Jeff Jacobs: Ollie, Geno On The Good And Bad (Cheating) In College Hoops

After the NCAA announced it had allowed North Carolina to escape epic academic fraud unpunished, the response from UConn fans was swift and furious.

On Twitter, on fan sites, UConn fans expressed anger that their basketball program was booted from the 2013 NCAA Tournament for low grades, while Carolina walked after 18 years of bogus classes.

"But what happened after that?" UConn men's coach Kevin Ollie said Monday at AAC basketball media day. "I honestly believe we don't win the 2014 national championship if our guys didn't go through that. They had a chip on their shoulder. They had a passion. That's what life is all about.

"When you think it's the darkest hour, that's when morning comes. That's when the blessings come. They could have given up in the darkest hour — most people do — but they kept playing, and now they have the benefit of winning the national championship. Shabazz Napier won the national championship freshman and senior year, same with Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander. Nobody else can say that in NCAA history."

Leave it to KO to find blessings in a cursed situation.

Down the hall at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, women's coach Geno Auriemma found a blessing, too. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on an NCAA committee hastily formed to clean up college basketball.

"We've got a real, live adult in the room who is used to cutting through all the nonsense," Auriemma said of Dempsey, who was elected chairman of USA Basketball after 41 years in the Army. "Someone who's going to ask, 'Are we going to pretend we just came up with another white paper on how college sports should be run? Or are we actually going to do something?'

"I feel confident he will add something out of the box. You've got the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking, 'Are we really going to talk about how many hours a coach is allowed to rebound for a kid? Or are we going to get down to business and eliminate this summer nonsense?'"

Auriemma talked plenty about the nonsense. He talked about Carolina. He talked about the FBI probe that led to 10 arrests stemming from a recruiting scheme involving assistant coaches and sneaker executives.

"Anybody who knows anything about college sports knows this has been going on to one degree or another forever," Auriemma said. "This is not a shock."

Auriemma said he recently talked to a men's coach who recounted that he had been encouraged to recruit a player who committed to another school. The player told the coach, yes, he was interested, but was told by his AAU coach to go to the other school.

Where did that player ending up going? To where his AAU coach told him to go.

"How come we don't read as much about this in college football?" Auriemma said. "This is my guess: No. 1, football doesn't have the summer bull [with all the highly sponsored travel tournaments]. Football isn't run by people outside football. No. 2, football coaches who cheat get turned in by other football coaches. And it stops.

"Basketball coaches who cheat, nobody says a word. Nobody wants to turn anybody in. Nobody wants to be that guy that, 'You think you're bigger than everybody else.' So everybody goes along. Everyone gets together at coaching conventions, golf tournaments and talks about who cheats. Who flat-out everybody knows is cheating, paying kids to go to school, and everybody knows it."

Wow. This isn't some unnamed sneaker executive or former coach speaking. This is the most successful active coach in the game.

"I don't know what the FBI's role is in all this, with all the stuff going on in the world, what are you doing with this stuff?" Auriemma said. "But if the FBI hadn't gotten involved, nothing would have changed for the next 50 years.

"The question is will something change? If guys know this isn't about losing scholarships, this is about going to jail, this will change things. Missing a tournament? You think that's a deterrent? How about you're going to jail? I think that's a deterrent."

The NCAA was exposed as toothless, maybe even useless in the Carolina saga. The NCAA bylaws may not have allowed for real punishment to stick in the courts because the bogus academic program was also available to the general student population. Essentially, the NCAA can bust a recruit over dinner, but not a school for two decades of sham courses.

"I remember when Brooke Shields went to Princeton and somebody said, 'She didn't really graduate. She took Mickey Mouse courses,'" Auriemma said. "Where does it say that everybody that goes to college has to major in engineering or pre-med or become a rocket scientist? If a course is offered and a professor is teaching it, it's legit or the school shouldn't offer it.

"The fact athletes predominantly filled these classes is not a problem in my mind. Where I think it's a problem is when there are absolutely no requirements of those students in that class … doesn't matter whether they show up or don't, do any work or don't, that to me is where the injustice is. Then it's a bogus course."

At Carolina, certain courses didn't require attendance, required only a paper or two, which often were plagiarized and sometimes graded by a secretary.

"People I know say a kid would have a GPA of 1.8, but in these classes would have a 3.3 or 3.5," Auriemma said. "Coincidence? The way they administered those classes, what the university knew was happening and didn't do anything about? Yeah, I think they got way with something.

"Did [Carolina] break any NCAA rules? No. I kind of agree with Jay Bilas. They didn't. What they broke is ethical rules. They were unethical from what I understand."

If the toothless NCAA is going to do nothing, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission, one of the two largest accreditation agencies, should revisit a decision to drop North Carolina.

"No books, no basketball," Ollie said. "I want our guys have a burning desire to get their degrees. Our president [Susan Herbst] sets a big standard at UConn, ranked 18th in the country in public schools. It's a blessing to have that degree.

"We have this video of Shabazz, tears dropping from his eyes, speaking about his education at UConn, getting his degree and how special it was with his family. We show our guys, our recruits. It's not just this basketball factory. We're not trying to put these guys in fake classes. These are real classes."

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