Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Counterpoint: O.J. Mayo

I've been reading a little bit about this OJ Mayo situation and its supposed connection to the NBA's new rule requiring draft entrants to be 19 years old. If anybody is unaware, OJ Mayo was recently accused of having taken payments to play basketball for USC for one year and then sign with sports agent Bill Duffy.

I'm introducing a new feature here at Don't Ever Give Up in which I provide editorial counterpoint to another article that presents an opinion I don't agree with. Today's entry is this article by ESPN writer Tim Keown, reproduced below in its entirety. I made it red, which seems to be ESPN's official color. My remarks are in black.

Here we go:

OJ Mayo demonstrates the NBA eligibility rule is a disaster

So take a look at O.J. Mayo now, staring bug-eyed into the camera, trying to get his mind to work fast enough to figure out how not to answer a question regarding improper payments while he was in high school and at USC. And please, tell me again how great the NBA age requirement is for the college game.

Please explain to me what the NBA rules have to do with this.

It was a charade when it was enacted, a farce now.

Oh, you're about to explain. Sorry. Go on.

David Stern's brainchild was hailed as a monument of wise paternalism and good sense back when it was enacted. Smarter, more mature players, with a year of college worldliness behind them, would make both world a better place.

This is invective and lacks a real conclusion. The age rule had two goals: (1) Stop unfortunate high schoolers from going to the NBA and getting completely screwed up and failing; and (2) shore up the general quality of NBA play. It was also a response to fans who were upset that so many players went straight to the NBA from high school and had a consistent lack of fundamentals and coping ability. So far, it seems to be working.

But as the Mayo mess shows, it hasn't done the college game any favors.

Actually, it has. The rule was hailed at its inception for the effect it would have on the quality of NCAA basketball - by keeping NBA prospects in school for a year, the pool of NCAA players improves dramatically. That effect has been pronounced. The most exciting players in the NCAA for the past two years have been products of the rule. Before the rule, we had George Mason in the Final Four. Keown still has not shown any causal relationship between the NBA age rule and the Mayo scandal - he's only made conclusory allegations.

First, let's dispense with the idea that one-and-done college basketball players are anything but mercenaries. Mayo was just the worst and most obvious transgressor, choosing USC to use both the school and the city to further his profile. The transparency of the entire Mayo operation was evident from the time he was a junior in high school.

Though I'm no fan of the double-negative, this article from the New York Times shows shows that it is true that Mayo hoped to use USC to showcase himself. (I wonder if the fellow in the Times article was Mayo's "runner" from this scandal.) I think Keown is going a little far with his suggestion that Mayo is the first or most "transparent" athlete to go to a school with the intent of showcasing himself - college athletes in every sport have been doing that since at least the 1980's.

Here's how the NBA's age requirement works for a guy who is guaranteed to be a lottery pick: He can do the bare minimum amount of work his first semester, then go to zero classes his second semester and be ineligible to compete the first semester of his sophomore year.

Finally, here is an attempt to make a connection! Keown blames the NBA's rule for the fact that NCAA players (under NCAA rules) only have to take classes for one semester before they go to the NBA. So, it's the fault of the NBA that players are taking advantage of liberal NCAA rules? This doesn't really make sense, and on top of it, I don't really see what the big deal is. God forbid we have a student athlete who intends to leave college after one year missing a semester of classes! That would have a serious effect on both athletics and academics!

Here's how college sports work in the real world: athletes take bullshit classes and generally detract from the academic reputation of most institutions and America's collegiate system as a whole. From Matt Leinart's ballroom dancing studies to the infamous Georgia basketball "class", it's clear that athletes do not play by the same rules as regular students, and haven't for at least 35 years. (I realize that this isn't always the case, but as they say, there's an exception to every rule.)

Lots of people complain about the defiling of the "student athlete", and if those people want to watch reruns of college sports contests from the 70's and 80's, that's fine with me. I'll take the best (often dumb) athletes, and if the NCAA cares so much about its image, they can get rid of those dummies, and I along with most people will not watch.

I don't think it's fair to question the NBA for the NCAA's faults when the NCAA has put itself in a position to be the NBA's feeder system and made billions of dollars. If a writer, pundit, or even athlete has a problem with the fact that the NCAA is more about athletics then academics even though they still maintain the window dressing of academic integrity, you know who they should go to? The NCAA, that's who.

But guess what? Oh, you already guessed it -- he's gone by then, in the NBA getting paid legally.

So if someone really wants to work the system, he can go to zero classes, use the system for his own exposure, and in the end the NBA can feel good about itself for protecting the youth of America.

This is in stark contrast to the era before the NBA enacted the rule, when NCAA basketball players like Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson spent rigorous freshman years at Syracuse (for the weather) and Georgetown (for its political science classes).

We get it, and that explains the lack of outrage in the wake of the news that a street runner -- agent-speak for "con man who is paid to get close to high school superstars" -- was paid by Bill Duffy and Associates to pay Mayo for being Mayo. Clothes, gifts, cash -- all with the hope that he'll remember BDA when the time comes for a little payback.

Could it be that the lack of outrage has to do with the fact that no one was hurt or even affected negatively?

USC, of course, is the unwitting bystander in all this.

Yeah, right. Just like it was an innocent bystander when Reggie Bush was running the same game. Or when basketball player Jeff Trepagnier was running the same game in 2000 with -- oh, no, it couldn't be, could it? -- alleged Mayo bagman Rodney Guillory.

This makes some sense. The NCAA player, who was breaking the NCAA rule, should have been caught either by his team's management or the governing body. Because, uh, it's the NCAA and its teams that are responsible for enforcing its rules and ensuring its health...not the NBA.

By the way, Jeff Trepagnier could jam.

We've grown immune to this. It's just what happens. Agents pay guys to pay athletes; it's a financial funneling system that bypasses the rules against direct contact with an agent by allowing direct contact with a guy who is one step removed from the agent.

It was painful to watch Mayo and Guillory stammer and stare through their on-camera appearances on Sunday's "Outside The Lines." Guillory is apparently a pretty slick guy, but he sure doesn't play one on TV.

There's an outside chance you can feel a shred of pity for Mayo, and that's being charitable. But any sympathy for Mayo arises only because these runner types are really bottom-feeders, the lowest life form known to sports.

I would say they're a lot less unpleasant than the athletes who cheat, juice, break the law, womanize, get in fights with fans, street race, and sanction dog-fighting rings. Oh, and kill people.

Think about it: They get paid to befriend and pay high school kids for the purpose of turning them over to an agent or financial advisor down the road.

It's pimping, no two ways around it. And somehow, in this system of tortured values, they're an indispensable part of the process. (end of article)

Okay, but how is any of this the NBA's fault? If this is such a problem, then shouldn't someone make it illegal for agents to give money to potential clients the same way lawyers can't solicit crash victims? I still don't see why blame lies with the NBA. It makes no sense.

It's not logical to promote the OJ Mayo scandal as a condemnation of the age rule. Forcing kids to go to college for a year is definitely a good thing, for both the NBA and the college game. Kids learn more about basketball when they can star for a college team than they do riding the pine and buying the donuts for the Clippers, and that benefits the players' future employers as well as their schools.

If academic integrity is the real concern, there's no reason to lay blame on the NBA's rule. The Mayo scandal is one in a long line of publicized screw-ups resulting from NCAA rules designed to maximize the amount of athletes in the extremely profitable sports programs while maintaining a guise of "integrity" and academics. That's the farce.

As always, e-mail me at dontgiveupthebasketballblog@gmail.com


Prolow said...

similar article. Iverson did last two years at Georgetown where he was a fine arts major.

James said...

Substitute him with Stephon, then.