INDIANAPOLIS -- I'm rooting hard for UNLV this weekend. Not because I love the team -- although I do enjoy watching those guys play -- but because it will serve the folks who run college basketball right.
Every time UNLV wins, it merely emphasizes everything that is wrong with the game.
Every time the Shark wins, it speaks volumes about how corruption pays and how no one who matters -- no one -- is even remotely committed to cleaning up the sport.
I love it every time somebody talks about UNLV's NCAA semifinal game today against Duke as the second act of a morality play. In the first act, you'll recall, UNLV crushed Duke last year in the NCAA final, leaving truth and justice to die like so much road kill. And today, it'll happen again.
This is what the NCAA deserves, what the college presidents deserve. They can issue reports that are largely ignored. They can offer solutions that are always watered down. And, if they do, they'll keep getting the Tark.
Fine. It must be what they want.
It must be that on the eve of the Final Four, they want Jerry Tarkanian on "Nightline" giving his I-am-not-a-crook speech, although everyone looking on knows he must be.
It must be that they enjoy the revisionism now in style that the Shark, while thumbing his nose at the NCAA rules and the rule-makers, is a victim, a martyr, a saint.
You see, Tark shouldn't even be here. The school is supposed to be on probation, but Tark cut a deal to postpone the penalty a year. Why would the NCAA go along? Could it be so that CBS could show the defending champions to great ratings in order to justify the billion-dollar TV deal it signed?
Next year, after he has another title, Tark will probably run, as any good Runnin' Rebel would. He'll run before the NCAA hammers his school again. He'll run before they "vacate" this latest title. He'll get away, probably to the NBA, or maybe just to a sinecure with one of his favorite casinos.
Oh yes, it serves them all right.
There's a reason so little is done about UNLV. The dirty little secret is that the Rebels are different from everyone else only by degree. This is a game where everyone is a little bit pregnant. UNLV is just not afraid to let it show.
At most schools, few basketball players, or football players, graduate. The statistics are out, in case you needed any proof, through 1989 for students entering school in 1984. In basketball, it's 39 percent. They tell you that only 48 percent of all students graduate, but that's another of your big lies. If you take students who stick it out for four or five years, as the basketball players generally do, the number is closer to 90 percent. At Vegas, it's a story when a kid graduates. It's certainly an anomaly.
At a news conference yesterday, Greg Anthony was sporting a Duke cap, which he probably meant to be ironic. And as the "smart" UNLV player, in much the way that Kate Jackson was the "smart" Charlie's Angel, he probably even understands what irony means.
Why shouldn't he? Anthony is a college senior. You don't need to be Allan Bloom to suggest that after four years of college, one ought to be able to define irony, and perhaps a few other multisyllabic words besides.
The great tragedy of college sports is that we assume athletes are non-students who, if asked, would tell you Beowulf must have been a movie starring Kevin Costner.
"I always wanted to go to Duke," Anthony said, straight-faced. "But I didn't have the grades."
He got a laugh. This was a gentle dig at Duke, the elite institution that graduates nearly all of its athletes. UNLV is a commuter school, and that's fine. Tarkanian put on a big show yesterday about how the schools have different missions, and he's right. Each school should bring in athletes who fit the student-body profile.
Tarkanian said yesterday: "Duke is the ideal place. Everyone would love to have a situation like Duke, where you have great players who are great students who come from great families, but that's not what life is about. That's not what our country is about. There are all types of people from different backgrounds. I think it's wonderful that everyone in our country has a chance to go to college, a chance to compete. It would be sad . . . if everyone turned out to be like Duke University."
But it would be worse if they all turned out to be like UNLV. Don't get me wrong. It isn't as if his players aren't nice kids. They're not thugs. They're basketball players who play a great game, at which they work extremely hard. But how many of them belong in college?
Tarkanian, who has seven junior-college players on his team (Duke and North Carolina have none). Most junior-college players couldn't get into four-year colleges, even UNLV, out of high school. These kids are often sent to schools that will help them along, if you get what I mean. Lloyd Daniels was one such player. He never graduated from high school and came to UNLV from a junior college where his course load included five physical-education classes and one history class. He never got to play at Vegas -- drugs did him in -- but Tark got him eligible, and now the NCAA boys are ready to throw the book at Tark over Daniels.
"If he came to UNLV for a year," Tark has said, "he could then go to the NBA."
He spoke the truth. He was willing to borrow him for a year. He said, too, that he wanted to help the young man. If he wants to help young men, help the ones that aren't 6 feet 8. Help young women. Help people who don't play basketball.
I can clean up college sports in about two minutes. It's that simple. I need just one rule: To play, you have to have a 2.0 grade-point average and be working toward a degree; otherwise, you're ineligible. If the school, when audited, can't support that each eligible player is moving toward a degree, the school's athletic program gets shut down for, say, three years.
No one wants to get that serious. The game is big-money entertainment supported by TV, crazed boosters and shoe-endorsement contracts. We reap what we sow. So, we get