Play it Again, Sham

In the classic film Casablanca, there is a scene where the corrupt Captain Louis Renault closes down Humphrey Bogart's casino, and claims that he is "shocked to discover that there is gambling going on!" As Renault professes his outrage, a young flunky hands him a wad of cash and says, "Your winnings, sir. The NCAA is once again playing Renault in its Scandals Du Jour involving Ohio State Running Back Maurice Clarett and Utah basketball Coach Rick Majerus. 

Clarett is the sophomore sensation who led Ohio State to a national championship last year with 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns despite missing playing time due to a shoulder injury. Now he is in more hot water than Karl Rove at a CIA banquet.

It seems that Clarett's unregistered car was burgled by the world's luckiest thief. The rogue made away with multiple TV monitors, $10,000 worth of video equipment, thousands of dollars in music, and cash. My car was broken into last month, and all they got was a Queen CD and a box of Lil Debbies. Once Clarett realized that an "amateur" athlete claiming to have his own Radio Shack in an unregistered SUV was less than wise, he changed his story. Now he says that he accidentally exaggerated what was stolen because none of it belonged to him and he was just making a best estimate to help his "friend's" police report. The NCAA is now launching a full-scale investigation, while Ohio State is shaking like Dick Cheney on a vibrating bed. Their great fear: that they will have their 2002 National Title revoked.

Buckeye Country quivers for good reason. Last spring, the NCAA scrubbed Michigan basketball's 1992 and 1993 final four appearances from the books. The banners have been removed from the rafters, and Chris Webber's records officially never happened. Like the Godfather III or Caddyshack II, it must never be spoken of again. So says NCAA President Joey Stalin (I mean Myles Brand). Now Ohio State is in the NCAA's cross hairs.

When it comes to the NCAA, enough is enough. Once you get past the fight songs, the tailgating, the cheerleaders, and the painted faces, the NCAA is little more than a multi-billion dollar industry that survives on bonded labor. Players' likenesses are on everything from jerseys to booster credit cards, yet they don't see a cent. Then the NCAA comes down on anyone who takes their bowl of gruel and asks for some more.

The NCAA's rules are a Byzantine mystery to anyone who has heard of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. One wonders if Brand believes there is a p.s. in the Emancipation Proclamation where high profile college athletes are required servitude. And please don't say that they get room and board for free. Fine. That's like saying at least Nike Sweat Shop workers get to practice their hand eye coordination. It is still a farce.

But just when we thought the NCAA couldn't be sillier than their mock outrage at Clarett, we have probation for a coaching Good Guy, Utah's Rick Majerus. Why probation for Majerus? It seems that "Ricky Rotundo" invited players to his house to eat a burger. Unfortunately he lives in a hotel, so the quarter pounder was room service, which is, you guessed it, a violation of NCAA rules. Good thing he didn't order up French fries or they may have had him shot.
But Majerus is hardly the problem any more than the witches were destroying old Salem. The people who run the NCAA stand historically with the Jimmy Swaggerts, the Joseph McCarthys, the unholy hypocrites forever casting the first stone. They stand in front of their brothel and try to tell you it's a convent. They need to be served a good old fashioned comeuppance sandwich.

Players clearly must unionize. Imagine if the 24 players in the NCAA basketball finals refused to take the court. The moral high horse of Myles Brand would go straight to the glue factory. Players need to demand what used to exist in college sports until thirty years ago: a stipend. They should also have a permanent position on the NCAA's board of governors. And they should have the right to go back to school if they don't get their degrees.
In other words, if you want student-athletes, treat your athletes like they have the brains to understand that they aren't merely students. They are earners. Clarett may think he's P Diddy on steroids, but he is also 19 and a child of the NCAA's mindless marriage to big sports manna.

A change is long overdue or else NCAA President Myles Brand may someday be looking at the complete wreckage of a college sports world that has collapsed under its own weight of graft.
But instead of change we will more likely see Brand put on his blinders and tell his goons to merely, "round up the usual suspects."

More columns ⇒