Ben McLemore Allegations More Fodder For a Monotously Grating DebatePosted by Chris Johnson on May 6th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Maybe the most important question is, “is anyone even the least bit surprised?”
That was the first thought that jostled around my frontal lobe after reading Eric Prisbell’s expose in Saturday’s USA Today detailing St. Louis-area AAU Coach Darius Cobb’s admission to receiving multi-thousand cash payments and free-expenses paid trips in exchange for perceived influence and access to Kansas star and likely top-three NBA draft pick Ben McLemore. Cobb reportedly met with various sports agents and financial advisers looking to steer McLemore to the professional ranks after his redshirt freshman season. Even a cursory knowledge of NCAA protocol would lead you to make the following conclusion without much in the way of deep introspective thought: An investigation of Kansas’, and by extension McLemore’s, alleged impropriety could result in the Jayhawks not only losing their Big 12 title and Sweet Sixteen appearance, but having its entire 2012-13 season expunged from NCAA historical accounting. Everything McLemore touched during his college career could be in danger of sheer obliteration. There would be protest and angst and complaints. It would get ugly.
Or maybe it won’t: thanks to some quick analysis on the matter at hand from John Infante, the internet’s resident NCAA bylaw expert and author of the famous Bylaw Blog, a completely blood-free resolution of the case seems entirely plausible, even historically prudent. Kansas can look through the superficial ugliness of its star freshman shooting guard and nefarious AAU-circuit go-betweens and financial impropriety, yearn for a punishment-free future and not feel totally nervous about the whole thing. The NCAA, as is all too often the case in high-profile impermissible benefits cases (and as was made glaringly evident in the resolution of the Lance Thomas jewelry fiasco), has no legal means by which to force Cobb, alleged McLemore-invested runner Rodney Blackstock or even McLemore himself, now that he’s declared for the NBA Draft, to discuss his muddy past. The only looming repercussion is if Cobb or Blackstock qualifies as an “agent,” which could very well be the case under the NCAA’s new expansive definition, or – as Infante details in much greater and clearer nuance – if McLemore is proven to have had knowledge and willing acceptance of Blackstock’s (or whoever else was involved) services.
The likelihood of those outcomes is up in the air at this point. Infante likens the case to the Cam Newton situation at Auburn, which ended with a punishment-free collective sigh of relief for a case that seemingly had all the necessary elements – cross-checked rumors of pay-for-play engagement, a once-in-a-generation star entering a cutthroat SEC football recruiting circuit, an anecdotally-crafted rogue father looking to milk every last drip of financial compensation for his son’s immense quarterbacking abilities – for an open-and-shut NCAA takedown. Every case is different, and the folks in Indianapolis may well find ways to work around the apparent legal impasses before them to strike Kansas with crippling penalties. In this early phase of the investigations, every outcome is officially on the table. McLemore’s case bears monitoring – and if you’re a non-Kansas Big 12 partisan looking for a fortuitous ploy to end the Jayhawks’ unrivaled streak of conference championships, well, here you go. Don’t get too excited just yet, because the NCAA, almost without fail, presents a pretentiously powerful face (Mark Emmert) without the actual regulatory bite to enact real, painful discipline – no matter how much smoke (and with McLemore, there is a lot) looms on the horizon.
Parsing the legalese and gritty details of McLemore’s involvement (or lack thereof) is a gradual conversation that will take place in NCAA enforcement staff meetings and compliance offices over the next few months, maybe years. The more important immediate discussion – and by important I mean, one you’ve heard all too often over the last two years of nearly uninterrupted college sports rule-breaking depravity – goes back to the question I asked to begin this post. McLemore may have taken money, willingly or no, and agents may have lured him to the NBA with promises of first-rate financial and advising services, and none of it – not one bit, no sir – would have caused me to blink, or even temporarily put down my savory Starbucks beverage (which is really hard to do, admittedly). This case is yet another flash point in the seedy subculture that pervades high-major college hoops. It starts at the grassroots level, where runners post up along various AAU hotbeds and make initial contacts as early as middle school. It continues and escalates as players move closer and closer towards making their college decisions, and for the select players whose talents warrant NBA consideration – players like McLemore, or OJ Mayo, or Shabazz Muhammad, all of whom have been tied to agents or illicit financial dealings or scurrilous prep-inhabiting prospect shepherds at different times – the bargaining is particularly heated.
You get cases like this, and after a while, when year after year a new top prospect is alleged to have engaged in conduct outside the NCAA’s proscribed amateurism ideal, it starts to feel extraordinarily dumb to yearn for a turning point, to hope the NCAA, or any other prescribed enforcement model in everyone’s idealized post-NCAA college sports environment, can eradicate nefarious third-party influences. It’s just not going to happen. A state of monotonous fatigue seeps in. Impermissible benefits cases roll across the pixelated screen and the most I can muster is a half-baked, “so what?” That’s the only conclusion I have for this still-unresolved mess, which should remain as such, and more likely than not come to a close on a dubiously unsound get-away-free card for McLemore and Kansas. Perhaps Emmert will drop the sanctions hammer in relatively short order. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Policing this stuff in today’s climate is like asking state troopers to issue speeding tickets for one-mile-per-hour violations of highway speed limits. You have better ways to waste your (and my) time.
Don’t get worked up over the potential ramifications. Save yourself another verbatim rewind of the past five years of elite college basketball recruiting malfeasance.