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The pooh-bahs who run college sports know little shame.

Investigations and trials this past year or so have laid bare top college hoops teams as embedded in a web of procurers and hustlers and byzantine payoffs. The U.S. Justice Department talked tough, but its prosecutions were perverse affairs, nailing the low-level hustlers, not the godfathers and capos of college hoops.

When the NCAA tiptoed in two weeks ago and threatened to censure Kansas, where the basketball team relied on the acumen of clever bagmen, university officials near-quivered with anger. Hall of Fame Coach Bill Self thundered about "half-truths," and Athletic Director Jeff Long all but sobbed into his news release.

In Tucson, where the University of Arizona basketball team is no less riddled with ethical corruptions, fans and university officials chortled when a federal judge barred NCAA investigators from seeing records laden with "hearsay, speculation and rumors."

So it came as a great relief Monday when, with a jot of the pen, Gavin Newsom, governor of California, and the legislature stuck a pin into such self-serving pretensions. California will allow thousands of college athletes to hawk products and companies, trading on whatever modest celebrity they accrue.

The NCAA reacted by telling its footmen to fetch the vapors. The dukes and earls of the NCAA love to gas on about their philosophy, which holds that college athletes are most virtuous when they earn not money but a degree for their athletic labors. To leave the door ajar to capitalism was to risk that athletes would no longer feel the joy of trudging off to lectures on medieval history. And without this purity, fans would flee.

It's physically impressive, the ability of officials to talk like this without cracking grins.

Pete Carroll, the Seattle Seahawks coach and once a bowl-winning coach at the University of Southern California, can evince a refreshing irreverence about the football-industrial complex. Alas, he showed no self-awareness in talking about the California bill.

"I've never been the guy that feels players need to be paid to play," Carroll said recently. "I've felt like their scholarships and all the advantages that the guys got was always a pretty darn good deal. To me it sounds like an adult situation trying to make sense of a kid's experience."

Where to start? These are not kids but adults, old enough to vote and serve in wars, and are old enough to get paid for their labor.

Carroll's teams at USC quickly doubled the revenues pouring into university coffers, adding nearly $40 million in his first season. Carroll pulled a salary of $4.4 million, or more than four times that of his university's president. When Carroll decamped back to the NFL, an NCAA investigation found all sorts of violations and vacated all of USC's victories from one season, not to mention a Bowl Championship win in another season.

Que sera, baby. No one demanded that USC give back the lucre.

Geoffrey S. Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, inadvertently ripped the curtain back on this game last spring when he tried to pretend that his prosecutors had accomplished something significant by convicting two hapless young fixers arranging payments to basketball recruits from a shoe company.

The prosecutors, Berman said, had convicted these men of defrauding "an Adidas-sponsored university." Yes, those were his words. The convicted, Berman noted, had the audacity to funnel some sneaker dollars to the families of players who would make millions of dollars for that same "Adidas-sponsored" university and its millionaire coaches.

It was difficult to read that sentence without breaking into a chuckle and without hoping that the day will soon arrive when players can pry open the door to those university treasuries.

Sports on 10/05/2019

Print Headline: Time's up for NCAA, those who run it

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