It has come out in recent weeks that the NCAA is investigating St. John's University, specifically the relationship between the school and a prominent New York City basketball guru and some of the school's men's basketball players and possible links to agents. At the center of the rumors swirling about is sophomore point guard Erick Barkley, again.
In case you have been living under a rock or do not really pay attention to college basketball, Barkley was the target of another probe just a few weeks ago, which resulted in his suspension for three games.
The NCAA's decision to bench Barkley was overturned on appeal, allowing Barkley back after just two games. But this new investigation could do much more damage to a team that has already persevered through so much adversity.
The NCAA is reportedly investigating Riverside Church basketball founder Ernie Lorch and his affiliation with St. John's. Lorch, a published report stated, paid part of Barkley's tuition at Maine Central Institute, the school he played for after leaving Christ the King and before St. John's.
St. John's seems supremely confident that the university and its basketball program are innocent of any wrongdoing. But that was the same attitude they took when Barkley was suspended before. Even though they won that battle, this war seems far from over.
It was reported by this newspaper that Barkley's initial suspension was due to a car swap with his summer league coach, the point guard exchanging his Jeep for a slightly older, slightly bigger and more expensive Chevy Suburban.
On the surface, this seemed innocent enough to me. But according to a source, this alleged violation of NCAA regulations was reported to the NCAA by a "street agent" who was spurned by Barkley. The subsequent investigation - and Barkley's owning up to the trade during an interview with an NCAA investigator, believing there was nothing to hide - led to his brief suspension.
In a remarkable coincidence, that same "street agent" is being named in connection with the most recent NCAA probe. At question are his alleged connection to St. John's players and his association with the agent representing former St. John's star and current Chicago Bull, Ron Artest.
All this garbage has been filling up columns like this one ad nauseam since the story first broke several weeks ago. I can use the remainder of this space to talk about the what-if and conspiracy theories, but I will not. Instead I want to say straight out that corruption or alleged corruption in college athletics is something that is a natural by-product of the rules set up by the NCAA.
The NCAA operates as the governing body of college athletics, but also takes on the task of being the equivalent of a police department's internal affairs division, investigating college programs and players when word of impropriety reaches their very attentive ears.
From information presented at the now infamous press conference held by St. John's after Barkely's initial suspension, it appears that the NCAA did little investigating. Upon hearing the allegations, the NCAA directed St. John's to take action or risk further sanctions if the allegations proved to be true - "guilty until proven innocent," SJU athletic Director Ed Manetta said at the press conference.
Sounds like it to me.
And if anyone believes that this current investigation has absolutely nothing to do with coach Mike Jarvis' lambasting of the NCAA, they are kidding themselves. Jarvis held nothing back when he laid into the organization, words I am sure they have heard over and over by now. And to link Lorch to St. John's when he has had so many blue chip players come out of his program and attend colleges across the country is ludicrous.
The problem I have with all this is that the NCAA is investigating incidents that should not even be seen as violations.
If an athlete receives an extra benefit, such as a discount at a local jewelry store, free tuition to a prep school or a car, that is the least the NCAA should be worried about.
College basketball is a billion-dollar industry. Letting the wealth trickle down to the players that actually fuel the game is the only right thing to do. Free tuition is great, but when a players comes from humble beginnings, has one or even two children while still an unemployed young man, how can you expect him to live without the ability to make money off a gift God has given him, the skill to play basketball?
Title 9 prohibits the NCAA from paying college basketball players. Under the provision, any money paid to the basketball team has to be paid to the women's lacrosse team - everything being equal. But if players received stipends for appearing on television or if there was a fund set up by individual schools and overseen by the NCAA where players could receive money from merchandise with their name on it, it appears Title 9 could be circumvented.
But maybe the sharing of money with the lowly athletes just isn't on the NCAA's agenda.
In any case, a player meeting with a professional agent - without any money ever changing hands or contracts being signed -
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