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Milanovich case heard, but decided?


The Scott Milanovich Saga, also known as the story that should have gone on life support at least a week ago, has entered yet another phase. The Army has a term for it: Hurry up and wait.

The sporting world clamors for word from the NCAA eligibility committee regarding Maryland's appeal on behalf of its quarterback, who has been penalized for the repeated breaking of a significant rule the school regards as "excessive."

The NFL is at a standstill. The pros arrange for a supplemental draft every so often when it becomes necessary, like when a kid unexpectedly completes his degree requirements early (snicker), and they say they'll have one this year. When is anyone's guess since it probably depends on the status of Milanovich.

The Terrapins football team, faced with a rugged road opener against Tulane, 1-10 last season, doesn't begin practice until Aug. 12 but already the lads are said to be "disheartened" at the very thought of doing battle without their leader. Who can blame them? Picture David without his slingshot and a rock, what chance would he have had against the big Philistine?

The NCAA says its eligibility committee is being rounded up from the four corners of vacation to start kicking around Maryland's appeal this very day, but who's to say how long the jury will be out? After all, it has had the appeal sitting on its desk for more than a week already.

To review, Milanovich, together with three other football players and a Terps basketball player, was hit with a suspension for betting on college games. While his teammates admitted to dropping a fiver or a ten spot on a pool card on campus, Scott is far more sophisticated: He dealt with a bookie directly, not once but three years running.

Maybe you can allow for youthful indiscretion when something happens once. But three years in a row after a player has signed a pledge that he won't wager on collegiate athletic events even if those unscrupulous types who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls threaten to tear off all his fingernails?

Originally, the NCAA looked at the evidence gathered up by Maryland in its investigation and was quite clear in its judgment: Milanovich is suspended for a season and, since it's his last season of eligibility, he was done as a collegiate player.

What seemed a sensible decision given the circumstances of the son of a former high school athletic director, a guardian versed in the need and importance of rules and regulations, was softened to 75 percent of a season due to the kid's cooperation during the school's investigation.

Maryland, which isn't likely to take on the reputation of being a "hanging judge" in a hurry, suggested Milanovich be hit with a two-game suspension. In other words, this would keep the player around. The NCAA obviously saw no real penalty in this and decreed eight games.

Seeing as how the folks who run collegiate athletics, a body duly elected by the member institutions themselves, already have softened their punishment, it would seem unlikely they would soften it again. Particularly to the point where it would be worth the QB's time to return to the squad and do himself any good in the eyes of the NFL scouts.

The Milanovichs are on hold, saying they won't make a decision on sticking around or departing until the appeals process is completed. This makes it a number, the percentage of the schedule Scott can play, pure and simple. If it's a "reasonable" number, according to the father, Gary Milanovich, Scott will remain. What's reasonable is relative, but indication of what the Milanovichs are looking for is clear when the father says they're "expecting" the penalty to return to the school's suggestion of two games.

So much for any moral issue that might have been lingering around this soap opera, which is a month old tomorrow. It was on June 19 Maryland completed its 15-week investigation and turned everything over to the NCAA's eligibility committee, which was meeting in gorgeous Lake Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, at the time. Tough duty.

It has been awhile since the NCAA was accused of possessing the wisdom of Solomon while adjudicating the transgressions of members. Clearly, it's an impossible job because it ends up with penalties being handed down to colleagues and there will always be cries of special interest, axes to grind, conflict of interest, etc.

Then, can justice truly prevail in a setting where a coach, in this case Terps basketball mentor Gary Williams, while defending his player involved (walk-on Matt Raydo), asks, "is the punishment fair when 65 percent of college students gamble [according to statistics]?"

The answer is yes if the people who should know better would stop defending or justifying wrongdoing simply because it is its ox being gored. Isn't it strange how education, once the top priority of colleges, hardly gets mentioned when sports are involved?

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