Rush to Judgment The suspension of UCLA's JaRon Rush raises doubts about NCAA justice

February 14, 2000

The punishment levied by the NCAA last week against UCLA
sophomore forward JaRon Rush (right) for allegedly accepting
improper benefits from Jerome Stanley, a Los Angeles-based
agent, and Myron Piggie, Rush's former AAU coach in Kansas City,
Mo., was shocking in its severity. Rush was suspended for 44
games (all of the 1999-2000 season, except the three games he'd
played before his suspension on Dec. 10, plus the first 17 games
of next season). The penalty, which could be reduced on appeal,
is remarkably inconsistent with ones levied in similar
circumstances in the past. It also reveals the extent to which
the NCAA has failed to establish clear guidelines for players in
determining what they can accept and from whom.

In 1996, for example, longtime sneaker-company impresario Sonny
Vaccaro, who was then working for Adidas, gave round-trip
airline tickets worth $572 apiece to St. John's players Felipe
Lopez and Zendon Hamilton so they could attend a basketball
clinic in Las Vegas. When this illegal benefit was discovered,
Lopez and Hamilton were told to reimburse Vaccaro, and they
didn't miss any games. Connecticut guard Ricky Moore was
grounded for five games during the 1996-97 season after it was
found that he had received an airline ticket (value: $471) from
an agent. Three years ago Shawn Walters, a football player at
USC, took $7,000 in cash from an agent and was forced to sit out
12 games--essentially one season. Yet the NCAA penalized Rush 29
games for accepting $6,125 in cash and benefits, allegedly from
Piggie, and 15 games for allegedly taking $200 from Stanley, who
denies that any money changed hands.

Clearly, Rush is no innocent. The money and benefits he took
from Piggie pale in comparison with the largesse he accepted
from Kansas City businessman Tom Grant, who funded the AAU
program in which Rush played for Piggie. Grant lavished upon
Rush gifts that included tuition to a private school, a vacation
to the Cayman Islands and the use of a car, but two years ago
the NCAA ruled that those benefits didn't constitute a violation
because Grant and Rush had had a relationship since Rush was 11
years old. If there's a distinction to be made between gifts
Rush was allowed to take from Piggie (because Piggie was funded
by Grant) and the $6,125 in cash and gifts he wasn't allowed to
take from Piggie, the NCAA appears to be the only entity able to
make it.

Further underscoring the need for guidelines is the fact that
Rush's brother, Kareem, a freshman at Missouri, was suspended
for nine games for accepting $1,800 in benefits, again allegedly
from Piggie. Another former player on that AAU team, Oklahoma
State forward Andre Williams, was suspended for five games
because Grant helped pay his tuition for a year at a prep school.

Given that the summer basketball scene is notorious for the
money being passed out to coaches and players by competing shoe
companies, last week's ruling raises the question of how many
other college players would have their eligibility jeopardized
if the NCAA had more information. The facts in JaRon's case came
to light only because federal authorities in Kansas City are
investigating Piggie on charges of money laundering and tax
evasion.

The NCAA says that the inconsistencies in the penalties stem
from the fact that it's wading into uncharted waters. "We're
applying our principles to sets of facts that we've not had
before," says NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro. "There's not a whole
lot of precedent for the scenarios we've received in these
cases."

To the contrary, these are age-old scenarios with slightly new
twists. It's time the NCAA spelled out what benefits are
allowed, what ones aren't and what the penalties will be for
transgressors.

--S.D.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS

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