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On the day before the Albert Means scandal was about to break wide open, Kentucky coach Hal Mumme headed a panel on ethics at the American Football Coaches Association's annual meeting. The brash Mumme, never one to be understated, gave his views on the do's and don'ts in today's climate. Less than one month later, he resigned under heavy pressure as his own recruiting fiasco unfolded in Lexington.
Last week, it came to light that UK had reported more than three dozen violations in a 35-page report sent to the NCAA in February. Former Memphis prep D-lineman Mondre Dickerson told UK officials that his coach at Melrose High, Tim Thompson, pushed him to attend Kentucky or Alabama. Mumme's recruiting coordinator, Claude Bassett, has admitted sending $1,600 in money orders to Thompson in October 2000 in an effort to influence the coach to send prospects to UK. The Kentucky portion of the mess in Memphis isn't as startling as Means' tragic tale, about how a coach sold off his star player to the highest bidder, but it is no less disturbing. These aren't "minor" infractions. They are dirty dealings not far from the scope of the corruption that led SMU to get the death penalty almost two decades ago.
Sources contacted for The Magazine's Albert Means story -- which details a player's contention that his high school coach sold him to Alabama for $200,000 -- say they suspect similar incidents are taking place all over the country. "The thing with the Means case that was different was the 200 grand. The normal price should be about $25,000," says a source close to the SEC's investigation, matter-of-factly.
As one coach told The Magazine, it's surprising that recruiting scandals don't pop up even more frequently -- especially in the South, where football passion is hottest. The city of Memphis was ripe for plunder. It is a major metropolitan area that has a half-dozen or so football-crazed colleges all within shouting distance. Add in the fact that most of the talent there comes from single-parent, low-income homes, and you can imagine a few back-room deals getting cut.
It's sad, but to some coaches, the kids are practically livestock. And to the filthy rich boosters, they are merely pawns. Not all college coaches are dirty. Most coaches know who the dangerous influences around their programs are. The NCAA does, too. They have three-inch-thick files on some of the guys, but it doesn't seem to matter. Money talks. Cold cash, after all, doesn't leave a trail. And as people in Memphis, especially 19-year-old Albert Means, found out -- the game of recruiting is even dirtier and more brutal than battling 300-pounders in the trenches.
Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.