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Madden: Clarett's situation puts NCAA in bad light, too

Saturday, September 13, 2003

In the United States, prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada and within the NCAA.

The NCAA's version of the world's oldest profession is more akin to street prostitution than anything more dressed up. The hookers do all the work, and the pimp keeps all the money. The athletes do all the work, and the NCAA and its member institutions keep all the money.

Which brings us to Maurice Clarett.

Clarett, most recently of Ohio State, has been suspended from playing college football this season. Given the NFL's eligibility rules, that means he has been suspended from playing football anywhere this season (except Canada, which barely has football and doesn't really have money).

Clarett was suspended for allegedly taking thousands of dollars in extra benefits and allegedly falsifying a police report by overstating the value of property stolen from his car. Ohio State says the extra benefits were not provided by Buckeyes boosters, the better to keep their national title from last season. It looks like they came from a businessman who befriended Clarett during his high school football days, although I would bet that LeBron James slipped his homeboy something, too.

Clarett also walked out on a midterm exam, then took a presumably much easier verbal makeup test later. But I'm told that had nothing to do with his suspension. Would-be cheats take note: Academic fraud is OK!

Clarett helped the Buckeyes win that national championship, helped to put six-figure crowds in stadiums and helped to bring in huge TV money.

For that, he got a scholarship, then got run out of Columbus, Ohio. Can we possibly say Clarett got a fair deal?

If you're an old-school NCAA athletics type, you probably can. But the NCAA is really institutionalized slavery for the new millennium. A college scholarship provides what the recipient gets out of it, but its value in the real world is inexact. There is nothing inexact about the money scholarship athletes earn for the NCAA and its member schools. The tradeoff is ludicrously far from even.

Clarett's extra benefits likely amount to gifts from a friend. In real life, we can receive gifts from friends. Falsifying a police report is no worse than, say, grabbing a girl's arm.

Someone should report the NCAA to the National Labor Relations Board, because it is unfairly exploiting our nation's young athletes. It's like a Nike sweatshop, only Nike sweatshop workers get paid more.

Clarett's options are limited. Former NFL great Jim Brown is trying to steer him to Division I-AA Grambling for next season. If you transfer down, you don't have to sit out a year. Clarett would be at a predominantly black school with a predominantly black football team, as opposed to Ohio State, a predominantly white school with a predominantly black football team.

Grambling coach Doug Williams says Clarett might be more comfortable around a primarily black student population, at a place where he could have collard greens once in a while. I swear I'm not making that up. Williams invoked soul food as one of Grambling's attractions. Good thing black people are allowed to stereotype their own race. Hey, Doug, do they show "Good Times" re-runs on campus cable?

I think Clarett might be made a lot more comfortable by two words: "Bling" and "bling." Clarett obviously would be happiest making major coin in the NFL.

The NFL, however, is an accomplice in the NCAA's exploitation racket. Players can't declare themselves eligible for the NFL draft until three years after they graduate from high school. Under those rules, Clarett can't play in the NFL this season or next.

He could sue, and he would win. Clarett is an adult by law, he is qualified to play in the NFL, and the United States has right-to-work statutes. But how long would it take him to win?

If the NFL were smart, it would make an exception and let Clarett enter the league. Otherwise, Clarett could become the NFL's Spencer Haywood. His lawsuit could ultimately make everyone 18 and over eligible for the draft, and the NFL would soon be taking players right out of high school.

That would happen, too. Every NFL general manager would swear today on a stack of Bibles that he wouldn't pick an 18-year-old because someone of that age just isn't physically ready for pro football. But if they were available, the very best 18-year-olds would be drafted every year.

Sure, it would be better for an 18-year-old's development to play college football. But from the player's perspective, you don't get paid in college football. And from a pro team's perspective, you had better draft the stud now, because you might not get a chance to draft him later.

That would make the job of Post-Gazette football recruiting guru Mike White a lot tougher. Will Anthony Morelli go to Pitt, Florida State, Notre Dame or the Chicago Bears?

Hey, Morelli would have to be better than Kordell Stewart.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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