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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Great Observations from Dana Pennett O'Neil on "The Jay Wright Show" Last Night

Working late, driving home in the soup, I happened upon Villanova men's hoops coach Jay Wright's radio show. Among the guests were Minnesota Timberwolf Randy Foye (a Villanova alum) and ESPN.com's Dana Pennett O'Neil, who covers college hoops and who once covered 'Nova for the Philadelphia Daily News.

O'Neil is first-rate at her job, and she offered one great line last night and some chilling observations about men's college basketball recruiting.

O'Neil is a Penn State alum, and she commented on the inking of 82 year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno to a three-year contract extension. She lamented the fact that the Nittany Lions still don't have a succession plan, and contrasted that fact to the fact that several programs around the country with younger head coaches have them. Then she got to Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a good coach who's well-liked in the Penn State community (he's also a Penn State alum). Bradley's name at times has been bandied about as a successor to Paterno. Offered O'Neil: "He's just like Prince Charles."

Touche. The man who might never get to the throne because of the longevity of the person ahead of him.

She then moved to a piece that she recently wrote on ESPN.com regarding college basketball recruiting. This is required reading for anyone who is a college basketball fan and wonders how kids get to certain teams. The rules permit some absolutely slimely behavior, and it appears in cases that "handlers" of kids -- AAU coaches and the like -- pocket fees, indirectly, of course -- for the possibility of delivering players to schools. One example in O'Neil's article is how Kentucky got a recruit by paying his father several thousands of dollars in fees to speak at head coach Billy Gillispie's camps. (That father pocketed monies for speaking at a few other major college coaches camps too). Another example is how kids get to travel all summer and appear at elite camps. Some of this kids have little money of their own, so how do they get there?

The coaches interviewed are all over the place. The most honest of them appears to be St. Joe's Phil Martelli, an outstanding coach who plays by the rules. Others -- and some would surprise you -- have a view that so long as it's not prohibited it's permitted and that you need to maintain your edge by doing what you can within the rules to land players. Lest you think that high-end DI players are students first, you might think again. After all, given the ethics that surround how some kids get to certain schools, what can they possible learn from the recruiting process that's a good life lesson. They'll clearly learn that someone gets greased somewhere all the time.

And that's just delightful. Look, I don't expect the most successful people to be saints. Most people push hard to be successful. But I do expect them to stay well within NCAA rules and common-sense ethical rules. And the latter area is where we get into problems. They say that sausage and democracy both are wonderful things, but that you don't want to see either of them made. Perhaps the same holds true for Division I college basketball. Read the whole thing and make up your own mind.

You shouldn't be shocked by what you read unless you truly believe that every kid takes challenging classes, will be proficient in math, science and a foreign language and ready for a white-collar job upon graduation. That clearly doesn't happen, but O'Neil doesn't get into the student-athlete paradigm. Perhaps she will some day. This article simply focuses on the recruiting process, and, yes, it resembles sausage-making.

Read O'Neil's stuff on ESPN. She writes well and was a solid contributor on Daily News Live on Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia before moving to ESPN. She wrote a thoughtful piece on this topic, and hopefully it will start some serious discussions among basketball coaches and at the NCAA about the next stage of reforms in DI recruiting.

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