unlikely that Oklahoma quarterback--make that former Oklahoma
quarterback-- Rhett Bomar has many Depression-era ditties loaded on his iPod.
Ditto for former Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien. But last week, when
both were in the news for their blatant disregard for NCAA bylaws, Bomar, 21,
and O'Brien, 56, might have appreciated The Rich Man and the Poor Man, a 1932
hit by a country crooner named Bob Miller. The rich man gets a lawyer and the
lawyer pleads his case, Miller sang in a proto-Guthrie riff on inequality among
the classes, while the poor man asks for sympathy, but of that there is no
As Bomar and
O'Brien have discovered, it is still very much Miller time in the NCAA. The
line of privilege isn't the imaginary one between rich and poor though--it's
the sideline, painted right there on every football field and basketball court.
On one side stand the NCAA's great unwashed: players, who can expect to be
dealt with harshly when their misdeeds become public. On the other are their
coaches, Teflon dons who survive and thrive no matter what they've done.
It is good to be
the coach in big-time football and basketball. That was never made plainer than
on Aug. 2, when Bomar, a sophomore and the Sooners' starting QB, and offensive
guard J.D. Quinn were booted from the team by coach Bob Stoops for receiving
cash--at least $15,000, according to some reports--from no-show jobs at a
Norman car dealership. Stoops's announcement, which effectively torpedoed the
national title hopes that had been running high at Oklahoma, came a few hours
after a shocking NCAA bulletin. In Columbus a judge ruled that the Buckeyes
were wrong to fire O'Brien in 2004, even though he had cheated by giving $6,000
in cash to a recruit's family in 1998. In a wrongful termination suit, O'Brien
successfully argued that his contract allowed him to keep his job even if he
ran afoul of the NCAA. O'Brien was awarded $2.25 million, enough to cover the
final three years of his eight-year, $6.4 million deal. It may be a while
before O'Brien gets another coaching job, but his court victory ensures that it
will be a while before he needs one.
O'Brien is merely
the latest coach to go off to greener pastures after leaving a job in disgrace.
Kelvin Sampson, found guilty of recruiting violations at Oklahoma earlier this
year, will start anew as Indiana's hoops coach this season. Bob Huggins was an
NCAA violator at Cincinnati, which was found guilty of a lack of institutional
control under his watch in 1998, but that didn't stop Kansas State from hiring
him as basketball coach in March. Let's not forget Dennis Erickson, Idaho's new
football coach, who left Miami in 1994 just before the school was put on
probation for violations he committed. Even Todd Bozeman, who was caught in a
recruiting scandal at California in 1996, has resurfaced, as Morgan State's
Bomar's future is
hardly as rosy. Once the top-rated high school quarterback in the country, he
set an Oklahoma freshman record with 2,018 yards passing last season and was a
big reason the Sooners were ranked No. 5 in the preseason coaches' poll. Now,
he'll lose at least a year of eligibility and would likely face NCAA sanctions
(such as a suspension) if he transfers to another Division I program. One
option: Bomar could play at Texas A&M--Commerce, a Division II school that
said last week that it would be glad to give him a second chance.
Not that Bomar
shouldn't be contemplating the shards of a once-promising career. He has
admitted he knowingly broke the rules, and Stoops has noted that "in the
end the players need to be accountable." That's the message Ohio State
thought it was sending when it axed O'Brien. Unfortunately, the school seems to
have forgotten that it panicked in 1999, when officials feared that O'Brien
would jump to another school or the NBA after that year's Final Four run; the
Buckeyes ripped up his existing contract to give him a raise and lock him up
until 2008. O'Brien also got a clause that said he couldn't be fired unless an
NCAA investigation uncovered major violations in his program.
payment was found by the NCAA to be a major infraction-- Ohio State was placed
on three years' probation and forced to repay nearly $800,000 in tournament
earnings--but the judge ruled that it wasn't serious enough to get the coach
axed. "The contract is extremely favorable to [ O'Brien]," Judge Joseph
Clark said, in finding for the coach. "The parties ... negotiated a
contract virtually guaranteeing that he could not be terminated for an NCAA
Apart from having
to pay out millions, Ohio State now looks foolish for relieving a coach of
accountability for his behavior. The cases of O'Brien, Sampson, Erickson and
Bozeman also send a message to players: When coaches make speeches about the
importance of responsibility, they are talking about you, not them. Back in '32
Miller sang that there's just two kinds of people, the sinner and the saint.
But in college sports there are two kinds of sinners. And you know which one
will find a way out of hell.
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