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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

MU case illustrates it’s time to rein in college athletics

December 13, 2003

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What's going on in Columbia, Mo., and the University of Missouri athletic department and basketball program is a disgrace and gives intercollegiate athletics a black eye.

At a time when a growing percentage of Americans are becoming turned off by the excesses of college athletics, the situation at MU gives critics added fuel to suggest that reasonable curbs should be placed on runaway athletic programs as well as the attitudes of many in sports administration.

For those who do not read the sports pages -- or the front pages of many regional newspapers -- here's a quick synopsis:

A highly talented high school basketball player named Ricky Clemons was recruited by MU basketball coach Quin Synder. Clemons had a troubled past, but he was a good basketball player. He lacked sufficient academic credit hours to be eligible to play at Missouri, so he was placed in a school where he was able to acquire 24 hours of credit in one summer school session, thereby becoming eligible.

However, he later was jailed after being convicted of third-degree domestic assault. He served a large portion of his jail time and then was placed on parole with a curfew. Shortly after being released from jail, Clemons was involved in a motor vehicle accident at the home of MU's president, Elson Floyd, who was giving a party. It should be noted the president said Clemons was not invited; he merely "showed up." The president's wife, Carmento, was first on the scene to assist Clemons and said it was a life-threatening situation.

The Floyds' involvement with Clemons supposedly was in the past tense. However, earlier this week, recordings were made public of numerous telephone conversations between Clemons and Carmento Floyd and between Clemons and the wife of an assistant athletic director. These conversations were not flattering to the school's athletic department, the basketball program, senior athletic department officials, the president, the wives and others. Also a former girlfriend of Clemons was brought into the conversations because she had said Clemons received clothing and cash from MU basketball coaches. Clemons and his girlfriend have said other players also received cash.

It is a bad scene, and no matter how some may claim the situation is being overblown, it should be a terrible embarrassment to the school and its officials. The NCAA is sure to renew or expand its ongoing investigation of possible illegal actions by MU officials.

At this time, there have been no disciplinary actions by anyone at the school or by the system's Board of Curators. Added to the problem is that some of those involved in the numerous phone calls used racial terminology in discussing some in the athletic department.

This is not good for the University of Missouri, its athletic department or the basketball program. Some highly partisan alumni and fans of schools that compete against MU might be exchanging high-fives these days, gloating about the Tigers' trouble and the advantage they might gain over Missouri in recruiting.

Some of this might be true, but at the same time, alumni, friends and supporters of other major universities should not get too cocky. Unfortunately, what happened in Columbia could happen at many other schools. College athletics have gotten out of hand. The name of the game is to do whatever you can -- without getting caught -- to win.

Many schools are guilty of illegal or highly questionable actions in their athletics programs, but few get caught. Even fewer cases involve penalties, which can cripple the athletic program of a school.

Salaries for coaches and athletic directors are totally out of whack when compared to what highly skilled and internationally known faculty members receive. The emphasis placed on sports, whether it is in the effort and expense of recruiting, the special tutoring, the abundant food on training tables, medical care, etc., all far exceed what is offered or provided for regular students.

College presidents, as well as coaches, the general public and others interested in their alma maters all talk about initiating controls, but there is little evidence of action. College presidents might want to introduce some controls, but they are afraid to adopt such actions when schools against whom they compete might not impose similar rules. Winning and fans in the stands are the name of the game.

It will be interesting to see how much worse the abuses and excesses of college sports will be allowed to become before there is meaningful action taken to bring some sense and balance to the intercollegiate athletic scene.

Representing a university as a member of an athletic team should be an honor, a very special honor, one that carries with it many benefits, as well as responsibilities. This being the case, coaches should not be gambling on recruits who have been in trouble with the law, have had disciplinary problems or have shown they do not place much importance on academics.

Missouri got caught, and every effort is sure to be made by MU officials and apologists to make the best of a bad, embarrassing situation. Will anything serious come of it? Probably not.

Could it happen at other schools? The answer is "yes," and abuses and excesses will grow in size and numbers until college presidents, chancellors, regents, curators and others in similar positions exercise some control and courage. It's gotten totally out of hand. It's a case of universities and their athletic departments trying to keep up with the Joneses. How much worse will it have to become until someone blows the whistle?

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