- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2000

I paid Erick Barkley's tuition when he attended Maine Central Institute.

I also paid for Barkley's clothes, food and No. 2 pencils.

I was there when Barkley needed someone, and I am happy to report that he has become a pretty fair basketball player at St. John's University.

There, I said it.

So expand the investigation, NCAA.

As it is, the NCAA is sifting through Barkley's background, looking at the world in its typically upside-down fashion. You bought Barkley a Big Gulp and a chili dog a few years ago? The NCAA wants to talk to you. You once gave Barkley an old computer? Too bad. You should not have done such a corrupt thing, you bad influence, you.

The New York Times reports that the NCAA is checking into Barkley's one-time financial arrangement with a prep school in Maine. The NCAA also is checking into Barkley's purported relationship with an agent.

The NCAA's increasing interest in Barkley comes after he recently served a two-game suspension for swapping vehicles with a family friend.

Soon enough, the NCAA probably will investigate Barkley's situation when he was in grade school. Did a youth-league coach ever provide Barkley with transportation to and from practices and games? Did anyone ever buy Barkley a T-shirt as he was moving up the basketball ranks?

If so, these wrongdoers better go on the lam and hope the NCAA snoops never find them. America should know something right up front: Do not mess with the sanctity of the game. Your help is not wanted or appreciated. You befriend a kid today, and the NCAA may be knocking on your door in five years, wondering why you would do something so awful as to pay a student's tuition. Are you out of your mind? Do you need professional help? Don't you know you can go to prison for helping the youths of America, although only if the youths in question are athletes?

By the way, you can help all the geeks you like. You can be Bill Gates and set up all the baby geeks you want, so that one day, all the baby geeks will mature into adult geeks, and that development can't hurt you if you're Gates. The more geeks the merrier if you're Gates. Just say yes to the Future Geeks of America.

But the NCAA functions differently from most American enterprises. It thinks differently, too. The NCAA is this all-knowing, all-controlling governing body that has rules on everything, including how many times a day a student-athlete should be allowed to use the bathroom.

The NCAA has a guilty conscience. Consequently, you must be guilty, too. You did not help the kid to help the kid. You only helped the kid because of his potential earning power.

The NCAA does not work like that. The NCAA is up front with its dollar-making machine. It makes a bundle by putting its student-athletes on television and then talks about the value of a free education. You can't put a dollar figure on a free education, especially if you were one of the student-athletes who was learning by second-hand osmosis at the University of Minnesota.

The NCAA talks about what a learning experience sports can be and how it builds character, and then you see all these suits behaving badly on the sidelines, going bonkers, having fits, acting like children, acting as if some profound struggle is being waged, when in actuality, the struggle is always about the outcome of another game.

This is teaching? This is teaching how not to act.

Where have you gone, John Wooden?

The NCAA did not set out to be a hypocritical joke. The hypocrisy has evolved over generations, incrementally, even unintentionally.

But now, the NCAA is what it is, a parody that operates by committees and a zillion rules and renewed promises to reform.

The NCAA, of course, is beyond reform, hopeless, so it is reduced to examining the history of a student-athlete at St. John's, invading his and his family's privacy, justifying its intrusions with un-American principles.

In a better world, the NCAA's simpletons would be given a day to evacuate their offices before a demolition crew was given the go-ahead to make the country a better place.

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