By Michael Bradley
January 20, 2005

We are still months from the next BCS screw-up, but college football already is in trouble. This week has produced a crop of jurisprudence headlines disturbing enough to deflect our attention from the shenanigans reported at Gary Barnett's Recruiting Funhouse earlier this year.

Most serious among them is an attempted murder charge levied against a Florida International player who fired a gun into a car filled with other FIU students. School AD Rick Mello promises that "appropriate action" will be taken after an investigation. If that player is found guilty, let's hope that includes 10-to-20 in the Big House, and El Hombre isn't talking about Michigan Stadium.

There's trouble in Blacksburg, Va., too. Seven weeks after being sentenced to 30 days for contributing to the delinquency of three teenage girls, Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick was charged again, this time for reckless driving and marijuana possession. The charges could lead to more jail time. The Hokies have put him on "indefinite suspension," which is big-time program code for "he's out until we have a big conference game."

Meanwhile, in south Florida, a Broward County circuit judge -- who happens to be a University of Miami graduate -- sentenced star Hurricanes linebacker recruit Willie Williams to three years' probation for violating another probationary sentence stemming from a previous burglary conviction. Williams must perform something like 2 million hours of community service and serve as an unpaid consultant for CSI: Miami.

The probationary slap on the wrist makes Williams eligible for admittance to Miami, where he's expected to be a star, if not necessarily a spokesman for the program's new, wholesome image. Williams obviously was relieved by the decision.

"Thank God," he said, after emerging from the courthouse in a cloud of white smoke, a la the 'Canes' pre-game introductions. "I just feel great right now. Words cannot express what it will mean to me."

Hey, Willie, here are a few words for you. For you, too, Marcus: SIT DOWN! For a year. That's right. Neither of you should be near a football field for 365 days. That means no practicing, no lifting weights, no succulent training-table meals and no sideline passes. These two guys have some atoning to do.

Williams became famous for the recruiting journal he wrote for The Miami Herald, which detailed a tour of I-A programs that included slightly less graft than a meeting with Philadelphia city officials. He conveniently didn't mention his rap sheet, which reads like Mike Tyson's bio.

Vick, meanwhile, seems bent on catching up as quickly as possible. Both have tremendous football talent, but have had judgment problems off the field. If Virginia Tech and Miami allow them to play this season, both schools will be reinforcing what the general population believes about big-time college athletics: anything goes, as long as the goods are delivered each Saturday.

Well, it shouldn't be that way. Even if Williams is the next great Miami linebacker, and Vick has the potential to be a successful college quarterback, they haven't exactly represented their universities that well, have they? And what must the ACC be thinking? The conference admitted Miami and Tech to get stronger on the gridiron, but now its schools are guilty by association.

Williams and Vick should be forced to spend a year as regular students, going to class, doing homework and eating dorm food. Dean Wormer had a term for it: "Double Secret Probation." Except unlike those hellions from Delta Tau Chi, Williams and Vick have run afoul of the law. They should be punished. This time next year, if they have behaved, they can go out and play. Otherwise, they're out, through, finished at Faber, er, Miami or Virginia Tech.

While Williams continues the search for the right words to describe his relief, there are some which Miami and Virginia Tech should consider: Integrity. Honor. Principle. Respect. Dignity.

OLYMPICS UPDATE: The run-up to Athens continues, and while Greek workers cut back their Ouzo breaks in an attempt to finish construction on facilities and city residents purchase self-catheterization kits to fight bladder-busting traffic jams, the U.S. goes about the business of selecting its participants.

The gymnastics trials already have brought us the surreal sight of Pam Anderson's cheering on a young competitor whom she has sponsored. At the upcoming track and field competition, Americans will spend more time wondering about the contents of postrace urine sample cups than they will cheering on the participants.

In the pool, there's just one story: Michael Phelps. Make that eight stories, as in Phelps' quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals, established at the '72 Games in Munich. Phelps has entered six individual events in Long Beach, Calif., and expects to qualify for a trip to Athens in all of them. In Greece, he plans to swim on "two or three" relay teams, setting up the possibility of nine golds and a $1 million bonus for breaking Spitz's mark from Speedo.

The 19-year-old's quest is a great story. It's also not going to be successful. Even if Phelps qualifies for all six events -- a virtual certainty -- he then must endure the grueling pace of swimming in prelims, semis and finals in Athens, where each stroke will be analyzed and documented. If he were to win all six -- Spitz captured just four individual golds -- Phelps would have swum 18 races against world-class competition in less than 10 days. He'll be spending more time in the water than the remains of Ralph Cifaretto. And that doesn't count the relays. Or the chance of a false start. Or a head cold, tainted baklava and a superhuman performance by an unknown from Albania. It doesn't include Ian Crocker, the American who beat Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly at last year's world championships. Phelps will go home with five golds, guaranteed. He will probably grab six. And he may even duplicate Spitz's performance. But eight? Nope.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: How long until somebody starts the Web site counting down the minutes and seconds until Maria Sharapova turns 18? Wonder if it's too late to get in on the Siberian mail-order bride racket ... The Kansas City Royals were swept in Minnesota this week by a combined score of 25-0. Looks like that Carlos Beltran trade was a great idea. At least K.C. fans can get excited about the upcoming NFL season. Just six months remain until the playoff meltdown.

AND ANOTHER THING: El Hombre is calling for Major League Baseball teams to take swift and decisive action against the sport's latest scourge: fans who sit in good seats at games and make cell-phone calls to alert friends and family that they're on TV. There's nothing worse than seeing some nitwit behind the plate waving between pitches, like he's some sort of star. Put one security guard on jerk detail and have him bust anybody caught mugging for the camera. You get one warning. Do it again, and you are banished to Ueckerville. Repeat offenders are banned for a year. Or forced to run laps around Sidney Ponson.

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