NCAA scene pretty sketchy these days

April 2, 2011 

This evening we will have a welcome respite from another bad week for the NCAA.

The focus will be on the Final Four and the culmination of a wonderful, exciting college basketball tournament. For a weekend, the sports world can put aside the scandals and concentrate on the games.

It should be great fun when unlikely underdogs Butler and Virginia Commonwealth square off to see who gets to play one of basketball's blue bloods -- Kentucky or Connecticut -- for the championship Monday night.

I don't really care who wins tonight, but Monday I'll be rooting for the little guy.

How little? The salaries of the coaches give some insight. According to USA Today, it breaks down like this:

  • Butler's Brad Stevens, $434,382.

  • VCU's Shaka Smart, $424,000.

  • Kentucky's John Calipari, $3,917,000.

  • Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, $2,300,000.

    Stevens and Smart undoubtedly will be moving into a higher tax bracket soon, at either their current post or some place that is in a position to pay more.

    Money is the name of the game, whether it be basketball or football, college or professional. And that's at the root of the NCAA problem, one that NCAA president Mark Emmert labels an "integrity" issue.

    Just this week, four former Auburn players told HBO that they were paid while playing or being recruited at the school. One of them, Stanley McClover, also spoke of receiving money while visiting Louisiana State and Michigan State and sexual favors on a recruiting trip to Ohio State.

    Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl, one of the key partners of the BCS's lucrative football championship system, fired its longtime CEO John Junker for illegal use of funds.

    Junker may face criminal charges for funneling campaign contributions to local politicians while also spending bowl money on lavish trips and parties. According to the Arizona Republic, Fiesta Bowl executives paid $65,000 to fly legislators and their families to a college game in Boston, $30,000 for a birthday party for Junker and ran up a $1,200 bill at a strip club.

    The scandal could have wide-range ramifications. The political contributions may be in violation of Arizona state campaign laws, along with the charter that allowed the Fiesta Bowl its nonprofit status. And it makes you wonder what is going on with other bowls like the Sugar, Orange and Rose that also enjoy nonprofit tax exemptions.

    Over the years, the NCAA has thrown its support to these bowls in rejecting a playoff system to determine a national champion in football. The bowls have claimed they need the BCS to survive.

    After this Fiesta fiasco, the NCAA will have another look. "All the bowls will be subject to review," said Nick Carparlie, chairman of the NCAA issues committee.

    And what about Ohio State and Jim Tressel? He covered up evidence of his players selling memorabilia long before the NCAA found out about it. And the coach has been caught in a couple of lies since he permitted those players to compete in the Sugar Bowl game.

    Is a five-game suspension and a $250,000 fine sufficient punishment for a coach making $3.5 million a year?

    The NCAA's ongoing investigation is likely to end up with both Ohio State and Tressel taking a bigger hit. With all that's come to light in the last month, Emmert needs to send a strong message to coaches, college administrators, boosters and bowl executives.

    Then there's Auburn, the defending national champion. Coach Gene Chizik already has had to battle allegations related to the recruiting of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Now come the claims from former players that they were paid.

    "Pure garbage," says Chizik.

    Looks like another NCAA investigation to me.

    Not to throw cold water on college basketball's finest hour, but the sport also presents some house-cleaning issues for the NCAA.

    Tennessee's Bruce Pearl has been fired for multiple recruiting violations. Connecticut's Calhoun was served with a three-game suspension for failing to create an "atmosphere of compliance" within his program.

    And then there's Calipari. The Kentucky coach has twice taken teams -- Massachusetts in 1996 and Memphis in 2008 -- to the Final Four. Each lost, but the games became meaningless when the NCAA invalidated the season records of each team for violations involving player-agent relationships and hanky panky with grades.

    Calipari was never directly implicated in any of the violations, but that cloud still hangs over his head.

    It would be a welcome relief if the team and coach that emerges with the title Monday night is free of all questions involving integrity.

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