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Harris: For NCAA, a hypocritical justice system

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anybody but Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun.

Surprising Connecticut faced Louisville in the Big East Tournament championship game Saturday night. Why Calhoun was on the sideline after violating recruiting rules, only the NCAA knows.

Why Baylor freshman Perry Jones was banned from the basketball postseason because his mother received improper benefits while he was in high school, only the NCAA knows.

Why Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was suspended for only the first two games of the 2011 season — a punishment levied by his school, not the NCAA — for covering up that he knew some of his players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, illegally sold memorabilia, only the NCAA knows. Most of the players — whom the NCAA permitted to play in a BCS bowl game — were suspended for the first five games next season.

Why the NCAA administers punishment in hypocritical fashion when it comes to adults, who should know better, and the young adults they are supposed to lead while drawing a clear line between the haves and have-nots, only the NCAA knows.

Here's my take: Mo' money. Mo' money. Mo' money.

Connecticut is a powerhouse in the most powerful basketball conference. Calhoun is a legendary coach with two national titles. The fact Calhoun's team advanced to last night's tournament championship game pinpoints why Calhoun escaped with a slap on the wrist — being suspended for Connecticut's first three Big East games next season.

"As a former coach, I know the pressure to win is so great at the collegiate level that these coaches, if they can get away with it, they'll try it,'' said Leroy Bates, who coached Connecticut recruit Nate Miles, the subject of an NCAA investigation, at Libbey High School in Toledo, Ohio. "The allure of making it to the Final Four, they'll use any means necessary.''

The NCAA cited Calhoun for violations in an investigation that carried through the Huskies' 2009 Final Four run and didn't end until two years later. Miles was provided lodging, transportation, restaurant meals and representation by a sports agent who was a Connecticut booster and former student manager. The agent also paid for part of Miles' knee surgery, tuition at a basketball academy and registration for his SAT examination.

Despite determining Calhoun "failed to monitor and promote an atmosphere for compliance'' — the coaching staff made about 2,000 phone calls and text messages with the booster/agent during Miles' recruitment — the NCAA didn't suspend Calhoun for the postseason after granting him the right to appeal.

Miles never played a game at Connecticut. He was expelled in October 2008 for violating a restraining order brought by a female student. Prior to signing with Connecticut, Miles attended five high schools in four states and was suspended numerous times.

"He never played a full season of basketball after he left Libbey High School,'' said Bates, who retired from coaching in 2008. "When I heard Nate signed with Connecticut, I thought, 'I hope they know what they're getting into.' Developmentally and maturity-wise, I didn't feel he was ready.

"Every kid deserves an opportunity, but not at the expense of your integrity as a coach. If you're going to deal with a kid like this, do your due diligence.''

Calhoun apparently was willing to overlook a litany of negatives because of his infatuation with Miles' potential. A silky-smooth jump shooter who physically resembles current Connecticut freshman Jeremy Lamb, the 6-foot-7 Miles played in the mold of former Calhoun recruits Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler and Ray Allen, who became first-round NBA draft picks. In the NCAA's report, Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway said Calhoun's recruitment of Miles was the "most intense'' he has ever seen.

Ohio State wields even more clout in football than Connecticut does in basketball. If Tressel does the right thing and prohibit Pryor to suit up for Ohio State's bowl game against Arkansas, the Buckeyes probably don't win.

According to a self-report letter from the NCAA to Ohio State last Tuesday, Tressel told school officials in December he had only heard rumors about his players' involvement in selling memorabilia. In September, Tressel signed an NCAA Certificate of Compliance form indicating he had no knowledge of possible violations.

A recent ESPN "Outside the Lines'' report brought Tressel under more scrutiny. A Columbus, Ohio, attorney said he sent e-mails to Tressel in April about Pryor and receiver DeVier Posey selling memorabilia. Tressel, who originally did not turn over the e-mails to Ohio State or the NCAA, came clean after school officials discovered the e-mails through their own investigation.

Ohio State suspended Tressel for the first two games next season against Akron and Toledo and will fine him $250,000. Tressel could receive additional punishment from the NCAA.

Will he• Only the NCAA knows.

The NCAA certainly had no problem suspending Baylor's Jones, despite allegations that didn't involve him but his mother instead. Jones was benched for the rest of the season and with him went Baylor's chances of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.

Yet the NCAA allowed Ohio State's players to compete in the bowl game.

"Every student-athlete should be treated equally and fairly, whether you're at Ohio State or Auburn or Baylor or Sam Houston,'' said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw.

When the NCAA seemingly got mad at coaches at Connecticut and Ohio State, it punished Baylor's star freshman instead.




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