Two angles on the OJ Mayo gifts scandal.
Two days ago, Saturday morning host Bomani Jones, filling in for David Glenn, interviewed Sonny Vaccaro who is really the father of the modern AAU/basketball shoe camp movement. Vaccaro also signed Michael Jordan to NIKE but is largely considered to be Satan's cabana boy by most decent folks. You can listen to the interview in full here. I thought Jones did a great job with the interview but Vaccaro has made a living being a slippery fellow and this interview was no different. Among the more annoying points were:
- Vaccaro trotting out the baseball rule as though he had invented it and was breaking new ground with the suggestion. Fairly arrogant on his part. For the record, I love the baseball rule as a solution because I think it will filter out the guys who do not want to be in college and anyone who makes that decision to attend school knows it is a three year deal. It does not solve all the problems but I think it is a win-win for both the NBA and NCAA.
- At one point Vaccaro attempts to minimize the damage done by the current culture in amatuer basketball by playing the moral equivalence card. He called those who think the Mayo situation troubling "alarmists" and said college basketball had always had skeletons pointing to the point shaving scandals from earlier decades saying it was the same thing. Sorry, Sonny, but it is not the same thing and I am not sure point shaving was as widespread an issue as this is today nor did in seep down to having eighth graders playing with high school guys under the watchful eyes of sleazy agents.
Caulton Tudor piled onto the issue this morning with some fairly salient points while casting NBA commissioner David Stern as the real villian in this sordid tale:
At the very worst, Mayo was guilty of accepting money and gifts. Among the most pious of us, who makes a habit of saying "no thanks" to money and expensive gifts? And as for Floyd, need we even guess about his fate should he make a habit of going 12-21 rather than 21-12?
But the NBA and Stern have no excuse for peddling poison. The age rule was adopted to keep talented young players off NBA benches but in the public spotlight as collegiate stars for a year or two. It's that simple. On a good NBA team's roster in 2007-08, Mayo would have been on television no more than a handful of minutes each game. At Southern California, he became a media fixture for a few months.
So who wins from such a twisted exposure strategy? Well, heck, the NBA obviously. Mayo has become a sports celebrity, possibly by his own design. Lots of people may even watch the league draft just to see which team welcomes him and his baggage aboard.
Southern California, on the other hand, is left to climb out of a snakepit.
The right thing to do here is the right thing to do for the sport, and not merely what's best for the almighty NBA. Stern and the players association owe it to the game to either clone the baseball rules or go back to the days when all high school seniors were allowed to enter the draft.
By far, the baseball blueprint works best. There, all high school seniors either can sign pro contracts immediately or are forced to duck the draft for three years. It's not as though the undrafted baseball players are exiled for that time, either. Most just have to go to college and deal with the required academic eligibility demands.
I slightly disagree with Mayo not being culpable here though as Tudor points out, Mayo was corrupt before he got to USC. His amatuer status, had anyone bothered to take a hard look at it, was probably toast halfway through high school. USC and Tim Floyd should be on the hook for no other reason than they were abjectly stupid in giving Mayo a spot on the team. Granted it is Floyd's job to win games but it is his job to do so and not violate half the NCAA rulebook in the process.
Tudor is ultimately correct that if this is ever going to change the NBA has to do it. The NCAA cannot stop players from leaving school to enter the draft. Roy Williams said last year that the whole system was set up to benefit the NBA and not college basketball. The only reason we have a rule blocking high schoolers from entering the draft is some folks took up the cause that poor high school students were having their lives ruined by thinking they could make it in the NBA and they turned out to be wrong. You also had an issue of NBA GMs being too overly anxious to draft on potential that they were taking these guys out of high school and they ended up being busts.
The bottom line is we have no qualms about sending 18 year old men off to fight in a war but we want to be sacrosanct about 18 year olds entering the NBA Draft? Screw that. The world always works better when more freedom is applied not less. In this case, allow these kids to make a choice like every other 18 year old has to do when they graduate high school. Many more make poor decisions about what to do with their life every year than the whole lot of high school NBA busts combined. Afford them the choice, allow the ones who do not want any part of college the option of not attending but at the same time make sure those who choose college do so as a three year committment. If you are talking about making these boys into men, working hard for three years and honoring a committment to a school will go a long ways towards making that happen. It is better for the college game. It is better for the NBA since you will get more Tim Duncans than Kwame Browns in the final equation with a sprinkling on LeBron and Kobe mixed in.
Freedom of choice and stablilty of college commitments will not fix all the issues but I am certain it will make it better.