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OJ Mayo Accepted Gifts? Color Me Surprised

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Sarcasm is a valid blogging technique.

ESPN reported over the weekend the results of an Outside the Lines investigation which showed that USC freshman OJ Mayo received a variety of goodies from an agent middleman called a "runner" during the course of his brief NCAA career in Los Angeles.  Mayo naturally has denied the allegations.  I am sure Tim Floyd will be along forthwith to give us the standard "I have no knowledge this was happening" meme coaches who play with fire in the form of players like Mayo are famous for.

ESPN columnist Pat Forde who, along with his OTL brethern, are probably breaking some kind of code by even reporting negative things about USC, says the NCAA should levy the death penalty on the Trojans:

In a just world, USC basketball would have something in common with SMU football in the near future.

The death penalty.

It's not going to happen, because NCAA bylaws don't work that way. And besides, they're not likely to ever again disband a program for a year after the smoking crater it left at SMU.

But USC deserves it. The school has so far escaped facing NCAA prosecution for compelling allegations that star tailback Reggie Bush and his family were lavishly compensated by an aspiring agent while playing for the Trojans. Now comes a devastating, thoroughly documented "Outside The Lines" report that goes into stunning detail about the money and gifts star guard O.J. Mayo allegedly received before and during his one season at USC.

All directly beneath USC's chronically blind eyes.

Some of Forde's ire stems from the fact no one, paid a lick of attention to the "Reggie Bush was being paid" story broke after the RB left USC for the NFL.  The NCAA seemed extremely disinterested in launching anything close to a formal investigation into Bush's activities, so it will be intriguing to see how they treat this situation.

The larger question I have about this kind of violation is how much of this kind of behavior will we continue to see with the NBA's 19 year old age limit?  Players who know they are one year from the NBA and are simply playing college basketball until they can make the jump might be more inclined to do exactly what Mayo is accused of doing.  What the age limit has done, since it is only for one year, is created a class of players commonly referred to as the "one and doners."  Many of these players would have gone to the NBA out of high school but since the rule has been enacted they head off for one year of college. And in most cases who can really blame them?  Brandan Wright was one such player and it was hard to argue with the lottery pick status he had when he declared.   And with most of these kids, they follow the rules at school and fulfill their obligations while they are on campus.  However, there are probably more than a few instances in which they do not.

These are the two glaring unitended consquences of the rule.  You have players who attend class long enough to be eligible for the basketball season.  And in the case of Mayo, you have players who decide to get a head start on living the NBA life despite what the NCAA says.  The issue is the level of motivation these players might have for respecting the rules and keeping their eligibility intact.  Remember, college is just a obstacle to clear before getting to the NBA because a stupid rule was put in place.  I am sure some players do not attend class after December and also start taking gifts because why should they really give a crap about what happens to the program they are serving time with until they turn 19?

Granted this is probably not a rampant issue and it is not a player only issue.  In some ways they are being lavished upon and that sort of thing is hard to turn down.  Probably a greater bulk of the responsibility falls on the coaches who run these programs in ensuring they do not mortgage integrity for the sake of one talented player for a single season.  And in USC's case, if the allegations are proven true, it will hardly have been worth the price of having Mayo since they were bounced in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament.[Side Note: Commenters at 850 pointed out the lack of consequences for the player who commits the violation.  This is a valid point and it was suggested that the players be charged with tax evasion since the money is income and they do not pay taxes on it.  In some ways the players are tempted but that might be curbed if they think they can be charged with a federal crime for taking it]

In my mind the solution is simple.  First of all the NBA needs to enact the baseball draft rule and allow these kids to either declare out of high school and if they decided to attend college make it three years before they are eligible again.  This will make recruiting for the college coaches more difficult but at the same time it will add significant stablility to college teams in general. At the same time, I think you would also get rid of the players whose sole goal is the NBA.  Any player who shows up on campus knows he is there for three years and will be committed to what the program is doing.

If these allegations prove true, the NCAA must act with brutal force and send a clear signal that if you want to take on a potential "one and doner" who comes in with questions you do so at the risk of you coaching career and the viability of your basketball program for years to come.