Vai's View: NCAA lives to quell any threat to its pocket book
But 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. Apparently, the Marine rec league was a violation, even though play was halted for six months as Rhodes and the rest of the league were engaged in firefights with the Taliban.
Or the Maryland football coach who responded to a text from a number he didn't recognize, with "Who is this?" Violation, because it belonged to a recruit. Had he been a basketball coach, he would have been fine — the NCAA only prohibits football coaches from texting recruits, not basketball. Odd.
A golfer at a West Coast Conference school was forced by the university to pay $20 and self-reported her for using a campus hose to wash down her car because she was receiving an "unfair advantage not available to other students."
The football assistant who recruited me to BYU once bought me a Gatorade rather than the chocolate milk I preferred because the latter was considered a "supplement," at the time an NCAA violation. My cynical mind seemed to think it had more to do with the former's multimillion-dollar sponsorship. But that's just me.
You know who else are major violators? Polynesians.
Ever been to a Tongan wedding in West Valley City or San Mateo? There might be a dozen Division I athletes in the wedding party alone, from BYU, Utah, Utah State, Weber State and maybe even USC, Cal and UCLA. Some may even be female volleyball players. There may be another dozen prized recruits in the audience, younger cousins or siblings of the bride and groom. Tongans don't bring wrapped gifts, they bring cash — ones, fives and tens — which they place on the oiled skin of native dancers. The money is gathered and given to the happy couple. But Tongan athletes rarely leave a wedding without "parting gifts" — just a few bucks of "walk around money." Violation.
Polys fundraise all the time at kava parties and dances to help parents and siblings get to games or bowls. Know why so many Polys work at the airport? For the flight benefits to attend funerals, weddings and ... games. Airline buddy passes are like gold bullion in the Polynesian community. Probably fraught with violations.
If the NCAA thinks that will stop, it ignores a culture now completely intertwined and woven into the fabric of high school and college football in America.
In the early '90s, a Poly BYU player's dad routinely came to the football office on the first of the month to retrieve his son's scholarship check to help pay the family's rent. The player lasted one semester because that same father was also picking him up most mornings at the Smith Fieldhouse to help with the family landscape business and returning him by 2 p.m. for practice. Violation? No question.
The dysfunction of student-athletes' lives, culture and family circumstances, to say nothing of the minutiae of the NCAA rules and administrators' inability to monitor every situation and every single athlete make it impossible to keep everything in check.
NCAA rules and bylaws are intended to keep member institutions in compliance as much as to keep the pipeline of billions in revenue unimpeded. Do you really think they care about graduation rates? Spare me. What they care about are ad rates.
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