Thoughts On The State Of College Athletics

6/8/2011 6:13:45 PM Two events of the past 45 days have left me with lingering melancholy. 

The first is Gary Williams' retirement and Maryland's subsequent head-first dive into the world of big-time college recruiting. It has been well documented that 5-star recruits were basically off-limits to Terp fans under Williams.  Fans and alumni bitterly complained that Gary Williams "hated recruiting" or that he was "lazy" and preferred to play golf rather than hit the summer the AAU circuit. 

Now, a slightly different narrative is emerging.  Gary wanted those 5-star players; but he deeply resented have to curtsy in front of anyone but the player or his parents.  As AAU coaches and "handlers" grew in influence; Gary retreated.  Disgusted by this new reality; Gary decided to do more with less.  It's a testament to his coaching that he achieved so much under these circumstances. 

Enter Mark Turgeon.  He's clearly chosen a different path.  One that includes the modern recruiting circuit of AAU games, and handlers whispering advice into player's ears.  Turgeon has assembled an elite staff of assistants who have impressive track records of bringing top level talent to remote locales.  The question often asked is "If Michael Beasley was willing to go to Manhattan KS; what kind of ridiculous talent can Dalonte Hill bring to DC?" What's not asked is "How the hell did Hill 'convince' Beasley to move to the middle of nowhere?".  More on that in a bit...

The strategy already seems to be bearing fruit.  Studs like Mitch McGary (his visit to College Park yesterday went swimmingly, I'm told), the Harrison twins (the Terps are frontrunners!), and Elijah Macon (Maryland is at the top of his list) are suddenly "in-play" to take their talents to College Park.  Miraculous as it seems, Turgeon and his assistants have turned Maryland into a place that 5-star recruits take seriously.  Terp Nation is downright giddy.

I'm just as excited; but my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the second major event of the last 45 days: the scandal currently engulfing The Ohio State University football team.  The memorabilia-for-tattoos imbroglio is just the latest example of a mighty program falling from grace. 

Unfortunately, we've seen it with the reigning National Champs in both football (Auburn and Cam Newton) and basketball (UConn and Nate Miles). My gosh, USC just had it's 2004 National Championship taken away (maybe Auburn and UConn shouldn't get too comfortable with those trophies).  It seems like everyone is breaking the rules; but the NCAA and fans continually turn a blind eye and blame everything on a few bad actors.

It reminds me of Major League Baseball circa the late 1990s. 
- Brady Anderson hit 51 home runs?  He just worked out in the offseason. 
- No one in the 100+ year history of the game had ever hit more than 61 home run in a season, yet two guys (McGwire and Sosa) hit more than 65 in 1998?  Nothing to see here. 
- Barry Bonds' hat size doubled in a 15-year span?  He just matured late.  Of course, we now know that perhaps  as much as 75% of baseball players were juicing during the Steroid Years.

My point is that anyone who was remotely paying attention to baseball knew what was going on; but no one wanted to believe it.  Well, don't you kinda feel the same way about college sports?  The sport seems dirtier than ever and consumed by money.  I can't stop thinking about that as I see Maryland enter the fray for these 5-star players. 

I'm not about to say that Turgeon and his staff are willing to break rules to get the best players.  Nothing about Turgeon's character indicates that he is willing to do that.  It just worries me how dirty the landscape has become.  I don't envy the task that Turgeon has in front of him.  He's got to land top talent while whispering sweet nothings into the ears of their handlers, and do it without making any promises or crossing any lines that other schools seem so willing to do. Good luck and godspeed.

The irony of course is that success in and of itself will raise doubts.  Which brings me back to Dalonte Hill.  No one has ever accused him of doing anything untoward and I'm not about to be the first. That said, how in the heck did he get Beasley to Kansas State? Nevermind.  I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

Wait.  Actually, I do want to know.  I want to know why an assistant coach can make such a difference that complete backwaters like Manhattan KS become appealing to kids from DC.  How are Assistant Coaches able to forge such deep connections with these players that they will follow them to remote corners of the country?  Let's have an open discussion about it.

I love college sports.  I want to celebrate many championships throughout the arc of my life as a fan.  I don't want any of those championships to be taken away or have asterisks next to them.  I believe in Turgeon (and Dalonte Hill for that matter).  I trust he will run a clean program; I'm just a bit scared about where this is all headed.

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