Men's College Basketball: Sometimes, Recruiting Should Be a Felony

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst IMay 31, 2009

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 15: Derrick Rose #23 of the Memphis Tigers brings the ball upcourt against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane during the finals of the Conference USA Basketball Tournament at FedExForum on March 15, 2008 in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis beat Tulsa 77-51. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

If you give your 15-year-old a beer or if you do nothing to ensure said teen goes to school, you can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which at that age is a felony in many states.

If you set up a convoluted system where teenagers are taught cheating and altering numbers is OK if their jump shot is the golden ticket to millions for friends and family, you're apparently qualified to coach basketball at one of many fine educational institutions.

Derrick Rose should be presumed innocent until proven guilty of having someone take the SAT for him and having a teacher alter his transcripts, but let's not mince words: It doesn't look good for the vaunted '07 class.

Earlier this month, there was speculation that Tim Floyd indirectly paid O.J. Mayo, who already lived with a Reggie Bush-like cloud of suspicion around him after agent gift-giving allegations.

Eric Gordon's college coach, Kelvin Sampson, is barred from the NCAA for five years after serious recruiting violations. Gordon himself chose Indiana over a few other schools and reneged on a verbal commitment to Illinois shortly after Sampson became the head coach.

And then there's Michael Beasley. Some still wonder how he wound up—and stayed—in Manhattan, Kan.

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If the attention devoted to Brandon Jennings or John Wall is any indication, it seems the NBA's age limit has only made the spotlight on that top crust of prospects all the more glaring; in turn, college coaches have become ever more desperate to land their golden ticket.

It's as if we've cycled back to that golden age of Eddie Sutton's Kentucky, or perhaps we never really left.

Rose, Mayo, and Gordon may not be the last players to leave their colleges investigated and disgraced. In fact, they might be merely the first wave.

I don't think every program cheats, but I'm not naive. Heck, even if they do all cheat, they surely don't cheat equally.

Turning a blind eye to corruption, or spouting hackneyed remarks of passivity and apathy isn't just ignorant, it's irresponsible—even in the pursuit of a national championship.

Society, through its laws regarding delinquency, gives every citizen a responsibility over the youth they oversee. Corrupting a youth is corrupting a youth, whether it's by giving them pot or sending them 10 text messages a day that they don't need mathematics because they'll be in the league in two years.

College coaches now recruit younger and younger. High school freshmen and sophomores now regularly commit to play basketball years before their classmates choose where to go for academics. Outside of basketball players, most seem to realize one can't make a rational, mature decision about college until later on.

But the recruiters and scouting experts persist, securing scholarship charts three years in advance that never pan out the way they intend while evaluating eighth-graders for prospective size.

In such an atmosphere, coaches take an enormous amount of responsibility, as would any citizen interested in mentoring a teen.

Why are coaches not held up to the same standard as average citizens?

Why are people not charged with contributing to delinquency when they conspire to forge a 17-year-old's test scores or when they're allowed to harass 14-year-olds about basketball all day long?

Wait, the callous fans ask, can he bring us multiple top recruits and a national title run next year?

I know it's a stretch, and I know no politically astute DA would even dream of charging anyone, but it's obvious that the system is promoting imprudent behavior and attitudes in minors with college coaching staffs as possible causes.

We need the real police, not the NCAA's gutless version of the Hardy Boys who generally slap major powers on the wrist while giving the death penalty to mid-major programs.

And before arguing that these guys are millionaires so there's obviously no delinquency, look deeper into some of the "can't miss" guys who did.

In fact, every argument that endorses ill behavior from college coaches is either a tautology or marbled with stupidity, like many of those currently formed in Lexington defending the hypothetical misdeeds of John Calipari.

The NCAA could take several simple steps to combat this general issue, but given their history of inaction, they would rather let the situation fester. And fester it will, making the game uglier along the way.

Until coaches are reasonably held responsible for the teenagers with whom they interact —either by the real police or the wanna-be bureaucrats in the Association—the high-pressure system the NCAA helps reinforce will only produce more situations like those of Mayo and Rose.

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