Vai's View: NCAA lives to quell any threat to its pocket book

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 12:35 p.m. MDT

Too often, the NCAA goes after student-athletes like Middle Tennessee linebacker Steven Rhodes, a 24-year-old married father of two who played in a loosely organized, military-only rec league while serving five years as a Marine in Afghanistan before walking on last year to begin his college career.

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Cougar cages are being rattled at BYU.

The NCAA, a body distinguished by its strict observance of its numerous and onerous rules and regulations — many so obscure, offenders only learn of them when broken — is no respecter of programs. It lives to quell any threat to its authority.

The BYU football program has been scared straight into self-policing itself, either to cut losses or lessen the impact when and if the high priests of the NCAA sweep into Provo with their unique brand of justice.

BYU may very well have violated some of the more prominent rules, allegedly offering discounted and/or free housing and gifts to some of its current and former players. Who knows why and how it may have happened. If it did, it will be punished accordingly.

I do know this, everybody, BYU included, operates at some level in gray areas. They do so because their business deals with young adult men who come from every conceivable socio-economic strata, religion, race, culture and dysfunction. Is it possible the alleged free housing at BYU stemmed from an inner-city, non-LDS kid, who showed up on a Wednesday with all his worldly belongings, knows no one on the team or in Provo, and can't move into Helaman Halls or his off-campus apartment till Friday at noon? I wouldn't necessarily assume he's got 100 bucks to check into the LaQuinta on University Avenue either. This seems plausible.

With my kid or yours, one call to an old friend or a former classmate in Orem or at worst his campus ward bishop, and problem solved. However, if your son happens to be on a football grant-in-aid, commonly known as a full-ride scholarship and the campus bishop offering his couch is a BYU professor, well, that would be a violation of NCAA rules. But honestly, what are the chances a BYU professor is also a campus bishop? Odds have to be infinitesimal, right? I'm sure that scenario has never happened.

I think it's safely beyond the statute of limitations, but my youth bishop, Jack Reeder, would have been tarred and feathered by the NCAA. Bishop Reeder, long passed, was a very successful businessman who donated a substantial amount of money and land to BYU. He had season tickets and flew to Provo for every home game and lots of road games in his private plane.

I was the lone BYU student in the ward, so naturally he was very fond of me. He also sent us from time to time to the bishop's storehouse on Main Street in Mesa, Arizona, so he was intimately familiar with my family circumstances. On every single encounter we had in Provo (and on road games), and there were many, he always placed a $20, sometimes $50, in my palm. He'd cup my head with his enormous hands, kiss my forehead, and say, "Use this to take a cute girl for a slice of pizza." Sometimes I did, but most times it just kept gas in my car, paid for a haircut, some toiletries, or allowed me to catch a movie or go dancing at Star Palace. Sometimes I used it to wash my clothes.

Technically, Bishop Reeder was a donor and technically I was a student-athlete. But the NCAA doesn't recognize the other nuances of our relationship beyond that. Not surprisingly, Bishop Reeder either didn't know or didn't care about the NCAA's authority. He just knew my parents weren't depositing anything in my campus credit union account and I couldn't work during the school year (per NCAA rules), so he made sure I had a little "walk-around money," which is what he often called it. And I loved him for it.

NCAA rules are broken every single day on every single campus, BYU's included. It's not right and I'm not excusing it, but it's a fact. Most of the rules are broken unknowingly, as in the example of Jack Reeder. The NCAA, of course, should pick its battles. Free house for a few years to Reggie Bush's family at USC? Gotta tag 'em. Tats-for-Buckeye gear at Ohio State? Ummmm, don't think so.

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