Don’t blame ex-KU star McLemore or his AAU coach — blame the system

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The real trouble with the Ben
McLemore saga is that it’s a comic book without a clear-cut villain to
spit on. We want a bad guy, a heavy. We want someone to boo and hiss,
someone to wear the black hat and like
it.
 
The AAU coach who took the money. The
runner for the agents. McLemore himself. Kansas coach Bill Self. The
university.
 
Here’s one: Why not the
NCAA?
 
A few days before a USA Today report
in which Darius Cobb, the AAU coach of McLemore, Kansas’ former freshman
swingman, admitted to taking cash and gifts from a middle man in
exchange for an endorsement, the wingtips in Indianapolis struck a
killer blow to that dark, insidious plague that’s killing quasi-amateur
sports as we know
it:
 
Hashtags.
 
Yes,
sir. Twitter hashtags are banned from appearing on the field of play in
college football. Website URLs? Also
verboten.
 
“Except as noted herein, there
may be no advertising on the field, which includes the end zones and
sidelines areas,” the memo from the NCAA’s Football Rules Committee
read.
 
The noted herein? The NCAA logo,
university logos, conference logos, and — wait for it — the names of
commercial sponsors.
 
Which means, if, say, a
big-box hardware chain wants their name on the field in large letters
in two locations, NCAA president Mark Emmert thinks that’s nifty,
because they paid for it. But #BostonStrong didn’t, so to heck with
those freeloaders.
 
It never fails. When you
tell them it’s about business, they say it’s about education. When you
tell them it’s about education, they say it’s about
business.
 
Either way, it’s hard to get your
underwear twisted into a bunch about a poor family trying to job a
system that’s pretty well jobbed to begin
with.
 
Now that’s not to completely absolve
McLemore’s inner circle, either, some of whom may have been “bought” in
hopes of swaying a soon-to-be-wealthy young man from a rough St. Louis
neighborhood to patronize a specific service once the NBA checks start
rolling in. Just because this sort of rigmarole may go on all the time
doesn’t make it any more — well,
right.
 
Barring alien abduction or a freak
lightning strike, McLemore is going to be gone by fifth pick of next
month’s NBA Draft. According to another USA Today piece, McLemore’s
mother, Sonya Reid, a woman with six mouths to feed, was out of work as
recently as February. McLemore’s older brother, Keith Scott, is doing
time at a maximum-security prison. Again, that doesn’t give anyone a
free pass here, but it does provide some
context.
 
No. 23 went to Kansas to because
it’s one of the best places on the planet to prepare him for a career
that will set him and his loved ones up, theoretically, for the rest of
their lives. He majored in basketball, and Lawrence loved him for
it.
 
And while this tale sort of reignites
the stick of dynamite that is the discussion of student-athlete
compensation, a weekly stipend for Ben McLemore isn’t going to keep a
cousin or an AAU coach from trying to make a fast buck on their own. The
more dollars in play, the more hands reaching out for a piece of the
action.
 
If you’re a Jayhawk fan at the
water cooler, you’ve probably already endured a weekend of your Missouri
pals (if you have them) lobbing fireballs at your program and its
alleged ethical failings. Pot points at kettle, kettle points at pot,
names get called, the trolls come rushing out with torches, and message
boards implode.
 
Yet let’s also be clear
about one thing from the initial report, something that gets lost in the
headline: the AAU coach in question claims McLemore himself knew
nothing about the money. Nor are Self or the KU athletic department
implicated in any way, to this point, other than through
association.
 
And, by the same token, it’s
hard for any rational person to imagine Self willfully allowing this,
let alone condoning it. KU wants middle men swaying the gifted to
Lawrence, not middle men running around Allen Fieldhouse swaying
Jayhawks to cast their lots with the David Stern crowd. To put it
another way, what the devil does Self have to gain by this sordid affair
as we know it so far, other than a
migraine?
 
Still, rules are rules, however
asinine the makers, and Bylaw 12.3.1.2 states that “an individual shall
be ineligible … if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends)
accepts transportation or other benefits from, A) any person who
represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics
ability, or B) an agent, even if the agent had indicated that he or she
has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of
his or her athletics ability or reputation and does not represent
individuals in the student-athlete’s
sport.”
 
The “relatives or friends” line is,
like a lot of NCAA rules, a mandate with its heart in the right place
but its wording in left field. It casts such a wide net that it seems
almost impossible for any university to effectively enforce with 100
percent impunity.
 
Where do we draw the line
at friends? Or relatives?
 
The runner in
question wound up on McLemore’s guest list for KU home games. Should
Self have had someone running a background check on everyone players
invite to The Phog? Where does it start? More to the point, where does
it end?
 
I asked a successful college hoops
coach Sunday about the “relatives or friends” bit in regards to this
case. How can a coach or staff possibly and reasonably police of a
potentially massive pool of peripherals, each with their own
self-interests?
 
“You can’t,” he said,
chuckling.
 
But hashtags — now, that, you
can stop. And Emmert wonders why reporters pick fights with
him.
 
You can follow Sean
Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at
seanmkeeler@gmail.com