- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

The executive board of the National Association of Basketball Coaches has decided to hold an emergency hand-wringing session in Chicago next month.

The nation’s 327 Division I basketball coaches are expected to lament the increasing amount of toxic waste in their midst and issue vows not to let it poison them all. They might even join hands and belt out a rendition of “We Are the World.”

This is about the most the coaches can expect to accomplish with their meeting.

Theirs is a substance-free show filled with questions and concerns. They want to feel better about their profession. They also want you, the public, to feel better about it.

Their profession may be corrupt, so the thinking goes, but it is not as corrupt as you might think. You have to know that. Most coaches are able to run their programs without having one player being accused of murdering another player. You can’t use that one isolated incident to condemn them all. That is just not fair.

The coaches can spin their lot however they like, but there is no going back to a simpler time, to the pre-television days of coaches being educators instead of so many flimflam operators.

They do not want to go back there anyway. The pay was lousy, and no one groveled in the presence of a coach.

Coaches are the public faces of colleges nowadays. They earn fat contracts and cut side deals with shoe and apparel companies and with television and radio stations. They also have a gaggle of sycophants in the national press attesting to their incredible intellectual capacities. They are something special, the coaches are.

They talk of the never-ending pressure to win, as if the pressure emanates from a vacuum.

To whom much is given, much is expected, and the coaches certainly embrace the loot that comes their way.

Billy Donovan, to name one of the young, bright faces of the profession, recently received a hefty salary increase from Florida. He had four years left on his old contract, but the Florida athletic director decided to tear that one up and give Donovan a new six-year deal worth about $1.7 million a year.

Donovan takes the previously football-dominated institution to the NCAA tournament each March, highlighted by a Final Four berth in 2000, and brings exceptional hair to the television screen.

But now, because of the contract and hype, because of his highly visible presence in Gainesville, Donovan just can’t be content with 20 victories and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. He has to justify all that he has acquired. He has to land the next big recruit and the one after that. He has to push and push and maybe take a recruiting risk here and there. The recruiting trail can be incredibly gray at times.

This is the high-stakes game. We should not be surprised by those coaches who eventually develop an ability to look the other way. They are always chasing the next job, the next contract, the next blue-chip recruit. They are driven by ego and an inflated sense of importance. They can’t return to their historical roots as humble educators, because, in the major conferences, they are the CEOs of a mini-corporation.

Quin Snyder, the coach at Missouri, is another of the young smarty-pants in the coaching community who has come to adopt the position of Capt. Louis Renault in “Casablanca,” expressing the notion that he is “shocked, just shocked” by the unethical conduct in his midst. His program has been found guilty of 17 “secondary violations” in the last four years, and the worst is possibly in the offing with Ricky Clemons.

It was Clemons who choked his former girlfriend and held her against her will in January.

Now she has been singing to authorities, telling of a coaching staff that treated Clemons to cash and clothes and to “tutors” who did his classwork.

Before dismissing Clemons from the team, the Missouri higher-ups stuck to the tired proposition of doing all they could to help this misguided mercenary.

Oh, please.

So the coaches can have their introspective gathering in Chicago following the profession-shaking murder of a player at Baylor.

But the terrible stench wafting from college basketball is hardly limited to Baylor.

It is about a landfill of scandals, about Georgia, Auburn, Michigan, Iowa State and St. Bonaventure, about all the scandals ahead. It is about a system that is out of order and lacks the wherewithal to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

It is a sweet life, the life of a coach is, so long as the coach wins games and either abides by the rules or does not get caught breaking them.

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