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Thursday, March 4, 2004


BALCO. Colorado's sex-and-recruiting scandal. Coaches who don't know when to shut up. College hoops stars with welding degrees. Sometimes it feels like the only way to stay a sports fan -- or writer -- these days is to wear a rain hat, even indoors. Peter Keating says save a little sputtering indignity for the less-publicized St. John's hoops scandal, one he takes personally, due to the fact that both his parents graduated from that once-proud school.

But Keating is not here to bury St. John's so much as to save it (and college sports in general) -- with a couple of suggested rules changes that will hit irresponsible coaches and administrators where it will hurt the most.

Saving St. John's | By Peter Keating

From Bobby Bowden to the BALCO boys, I know we've been gorging on scandals for weeks, but let's leave some room on our plates for the St. John's men's basketball team, a shell squad that stumbled to its 20th loss of the season last night.

Not just because I am personally stung by what's happened to the program, though I am ... my parents are both alums, and the very first college basketball teams I cared about were the pre-Chris Mullin "Redmen," as they were called back then, of Reggie Carter and Wayne McKoy.

And not just because the details of the Pittsburgh sexfest that knocked three starters -- Grady Reynolds, Elijah Ingram and Abe Keita -- off the team are particularly nasty, though they are ... after a curfew check following a road game earlier this month, half a dozen team members went to a strip club. Five had sex with a woman who accused them of gang raping her but then took back her story when a video on one of the players' cell phones showed no assault. She later said she made up the charge after the players declined to pay her $1,000, giving new meaning to the term "Johnnie."

No, it's worth keeping St. John's on the front burner because the school is an especially revolting example of the sickening co-dependency between exploitative coaches and spineless administrators.

Here's what Mike Jarvis said about the scandal: "A coach is a parent. Take the name 'coach' out and substitute 'parent' and vice versa. If the kids do well, the kids get the credit. If the kids don't do well, the parents get the blame." What a sanctimonious, hypocritical boatload of crap. Jarvis has always made sure he got plenty of credit, not to mention big paydays, when his players performed well. This is a guy who broke into college hoops by riding a 7-foot-tall high-schooler named Patrick Ewing to celebrity status in Boston 25 years ago.

On the other hand, he took zero responsibility for bringing troubled kids to St. John's and watching them devolve into active deadbeats. Sharif Fordham was the captain of the Red Storm when they went to the NCAA Tournament in the spring of 2002; six months later, he was arrested for dealing crack in Georgia, and is now serving a five-year prison sentence. Reynolds was arrested in November 2002 for assaulting a female swimmer at St. John's; the woman is still recovering, but Reynolds was never suspended, and got off probation in time to join the Pittsburgh gang bang. In November 2003, Marcus Hatten and Willie Shaw were nailed for smoking pot in a parked car.

Grady Reynolds
Grady Reynolds was one of three St. John's starters booted off the team.

Actually, "zero responsibility" might understate Jarvis' role in the corruption of St. John's. Keita now alleges that from the time he entered the school in 1999, a member of Jarvis' staff paid him $300 a month. Jarvis says the allegation is "absolutely ludicrous." Fine. Let him pass two lie detector tests, as Keita has.

Through all of this, Jarvis hasn't exactly been a model of deportment. "I hope that none of you feel the way I have the last two days," he said in February 2000, when the NCAA was investigating Erick Barkley, "as if someone had come into my house and raped me."

Yeah, Jarvis sure was violated -- when St. John's finally fired him in December, he walked away with a settlement worth more than $1 million and a confidentiality agreement.

St. John's president Rev. Donald Harrington recently said: "I don't think anyone should be assigned blame, especially Mike Jarvis. A lot of people who know much more about basketball than I do would say that, but I emphasize, I don't know that much about basketball." At least the padre got that last bit right.

OK, so in response to all this, we could gnash our teeth, ask my Mom and Dad to withhold their donations and call on the clueless Father Harrington to do the impossible and disband the St. John's basketball program. But this case, in particular Jarvis' gall in saying of the Red Storm, "All I know is we're better than we were five years ago," has me thinking about more constructive proposals. As long as the NCAA is waging its own version of the Bataan Death March to stay in the business of "amateurism," maybe we should call on it to control coaches as well as players. How about:

  • A ban on confidentiality agreements when a coach and a school part ways. The NCAA surely has the power to forbid them, and if programs or coaches get sued as a result of what someone says after a firing, then let the lawsuits fly. The risk of litigation is one of the few forces powerful enough to temper greed in the private sector. It's time to let that fear work its trembling magic on big-time coaches.

  • No work at an NCAA institution for one year for any coach who has two or more players found guilty of serious NCAA rules violations or misdemeanor crimes. You wound up with one bad apple? OK. More than that, and you should take a seat for 12 months, sir, and ponder how to clean up your school's act.

    Opponents of this idea will say coaches can't be held responsible for the behavior of their players. The truth is that if we make them responsible, we are sure to see them recruit and play better-behaving athletes. And how sick are you of seeing the Jerry Tarkanians and Dennis Ericksons of the world leave ravaged programs behind to immediately work at better-paying jobs?

    Just a couple of ideas for bringing a little accountability to the guys who profit from the current system, whether or not their programs make money and whether or not their players go on to decent careers. Anyone got anything stronger after reading about the final exam Jim Harrick, Jr. gave his kids?

    From Jeff Merron:

    I share Peter's dismay about the lack of responsibility Jarvis is taking and the refusal of Rev. Harrington to assign blame.

    Peter proposes this penalty: "No work at an NCAA institution for one year for any coach who has two or more players found guilty of serious NCAA rules violations or misdemeanor crimes."

    That's not a penalty. Give a prominent, highly paid coach a year off, and what's he going to do? Not ponder cleaning up his school's act. He's going to "write" and promote a book, command (and be paid) exorbitant fees as a motivational speaker, and trot out the "I've paid my dues" line while he networks for a job at another school. Probably coach at some summer camps, too.

    Want to punish the coach? Disallow golden parachutes that leave irresponsible coaches laughing all the way to the bank. And make 'em work -- for a year, at an assistant professor's salary, for the NCAA or for their school -- doing something constructive. That could be anything from actual teaching, or really sitting down and coming up with a comprehensive, written plan to clean up their school's program ... something that keeps them from having time to pad their pockets, take a long vacation and find another, more lucrative position.

    In other words, you've got to hit them where it really hurts -- in their wallets. So you might want to add in some meaningful fines, too.

    From Eric Neel:

    I say make the coaches coach again right away. Make them coach eight-year-old girls and boys in a city rec league. They think the pressures of boosters and alumni are serious? Let's see how they fare under with overprotective, over-eager parents sitting just inches away from them, game in and game out. They think it's tough to wrangle college-age kids? Let's see how they do with a group who run in circles just for kicks and kick each other just for sport. You hear all the time how college coaches do what they do because they love the game and they love the kids. To Mike Jarvis and others like him, I say: Prove it.