As has become custom, President Obama kicked off the World Series of Brackets from inside the White House, filling out his NCAA tournament gambling sheet on national television.
The Big Dance, amateurism’s greatest scam, remains relevant primarily because of America’s addiction to wagering. The play on the court is sloppy and uneven. Most Americans can’t identify the players. We’re light years removed from when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon and the Fab Five and North Carolina staged unforgettable postseason basketball clashes.
The Bracket — i.e. gambling — is college basketball’s biggest star. Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s year-round “bracketologist,” is more well-known nationally than any player.
The context is provided to illustrate the absurdity of the NCAA rule that cost Kansas State fifth-year senior Jamar Samuels his final collegiate game. Twenty-four hours before the Wildcats departed on their NCAA tournament road trip, Samuels accepted $200 in potentially impermissible benefits from the founder of the AAU program that supported him as a child.
Curtis Malone wired Samuels $200 spending money for the four-day road trip. A well-meaning do-gooder in Manhattan, Kan., tipped off the K-State athletic department about the Western Union transfer a day before the Wildcats were to meet No. 1 seed Syracuse in the second round of the tournament. Rather than risk a non-compliance blemish on his resume, athletic director John Currie suspended Samuels from the game.
Samuels, the emotional leader of the Wildcats, their best rebounder and second-best scorer, watched in street clothes as the Fab Melo-less and vulnerable Orange eliminated K-State from the tournament.
Now, you can argue Samuels and the Wildcats got what they deserved, as Digger Phelps sanctimoniously did on ESPN over the weekend. Referencing his by-the-letter-of-the-law days as the head coach at Notre Dame 20 years ago, years spent primarily recruiting kids from nuclear families, Phelps pointed out he told ND recruits not to accept any benefits from outside their families.
Not to steal from political commentator Bill Maher, but Phelps lives in the “privileged bubble,” an area removed from reality that is off limits to kids like Jamar Samuels.
In 2012, what is family? And who is in yours?
Samuels’ family isn’t wealthy or privileged. His dad left when he was young. His mother is a breast cancer survivor. His grandmother and uncle recently passed away. Curtis Malone is family to Jamar Samuels. Malone was a father figure to Samuels before major college basketball programs knew Samuels’ name.
If his biological family didn’t have the cash, where should have Samuels turned for spending money? K-State coach Frank Martin? Martin is the man who promised to be Samuels’ collegiate father figure. Martin is the leader of K-State’s basketball family. Martin is paid more than a million dollars a year. He can afford it.
But the NCAA rule book prohibits Martin from doing what is right. And the NCAA media slave catchers live for the day — even years later — they learn of a head coach sharing his wealth with his players.
Maybe Samuels should’ve asked a K-State booster for the cash? Maybe he should’ve hustled some girl on the K-State campus? Maybe he should’ve gotten his teammates to autograph a couple of basketballs and sold them on eBay?
It all would’ve been illegal or unethical.
Given his options, asking Malone was the right thing to do. Had he thought he was doing something unfair, he would’ve asked Malone to give the money to his mother and have his mother wire the cash.
Jamar Samuels isn’t a pro prospect. He’s a 6-foot-7, relatively thin power forward. He can’t put it on the floor and create his own shot. He’s not particularly athletic. This was his first season as a full-time starter. He’s a good college player. There’s no payday for Curtis Malone steering Samuels to an agent.
Samuels came to Kansas State dreaming of being an NBA player. He’ll leave Manhattan, Kan., with a degree and as the winningest player in the history of the school. It’s a great legacy that was tarnished by the NCAA’s fraudulent, president-celebrated, media-enforced “amateur” bracket pool.
College basketball and its NCAA tournament are a government-approved, nationally televised, multibillion-dollar scam and we’re supposed to care that Malone gave Samuels $200 to spend while K-State was visiting Pittsburgh? Really?
I wish I lived in the “bubble of privilege” Digger Phelps inhabits. The real world is embarrassingly unfair.