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Mark Wiedmer

Noticed the newest Associated Press college basketball poll, the one released Monday afternoon?

Noticed that Kansas is the latest blue-blood program to be ranked No. 1? And that Louisville, last week's No. 1, is third? And that Auburn, still undefeated this season after last year's Final Four run, the first in school history, is 12th? And that Arizona is 16th a year after the Cactus Cats program supposedly was flirting with the death penalty?

And what do the above four programs have in common, other than they've obviously taken care of business early this season?

Well, all four were in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's crosshairs not 18 months ago for all matter of wrongs that seemed to paint the whole sport in a light that might make the Godfather blush.

Money laundering. Illegal payments to players, their families and their handlers (at least illegal by NCAA rules). Wire fraud.

But here we are nearly a season and a half later and all four programs are among the nation's elite, including at the top of the heap. And you don't think crime pays?

If the keepers of college basketball, including the NCAA, want to know why television ratings and attendance are down almost across the board, this week's AP Top 25 might be a good place to start. Whether everyone's cheating or not, it sure looks that way, and no one seems the least bit concerned about stopping it.

Yes, Kansas has received a notice of allegations from the NCAA. Southern Cal got one last week. Louisville's biggest problem is trying to figure out which investigation to fight first. The NCAA ruling that, um, stripped the school of its third national championship, which was won in 2013, but later removed because it reportedly used strippers to recruit players? Or should it put all its legal eagles on fighting the charge that it paid $100,000 to recruit Brian Bowen?

Or has the NCAA secretly washed its hands of Louisville because of taking away its 2013 title, as if that sort of gave the Cardinals a lifetime exemption from further punishment?

We don't know. It seems as if the NCAA doesn't want to know what it should have known decades ago. College athletics, especially college basketball, is a dirty business, same as it ever was.

Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean it's not worth having around. That much more good than bad is derived from awarding a college scholarship to someone who might not have gone to college otherwise. For all the ink wasted and trees destroyed — not to mention the cluttering up of cyberspace — over a few bad apples, the potential for good in college athletics is always there. For proof, merely focus on Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

Because of the LSU senior quarterback's touching and emotional acceptance speech Saturday night, more than $185,000 in donations have poured into the food bank in his Athens, Ohio, hometown.

And Burrow wasn't even campaigning for the Athens County Food Pantry.

He merely said the following words during his speech: "Coming from southeast Ohio (where his father, Jimmy, was the defensive coordinator at Ohio University from 2005 to 2018), it's a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There's so many people there that don't have a lot, and I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too."

At this point, a second part of society that justifiably takes a hit sometimes — social media — got involved. Athens High School and Ohio University graduate Will Drabold began a fundraising effort on Facebook around 11 a.m. Sunday, hoping to raise $1,000.

Once all those LSU fans who've cheered for Burrow so hard the last two years since he transferred from Ohio State got involved, the donations poured in as swiftly as Burreaux (as he has come to be known in Cajun country) throws touchdown passes.

By Monday afternoon the total had reached $187,000 for a charity that feeds 5,000 families every year and serves 9,000 meals a month.

"I started this because, like everyone else from Athens, I cried during Joey's speech," Drabold posted on Facebook. "And (I) felt like there had to be a way to harness that."

Those moments don't come along often enough, of course. But they happen, and they happen because for all the dirty, rotten, no-good behavior we read about in big-time college sports, it also continues to have the power to move people, lots of people, in a positive way.

But if it wants to continue to have that sway over fans, it might want to punish the bad guys now and then rather than allowing the whole world to believe that when it comes to college basketball in particular, if you're not cheating, you're not trying.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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