College Basketball: NCAA late to the game with Mayo

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2008

By Ray Ratto
San Francisco Chronicle
Myles Brand announced Tuesday that the NCAA has “new information” on the recruitment, purchase and pimping of O.J. Mayo. So do we. It’s called cable television, because ESPN made a deal out of it last weekend. It’s also called the Internet, because and other sites raised the issue as long ago as two years. And there might have been others even before then.
But don’t let it be said that the NCAA isn’t willing to react, albeit slowly, to a forming parade, and to jump in front of it. The righteous arm of amateur money-grubbing has risen up and said, “We won’t stand for this any longer. So, what do you guys think we should do next?”
Brand says the NCAA will put three new investigators on the job. Presumably one will get the run of the home office, because the NCAA is part of the reason Mayo got bought. The NCAA, in this case represented by member Southern California, is part of the demand end of this supply-and-demand scandal, and now that Mayo is leaving, the NCAA is acting concerned without actually achieving it.
After all, USC is only one school, and Mayo is only one player. USC knew the cost, but the fact is that Mayo was put on the shelf for everyone to buy, and USC got there before anyone else. The reward? An NCAA Tournament berth and some ancillary recruiting benefits with other players in the dough-for-show game. The punishment? This.
You see, the NCAA doesn’t like being played as a front for street agents, but it does like the goods the agents have. And the NBA’s one-year-after-high-school rule makes those goods all the more valuable, and all the less interested in pretending to be students. The players came to college because the NBA said they had to do so, and the $30,000 that agent’s aide Rodney Guillory allegedly paid Mayo out of the $200,000 allegedly paid him by BDA, the management company run by former Santa Clara basketball player Bill Duffy, is merely front money for when he and his entourage cash in at this year’s NBA draft.
You see, players get spotted a lot earlier by street hustlers and agents than they do by even high school recruiters, and when you’re buying futures, the earlier you get in, the better the payoff if you hit. A few colleges have been recruiting eighth-graders, but mostly they wait until players show their goods as high schoolers.
In other words, the NCAA is getting in on the O.J. Mayos too late to keep down the costs, which is why the NCAA suddenly is so interested in this particular O.J. Mayo.
Are there ways to stop this rampant buying and selling? Well, there’s one, but nobody would think to consider it because the ramifications, not to mention the illegalities, are too great.
Any player contacted by a street agent is ineligible to play high school, college or professional basketball. Any school contacting said player goes on double secret probation for an extended period. Any coach caught doing business with street agents gets fired and blackballed, as Todd Bozeman was when the Cal gig went south.
None of this will happen, of course, because this is the equivalent of committing a crime and then killing everyone in the world to make sure that no witnesses or police exist to ruin the scheme.
Mayo isn’t something the NCAA can do anything about, or in most cases, wants to do anything about except rent. This is basketball-meets-the-free-market-meets-Kleptocracy 101. He with the supply can demand whatever he wants, and the high schools, the colleges and the NBA have to pay. Not all of them, mind you. It takes only one buyer for every Mayo, and there’s always at least one.
So what can the NCAA do in response? Punish the successful buyer when it gets caught by the media, that’s what. Brand can throw the full encyclopedia at USC, but it’s all for show. The NCAA gets into this game far too late to make any difference, makes sure that it gets its piece, and then punishes whom it can when forced by external pressures.
It’s simply a part of the game. Mayo doesn’t get hurt because he’s gone. The coaches always get jobs somewhere else. The universities hang their heads for a moment and then get back to business as usual, because the customers demand it. And the NBA sits at the end of the belt, its morality unchallenged because it pretends to be nothing but the business it is.
But Myles Brand thinks three new investigators will make people think the NCAA is the victim here. In a world where everyone’s hand is already out, the one with the shortest arms always feels like the victim. If it makes him feel good to rain down some heat on USC, fine.
There are way too many Mayos, way too many street agents, way too many management companies, and they’re all on the stroll way before the NCAA has anything to say about it.