It's highlyunlikely that Oklahoma quarterback--make that former Oklahomaquarterback--Rhett Bomar has many Depression-era ditties loaded on his iPod.Ditto for former Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien. But last week, whenboth were in the news for their blatant disregard for NCAA bylaws, Bomar, 21,and O'Brien, 56, might have appreciated The Rich Man and the Poor Man, a 1932hit by a country crooner named Bob Miller. The rich man gets a lawyer and thelawyer pleads his case, Miller sang in a proto-Guthrie riff on inequality amongthe classes, while the poor man asks for sympathy, but of that there is notrace.
As Bomar andO'Brien have discovered, it is still very much Miller time in the NCAA. Theline of privilege isn't the imaginary one between rich and poor though--it'sthe sideline, painted right there on every football field and basketball court.On one side stand the NCAA's great unwashed: players, who can expect to bedealt with harshly when their misdeeds become public. On the other are theircoaches, Teflon dons who survive and thrive no matter what they've done.
It is good to bethe coach in big-time football and basketball. That was never made plainer thanon Aug. 2, when Bomar, a sophomore and the Sooners' starting QB, and offensiveguard J.D. Quinn were booted from the team by coach Bob Stoops for receivingcash--at least $15,000, according to some reports--from no-show jobs at aNorman car dealership. Stoops's announcement, which effectively torpedoed thenational title hopes that had been running high at Oklahoma, came a few hoursafter a shocking NCAA bulletin. In Columbus a judge ruled that the Buckeyeswere wrong to fire O'Brien in 2004, even though he had cheated by giving $6,000in cash to a recruit's family in 1998. In a wrongful termination suit, O'Briensuccessfully argued that his contract allowed him to keep his job even if heran afoul of the NCAA. O'Brien was awarded $2.25 million, enough to cover thefinal three years of his eight-year, $6.4 million deal. It may be a whilebefore O'Brien gets another coaching job, but his court victory ensures that itwill be a while before he needs one.
O'Brien is merelythe latest coach to go off to greener pastures after leaving a job in disgrace.Kelvin Sampson, found guilty of recruiting violations at Oklahoma earlier thisyear, will start anew as Indiana's hoops coach this season. Bob Huggins was anNCAA violator at Cincinnati, which was found guilty of a lack of institutionalcontrol under his watch in 1998, but that didn't stop Kansas State from hiringhim as basketball coach in March. Let's not forget Dennis Erickson, Idaho's newfootball coach, who left Miami in 1994 just before the school was put onprobation for violations he committed. Even Todd Bozeman, who was caught in arecruiting scandal at California in 1996, has resurfaced, as Morgan State'sbasketball coach.
Bomar's future ishardly as rosy. Once the top-rated high school quarterback in the country, heset an Oklahoma freshman record with 2,018 yards passing last season and was abig reason the Sooners were ranked No. 5 in the preseason coaches' poll. Now,he'll lose at least a year of eligibility and would likely face NCAA sanctions(such as a suspension) if he transfers to another Division I program. Oneoption: Bomar could play at Texas A&M--Commerce, a Division II school thatsaid last week that it would be glad to give him a second chance.
Not that Bomarshouldn't be contemplating the shards of a once-promising career. He hasadmitted he knowingly broke the rules, and Stoops has noted that "in theend the players need to be accountable." That's the message Ohio Statethought it was sending when it axed O'Brien. Unfortunately, the school seems tohave forgotten that it panicked in 1999, when officials feared that O'Brienwould jump to another school or the NBA after that year's Final Four run; theBuckeyes ripped up his existing contract to give him a raise and lock him upuntil 2008. O'Brien also got a clause that said he couldn't be fired unless anNCAA investigation uncovered major violations in his program.
O'Brien's cashpayment was found by the NCAA to be a major infraction--Ohio State was placedon three years' probation and forced to repay nearly $800,000 in tournamentearnings--but the judge ruled that it wasn't serious enough to get the coachaxed. "The contract is extremely favorable to [O'Brien]," Judge JosephClark said, in finding for the coach. "The parties ... negotiated acontract virtually guaranteeing that he could not be terminated for an NCAAinfraction."
Apart from havingto pay out millions, Ohio State now looks foolish for relieving a coach ofaccountability for his behavior. The cases of O'Brien, Sampson, Erickson andBozeman also send a message to players: When coaches make speeches about theimportance of responsibility, they are talking about you, not them. Back in '32Miller sang that there's just two kinds of people, the sinner and the saint.But in college sports there are two kinds of sinners. And you know which onewill find a way out of hell.
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