either, or how, under Majerus, the Utes have had four Academic
All-Americas in the last five years, more than any other Division
I basketball program. Clyde Barrow used to floss. So what?

And so what if the NCAA didn't find any hidden cars or substitute
test takers? What about the massive slush-fund payments? The
worst example was Majerus's giving the players $10 each to go see
Remember the Titans. Ten bucks? The discount theater in question
charged $5 for a ticket. That leftover $5 could've gone toward
all kinds of temptations--drugs, alcohol, Junior Mints.

There was more: letting a player send a housing application in a
FedEx envelope when the NCAA rule specifically states that only
transcripts or standardized test scores can be included; serving
milk and cookies made by Majerus's 76-year-old mother, or by Utes
basketball fans, or by an athletic department secretary, at film
meetings. Sure, milk and cookies sounds small, but how long is it
before we're talking about the harder stuff, like pie and coffee?

There were other violations: practices going over the allotted
four hours a day; Majerus watching 15 minutes of a pickup game he
wasn't supposed to see and another 10 minutes of informal
dribbling and dunking. You let that stuff go unchecked, and
pretty soon you've got frogs falling from the clouds.

It's not an easy job, picking nits this tiny, but nobody is up to
the task like the NCAA. Take the time the organization told Aaron
Adair, a third baseman at Oklahoma, that the book he'd written
about surviving brain cancer meant his amateur career was over.
Or the work the NCAA is selflessly doing today, like making
Colorado receiver Jeremy Bloom curtail his world-class skiing
career and kill his modeling because they would somehow make him
a professional football player. (Now, when the NCAA uses its
athletes in TV ads to promote itself during the Final Four,
that's just good marketing.)

I support the small-mindedness of the NCAA. In fact, my hope is
that someday the NCAA will get so small--so microscopic--that it
will slide down the holes in its shower drain and be gone for good.

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

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