Wiedmer: USC ruling should scare UConn, Kentucky hoops fans

Wiedmer: USC ruling should scare UConn, Kentucky hoops fans

June 13th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

It's doubtful anyone anywhere is happier about Southern Cal's NCAA sanctions than University of Tennessee football fans. You can hear almost every hill in Tennessee alive with the sound of payback music. Something along the lines of: How do you like your dream job now, Lane Kiffin?

And aside from the faint chance that Kiffin's orchestrated hostess-gate could land the Volunteers in some sort of NCAA halfway house, the Big Orange Nation should be delighted to have traded a jerk for a gentleman in Derek Dooley.

But at least four other athletic programs should be sweating missile-sized bullets these days in the aftermath of the Bad Men of Troy. Michigan football and the basketball programs at Connecticut, Kansas and Kentucky all are in various stages of NCAA enforcement interest.

UConn seems almost certain to land on probation for gross violations of improper contact and gifts to a recruit. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun may survive this or he may be forced to retire at the age of 68, rather than his early 70s, as his latest contract had allowed. In light of the USC ruling, expect UConn to stand for more than a state abbreviation by the end of the 2010-11 basketball season.

Then there's Michigan football and the NCAA's interest in Rich Rodriguez's work week for his players, which apparently often exceeded the mandated 20 hours by, oh, Tuesday night.

There were whispers of wrongdoing by Rodriguez at West Virginia, but he won big there. At Michigan he's strung together back-to-back losing seasons and pretty much forced outgoing athletic director Bill Martin into an early retirement.

The NCAA's charges against Rich Rod are technically major in nature but unlikely to cost the Maize and Blue the kind of crippling sanctions that Southern Cal must deal with in the loss of bowl bids and scholarships.

But should the NCAA decide to throw the Wolverines into its big house instead of their Big House, Rodriguez may get the gate.

Kentucky's basketball problems hinge on one-and-done guard Eric Bledsoe, who somehow raised a 1.9 high school GPA to 2.5 in a span of a little more than a year.

There is no current evidence that UK knew of the potential violations, and the NCAA eligibility center twice cleared Bledsoe. But there also is a sense that the NCAA would love to finally tattoo Wildcats coach John Calipari, if only because they never could find his fingerprints on the wrongs that stripped UMass and Memphis of their Final Four appearances when Coach Cal directed those programs.

Beyond that, this one quote from the NCAA's Committee on Infractions chair Paul Dee following Southern Cal's penalty should send chills throughout the Commonwealth, especially UK's compliance department:

"The real issue here is if you have high-profile players, then your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level. High-profile players demand high-profile compliance."

Both UK and Memphis -- which was forced to forfeit its 2008 NCAA runner-up season because of point guard Derrick Rose's standardized test scores -- might legitimately argue that the NCAA should practice what it preaches in clearing these high-profile recruits to play, then later penalizing a school for playing them.

It's a joke for the NCAA to say they have 55 employees to clear 90,000 athletes when, in fact, there are probably less than 150 perspective "high-profile" student-athletes whose high school transcripts are suspect.

Still, if the Committee on Infractions now is applying some "high-profile" standard to certain recruits, UK could be in enough trouble that the dark joke making its rounds through the Bluegrass that UK so enjoyed reaching 2,000 wins last season that it's decided to do it again might become fact.

But no one may be in more trouble than Kansas basketball. In one of those too-close-to-be-a-coincidence moments, KU athletic director Lew Perkins announced his retirement this past week not two days before USC got hammered.

Perkins can claim he's just ready to retire at the fairly young age of 65, but a ticket-scalping scandal involving the athletic department could become the next great probation in college athletics.

At the center of the storm are the Pump brothers, who make Calipari buddy World Wide Wes look like Father Flanigan. They appear to have orchestrated the scalping scheme that involved NCAA tourney tickets. Of greater interest to the NCAA may be the fact that nine players who were members of Pump summer teams later signed with the Jayhawks. KU head coach Bill Self and assistant Danny Manning also both have sons currently playing for the Pumps.

From high-profile connections such as that could come the second-most high-profile probation of the decade after the Trojans.