Hold the Mayo

By Carla Peay
Updated: May 21, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the latest scandals to grace the sports pages is that of USC basketball star O.J. Mayo, and the allegations that he accepted thousands in gifts and cash during his one year college career.

Mayo claims he’s innocent; that he never accepted a thing. The NCAA is investigating, which, as the saying goes, is like letting a rat guard the cheese.

The NCAA rakes in millions every year on the backs of so-called amateur athletes, while telling them that they’re getting the benefit of a free education, then giving them a rigorous schedule of games and practices that make it impossible for classes and studying to be a priority.

Add to that how much these schools are influenced by the money and power of deep-pocketed boosters, who get whatever they want by writing a check and donating a building. No one could miss the hypocrisy in that.

So, it’s understandable how a student athlete, one clearly headed for a pro career, can watch his school rake in millions on his name and talent, and be tempted to accept a few monetary benefits. Much depends on how these young athletes view college in the first place.

For some, it’s just a one-and-done way station, an annoying NBA rule that delays their ability to jump right from high school to the pros, and makes them wait an extra year to earn those multi-million dollar salaries.

Others actually enjoy their time in college. They value higher education, knowing that with a little effort, they just might learn something that will help them later in life.

There are opportunities for friendships and socialization, and a chance to be a kid for just a little while longer. Even from a basketball standpoint, there are advantages.

Playing in the NCAA Tournament can give a kid only a few local scouts ever heard of, a chance to shine on a national stage. It can increase a players’ draft status.

It can entice a few potential sponsors, like shoe companies, and vitamin enriched water sellers. It can even help him improve his game by playing against better competition.

Raise your hand if you knew who Stephen Curry was before March Madness.

The real problem, of course, is the “advisors”. These people range from family friends and former coaches who genuinely care about the life and the future of these young athletes to disingenuous, money-grubbing sharks out to ride a talented kids’ coattails; the kind who’ll sell him up the river when the gravy train arrives if he’s not invited along for the trip.

But I disagree with my colleagues who consider this a major crime against nature. Rather, I liken it to a “buyer-beware” situation that involves an athletes’ talent, rather than a physical product, like a house or a car.

USC knew what they were getting when they signed Mayo, a one-and-done commodity who craved the bright lights of Southern California, but will claim ignorance of any knowledge of Mayo’s actions, and will likely avoid any NCAA sanctions.

Why would the NCAA want to hurt one of their biggest cash-cow schools?Mayo knew that even if caught accepting money, what punishment would await him? Mayo is done with USC, and is awaiting the NBA draft, and no doubt several endorsers, and will be a multi-millionaire in a matter of weeks.

These “advisors” can only be punished if convicted of committing a crime; hard to prove while all other parties are claiming innocence and ignorance. And the cycle of cash under the table and the farce of “amateur” athletics continues.

Can it be stopped? Not a chance. That train left the station a long time ago.

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