by | Sep 20, 1992 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I had a friend who went to college on a full music scholarship. In the summers, he would tour with rock bands, make good money, then come back and continue his studies.

No one saw anything wrong with that.

But the NCAA would.

If you’ve been following the events of the last month, you know that three Michigan basketball players, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Eric Riley, have gotten in hot water for taking money at basketball clinics.

Never mind that their coaches told them it was OK to do the clinics. Never mind that one of the clinics was for charity.

Never mind that we’re talking $300 apiece. Or that we’re talking two clinics total.

Never mind that basketball will be the chosen careers for these three young men, just as music was for my college friend.

Never mind all that. The NCAA got word of this clinic stuff and began to shuffle papers, and Michigan, in turn, began to shuffle papers, and observers began to wring their hands over the future of academics and athletics, and next thing you know, Rose, Webber and Riley are declared ineligible.

And once again, we have to wonder what is going on in the world of college sports, and can’t somebody there take a course in common sense? NCAA living in the past

Under NCAA rules, college athletes are not allowed to work in their fields while on scholarship. If a basketball player were paid to play in a summer league — wham! He’s outta there. No more college ball.

Right away, you see the hypocrisy. Would they tell my musician friend he couldn’t play in rock bands, that he had to wash dishes instead?

Ah, but sports are different. Sports are governed by the NCAA, which says if an athlete is paid to play sports, he is no longer an amateur, and this somehow violates a code of ethics. Maybe it just violates the tax-exempt status the NCAA enjoys with all those piles of money it makes from TV and ticket sales. Whatever. These folks sure are confusing.

Look at how many times they’ve changed their rules. Not long ago, college athletes weren’t allowed to work at all; they had to scrounge to buy a pizza. When this led to slimy boosters slipping $100 bills to players, the NCAA said
“OK. The kids can work. But only under certain conditions.”

Not long ago, junior and sophomore players weren’t allowed to enter the NFL draft (this kept the kids in college, making big money for their universities). But when a few smart young athletes finally threatened lawsuits, that rule was also changed.

As eventually all these rules will change — including the dumbo rules about summer work. They will change because they don’t make sense. I know some of us resent college athletes for getting rich and famous by dribbling a ball, but that’s not the issue here.

The issue is fairness. Don’t blame Webber, Rose, Riley

Let’s look at the terrible “crimes” committed by Webber, Rose and Riley. They were asked to appear at a charity clinic to raise money for a sick child. They were paid $300 apiece. Webber, Rose and Rile are national stars; people come out to get their autographs. Had the organizer tried to rent an NBA player, he might have shelled out $10,000. Compared to that, $300 is a steal.

But the NCAA said, “Wait a second, $300 may be too much. The rules say you can only make a reasonable amount for charity, educational or non-profit appearances.” What’s reasonable? Nobody seems to know.

Meanwhile, here is the second clinic violation: Webber, Rose and Riley all appeared together. This threatens an idiotic NCAA rule about players using clinics for team practice — as if the three of them were working on some secret play to beat Duke next year. Come on. If they wanted to do that, they’d do it any summer night in pick-up ball at the gym.

And yet, this week, Michigan made Webber, Rose and Riley ineligible until the NCAA hands down its ruling. Of course, this, too, is a sham. They can still practice. They can still go to school. Nothing is affected except games, which don’t start until December — and the case will be long over by then. All Michigan did was score points with the NCAA by taking action themselves.

If this all seems kind of stupid, that’s because it is. College sports make thunderstorms of money from these athletes. Truth be told, there should probably be a Desmond Howard Library or an Earvin Johnson Student Center on campus, for all the dough they brought in.

Instead, these athletes are dragged through a public flogging for trying to do what we all did in college — pick up a few bucks in our hoped-for careers.

Meanwhile, the man who willingly paid the U-M players the $300, when asked if he did anything wrong, said: “If I did, I’m the biggest butt head this side of the Mississippi.”

Only because the NCAA is in Kansas.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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