published Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: NCAA chief Mark Emmert may yet rue his rhetoric

In this file photo, Mark A. Emmert speaks during a news conference after being announced as the president elect of the NCAA in Indianapolis in April 2010.
In this file photo, Mark A. Emmert speaks during a news conference after being announced as the president elect of the NCAA in Indianapolis in April 2010.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

For the purposes of privacy I'll call him Jim Chappel, though that isn't his real name. But 40 years ago at Vestavia Hills (Ala.) Junior High he was generally regarded as one of the top five or 10 football prospects in the state.

Standing a little over 5-9 and weighing more than 170 pounds, Chappel played quarterback, though he was basically a glorified running back. He led the county in rushing and was said to already be receiving letters from Bear Bryant.

Then an unfortunate thing happened to Vestavia's Can't Miss Kid. He quit growing taller, quit picking up speed and quickness, started gaining some weight.

By the time he was a senior he'd been moved to offensive guard, still a very good player, but in no way gifted enough to become one of Bear's Boys.

All of which brings us to 14-year-old Tate Martell, a rising eighth grade quarterback who accepted a scholarship offer to Washington on Wednesday.

Never mind that the 5-11, 180-pound Martell can't officially sign with the Huskies until February of 2017. Or that the Washington coaching staff can't comment on the commitment or make an official offer until September of his senior year.

At least for now, Martell -- who's expected to be home-schooled this fall -- is unofficially a Husky.

If this isn't a case -- to loosely borrow a line NCAA president Mark Emmert used regarding Penn State on Monday -- of academic values being replaced by hero worship and winning at all costs, show me what is.

You're offering a rising eighth grader who plays the toughest position in football a BCS scholarship before he's taken a single, solitary hit in high school? Are you serious?

Then again, this is the same Emperor Emmert who once said of hiring Nick Saban at LSU: "Simply put, success in LSU football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University."

But that would have nothing to do with hero worship or a need to win at any cost, would it?

Point is, if Emperor Emmert is going to clean up college athletics, recruiting would be a perfect place to start and college coaches verbally offering rising eighth graders scholarships should be near the top of the list.

Two things here: High school juniors and seniors have enough trouble keeping their feet on the ground when they receive a scholarship offer. Imagine the emotional challenge facing an 8th grader who thinks he's already the property of Big State U.

The odds of that young man or woman keeping a level head are at least as high as the odds he'll actually still be worthy of that scholarship three or four years later.

Second, what happens if he doesn't improve and Big State U. drops the offer? How does a youngster deal with that? Would you like to be the parent who has to repair that sink hole in your child's psyche?

Emmert drew a lot of attention to himself by slamming Penn State for its child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the cover up that followed.

He concocted a nuclear winter penalty that the school couldn't afford to fight lest it would look like it cared more about its storied football program than sexually molested children.

And in that singular case, perhaps no penalty to punish the Nittany Lions could have been too harsh for the innocence and normalcy stolen from Sandusky's victims.

But the rest of college athletics isn't like the Penn State case. It's full of gray. Beyond that's it's full of irony.

Four years ago, then-Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie offered eighth-grader Michael Avery a scholarship. Throughout the land there was great consternation over what this would mean to the future of college recruiting. Then-NCAA president Myles Brand called it "untoward."

And if you're the Avery family, what ultimately happened certainly may feel untoward, if not downright unforgiveable. Gillispie left UK. His replacement, John Calipari, withdrew the offer. Avery wound up signing last autumn with Division II Sonoma State.

But picking on Kentucky is easy, especially given the Wildcats' past NCAA infractions for winning at any cost.

But before Emperor Emmert took over the NCAA he was the president at the University of Washington. If only to prove that the school he used to lead still has his sense of perspective and justice, perhaps he should order the Huskies to honor young Martell's scholarship offer whether or not he's still worthy of it four years from now.

Otherwise, if Martell doesn't improve and the scholarship disappears, Washington might look no different than all those out-of-control SEC schools where success in football is essential to the success of the university.

And what right-thinking college administrator would ever espouse a view such as that?

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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Livn4life said...

Well Mark, we know money trumps a whole lot of things in college football. It is good to at least see a stand taken against the atrocity that was the Penn State/Sandusky fiasco. But it is ironic that the NCAA has chosen to turn a blind eye to many violations for certain schools while hammering others. We all wait to see what happens with the U down in Coral Gables. In the end, the P. State deal may just help everyone be a lot more vigilant when it comes to even the possibility of children being victimized. I find it strikingly sad that something of this magnitude is required to open many eyes.

July 26, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
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