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JUSTICE AND MR. JONES THE NCAA SUSPENDED CHARLES JONES FOR THAT MOST HEINOUS CRIME: TOO MUCH SUMMER BALL

Nov. 24, 1997
Nov. 24, 1997

Table of Contents
Nov. 24, 1997

JUSTICE AND MR. JONES THE NCAA SUSPENDED CHARLES JONES FOR THAT MOST HEINOUS CRIME: TOO MUCH SUMMER BALL

Purdue coach Gene Keady and I were in agreement. It was the
opener of the regular season for the Boilermakers last Friday
night in West Lafayette, Ind., and we both wanted to see Long
Island University's Charles Jones play. "Yes, I'd like him to be
out there," said Keady, standing at courtside before the start
of the game. "Our guys need their butts whipped. They're a
little cocky."

This is an article from the Nov. 24, 1997 issue Original Layout

Keady wanted a tough game. I simply wanted to see Jones play
because the slender, 6'3" senior guard is as silky and
mesmerizing as a fine scarf in the breeze. But Jones, who led
the NCAA in scoring last year, with 30.1 points per game, had
not even made the trip from Brooklyn to West Lafayette with his
teammates.

The reason? He had been suspended for the first two games of the
season for violating an NCAA rule. And what rule was that? Well,
let's go right to the horse's mouth to get this one clarified:
"It's rule 30.15-e-3," said Carrie Doyle, director of college
enforcement for the NCAA. "'All Division I players must limit
their competition to one team in one league.' That is the
section for summer rules."

Jones played in two leagues in New York City last summer, a
violation that had to be dealt with sternly by the NCAA. I know
he did this because I was there. While writing a piece on New
York City playground basketball in August, I watched Jones play
in an outdoor game at Rucker Park in Harlem one night and in an
indoor game in Manhattan on another night. I also watched him
watch games at Tillary Park in Brooklyn and at West 4th Street
in Greenwich Village. Jones is guilty of being a city kid who
loves hoops. I even bought him a snack one afternoon--jelly
doughnut, iced tea: value $1.69, with tax, if the NCAA is
counting--so that I could take an hour of his time to talk about
his love of the game. The only way anybody had found out about
Jones's two-league violation was through my story, which ran in
the Aug. 18 issue of this very magazine.

Though it may not seem like that big a deal to be held out of a
pair of games, consider that Jones, who comes from a rough
section of Brooklyn, has stayed in school for four years (even
sitting out a year of competition after transferring from
Rutgers) largely because of basketball. Along the way he has
worked steadily toward his degree in media arts, but it's hoops
that has sustained him, perhaps kept him from an ugly fate. As
Jones has said, more than a dozen of his old street friends have
been killed.

For a guy like Jones, missing two games in this, his final
season, is a tough blow, especially because one of those games
was against Purdue, the kind of big-time team Jones rarely gets
to prove himself against. But you do the crime, you do the time.

Sure, college coaches can make as much money as they want and do
virtually anything with their free time except start militias or
open casinos. But players have more rules governing their
behavior than prisoners in lockdown. They can't, of course, make
money, over and above the cost of a scholarship, from their
athletic skills. They can't work at the local sub shop for
pocket change during the school year. They might get some
privilege ordinary students don't enjoy, and that has always
been taboo to the NCAA.

But unlike ordinary students, athletes have rules to follow all
summer too. This is where Jones was negligent. Maybe he knew
that it was wrong to play in two summer leagues. Maybe he
didn't. But how could he have known why it was wrong?

I asked Carrie Doyle that question. "You are asking us to give
the intent of the rule, and we are not prepared to do that," she
replied, sending me on to another division of the NCAA for such
arcana. No representative of the appropriate division was in at
that time, and I gave up my search. The reason for the rule
would be the same as it is for all the rules that govern the
athletes: to prevent any player from making money or enjoying
some privilege.

Last summer I watched Charles Jones sweat and toil and enjoy the
game he loves. While doing so he stayed out of trouble, out of
harm's way. He received no money for his summer play. But what
Jones did was wrong because the NCAA says so. Because the member
institutions--all the universities that like their big-time
basketball and its steady revenue stream--say it is wrong.

So Purdue crushed LIU 119-95. And Charles Jones sat in his dorm,
800 miles away, thinking about his sins.

B/W PHOTO: JOHN HUET The author inadvertently got Jones busted. [Charles Jones]