by | Sep 21, 2003 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So now, after all that, Chris Webber gets handed a bill. His old school wants payback. It accuses him of “a long history of deceit” and puts a price tag on it: $695,000.

If you believe Michigan’s side, Webber kept telling the same fib over and over, when asked in high school, when asked in college, when asked during NCAA questioning and when asked in front of a grand jury. No, he’d say, I didn’t take any money from a booster named Ed Martin.

And now he has admitted he did.

How much, of course, is still in question. Martin, before his untimely death, claimed he gave Webber $280,000. That’s a lot of schoolbooks. Martin’s son, Carlton, says it’s accurate, and he was there when some of the money changed hands.

Meanwhile, thanks in part to Webber’s deception, Michigan says it has had to fork over $350,000 in legal fees, plus $325,000 in returned revenue to the NCAA. Oh, and there’s the small matter of Webber’s tuition grant. That was

Pay up, Chris.

Now, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Webber to write the check. But I understand where U-M is coming from. After all, despite lying to the grand jury — something that has gotten less famous people in a heap of trouble — Webber was punished only by a few hundred hours of community service, helping middle school kids in a reading program.

Not exactly making license plates, is it?

An athlete’s entitlement

So maybe Webber should pay up, right? Well, here is what his lawyer said to that idea: “If the university really wants a public accounting of the money expended because of Chris Webber, as opposed to the money generated because of Chris Webber, I’d love to see the bottom line on that balance sheet.”

Ah. Now we get down to it.

You see, athletes like Webber feel entitled to money because they feel used by universities. They feel schools make all these billions from tickets, TV and merchandising and what do the players get? An education? “Big deal,” they say.
“You can buy a thousand of those with the money earned off of one championship game.”

What guys like Webber don’t understand is 1) no one held a gun to their head to go to college. And 2) the using goes both ways.

Sure, Michigan used Webber. And Webber used Michigan — to get coaching, to get national exposure, to get top-flight competition all around the world. These are all things he wouldn’t have gotten if he had stayed home and all things that helped prepare him for the multimillion dollar contract he signed upon leaving.

I didn’t see him offering a slice of that first contract back to U-M. He took it, same as most college graduates. Thanks for the training, alma mater. From now on, I work for me.

But here’s the rub: While Webber was at Michigan, he was asked to obey certain rules. He agreed to those rules. He signed statements saying he adhered to those rules.

And he didn’t.

A university’s concern

Webber’s argument about being the star is a bit like an actor who signs to do a movie, agrees to a price, and then, when the movie is a hit, wants a percentage of the profits.

Nuh-uh. That’s not how it works. If the movie is a hit, you’ll be compensated in the next movie — just as Webber was in the NBA. But let’s not forget, if Webber had broken his leg as a freshman, or if he had simply flopped as a basketball player, Michigan would have still been obligated for his scholarship. And would have paid it, all four years.

Personally, I’d like to see some punishment for athletes — and coaches — who stomp on the NCAA rules, then leave the school to clean up their mess like circus workers behind the elephants.

But it’s not going to happen. And here’s why. The schools are involved in the same hypocrisy as Webber: They call it amateur athletics, but all you keep hearing about is money.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. He will sign his new book, “The Five People You Meet In Heaven,” 7:30 p.m. Friday, Barnes & Noble, Royal Oak; 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Borders, Utica; 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Borders, Flint.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

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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