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Posted: May 7, 2011 3:35 p.m.

Shadiness continues to plague the NCAA

In our sister paper The Rockdale News, we reported the latest on former Rockdale star Kevin Ware's recruiting saga. If you haven't heard or are in the dark with what I'm talking about, you can read the story at rockdalenews.com. I'll sum it up for you.

Ware is a top-100 basketball prospect in the nation who committed to Tennessee before his junior year started, then backed out of that commitment in the wake of the firing of head coach Bruce Pearl in March. After reportedly considering several offers from some of the biggest programs in the country including UCLA, Louisville and Georgia, Ware recently settled on the University of Central Florida — a program not even in the upper echelon of Conference USA. Then this week, Ware backed out of that commitment after learning one of the main pursuers, a guy named Kenneth Caldwell who was apparently heavily involved in the recruitment process, was tied to a big-time sports agency and has a criminal record as reported by several news outlets including the New York Times. That brings us up to date. Now to the point of this diatribe.

The recruitment process for college athletes has spiraled out of control. It's almost to the point where we could see a reality show pop up on Spike at any moment. Ware's situation is just the latest example of a high school player getting caught up in a mess that must be avoided if they're going to have any shot at reaching their potential as a collegiate athlete. Violations can end up ruining an athlete's career and can even carry over to the pros as in the case of former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush who was stripped of his award and humiliated along the way. Violations are just not something an 18 or 19-year old kid needs to worry about heading into college. But it happens all too often.

More times than not, the NCAA will eventually catch wind of anything shady. Look no further than what's going on up at Ohio State. In the age of the Internet and social media, stuff gets out. And when it gets out, it gets around fast. The saddest part is, it's often adults who know better that are taking advantage of these kids. The Ohio State fiasco that caused an uproar, just days before last year's Sugar

 

Forget about the kids for a moment. Adults like this tattoo parlor owner are wrong as soon as they get involved with a college athlete. They throw out the bait and a handful of college athletes always seem to bite. Keep in mind, we're talking about very young men who are essentially revered as professional athletes by many, and who a lot of times don't have much expendable cash on hand. They're easy targets. It can be something as benign as a cookout.

Part of the problem lies with the landscape of the NCAA and the pressure to secure top recruiting classes. This holds true especially for basketball programs that know they'll only have a top recruit for one year before he bolts to the NBA. Colleges and the NCAA itself make tons of money off amateur athletes. Athletes watch their jerseys sold in stores for boatloads of cash but they don't see any of it land in their pockets. Now there's two ways to look at this. On one hand, it could be argued that college athletes should get some sort of allowance. On the other hand, athletes are receiving a free education which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars at some schools and that is their payment. Ultimately, without condoning any player's actions, I can see why they make the decisions they do. It's tough to know your jersey is outselling the top professional basketball player's and you can't afford to by a Big Mac.

The recruiting trail can often be a great experience for a prep athlete. They get to visit different schools and are courted by important people. For the most part, programs go about the process the right way. It's when the seedy element — people that have no association with programs, get involved that things go awry. Unfortunately, when things go bad, they can kill an athlete's future.

I can see why Ware backed out of Tennessee and most certainly UCF. You don't really know what might happen to a program in the near future that's under investigation but more times than not, NCAA investigations are the kiss of death for the short term. This holds true especially in basketball where one lost scholarship and a ban from postseason play can turn off top recruits and relegate a powerhouse to second-tier prospects. Who wants to for a program strapped with sanctions? Who wants to even be associated with a program cleared of any wrong doing when they have so many great options? Not a top prep star.

I'm not a big proponent of giving advice and this little bit is really no more than common sense. But if you're a high school athlete, regardless of sport, the best thing to do is to listen to only those who have the credibility to advise. Don't even trust those who you want so badly to trust. In other words, don't listen to your friends. Tune out what your big brothers, cousins and uncles have to say. Forget about taking any advice from an AAU coach. All these people don't have your best interest in mind. And above all, if it isn't a coach from a prospective college on the other end of the phone, or if it is a coach calling when he/she isn't supposed to, hang up.

Deciding where to play college ball is more about sports. It's about the best opportunity to get a free education, or at least should be. That's tough enough for anyone to decide let alone a teenager. Do yourself a favor. Don't make a decision that will cost you a shot at your dream.

You'll have plenty of opportunities to do that when you're an adult.

Bowl and wound up costing five players including quarterback Terrell Pryor the first five games of the upcoming season. Not to mention it has tarnished one of the traditionally cleanest programs in college. And it happened because of an adult who knew or should have known better. It was the owner of a tattoo parlor who gave free tattoos and money for merchandise the players either earned while playing football or obtained as part of playing for the program.

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