Madness!

The College Basketball Real-Life Top 25

It’s tourney time again—that slice of the sports calendar when most of us turn into casual gamblers without a second thought. But as we fill out our brackets and lay down our cash—embracing vice without hesitation or punishment—let’s remember those college athletes who were penalized for their vices this past year. That is, if you consider taking money for tuition to be a vice or accepting cash for the rent to be improper. As St. John's fans know well, the NCAA sure thinks so, and many collegiate ballplayers have been duly disciplined. (One wonders how that sort of logic extends to an organization that is getting paid $6 billion to televise its amateur tournament.) Other transgressions have occurred, too. Collectively, they are the stuff of the Real-Life Top 25.

1. Duke (27-4)Despite the school's reputation for academic excellence, it is the basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who is its highest-paid employee. Coach K earned a $360,000 salary last year while university president Nan Keohane made $315,000. Krzyzewski is also in the middle of a 16-year, $6.6 million personal contract with Nike. Last summer, three players—Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and William Avery—left the Blue Devils early for the NBA, the first time that any player has left Krzyzewski's program before their eligibility was up. Coach K was OK with Brand's departure, but whined about the other two, Avery's in particular. "I'm not in favor of William's decision," he said at the time. "We have done extensive research into the NBA for William, and my conclusion was that entering the draft now would not be in his best interest." The response drew anger from Avery's mother, who accused Krzyzewski of selfishness—a rare accusation for the squeaky-clean coach. He shot back with a nasally defense of the campus where they used to shoot the J. Crew catalog: "I think we have allure here. We have one of the great schools, we have an outstanding basketball program and we have great people. To me, that's a heck of a thing to be a part of." (Graduation rate, all students: 93%; basketball players: 82%; black players: 80%. Athletes make up 17% of all black male undergrads.)

2. Michigan State (26-7)State rewarded coach Tom Izzo with contract revisions that will raise his annual salary to more than $725,000 after he led the Spartans to their second straight Big Ten title and a berth in the NCAA Final Four in 1999. But all the money in the world couldn't help the coach keep his star player out of trouble. Last spring, guard Mateen Cleaves was charged with misdemeanor larceny of property worth less than $200 after he allegedly stole a 40-ounce bottle of Bud from an East Lansing 7-Eleven. Former Spartan Antonio Smith, who was with Cleaves, was also charged with malicious destruction of property for allegedly breaking the lock on the store's cooler. The team's fans aren't so disciplined either. Roughly 10,000 Spartan backers were involved in a riot following the team's loss in the Final Four last spring, causing an estimated $145,000 worth of damage. (Graduation rate, all students: 67%; basketball players: 73%; black players: 67%)

3. Stanford (26-3)Stanford freshman forward Casey Jacobsen dyed his hair blond last summer but let it return to its natural brown before the start of basketball season. "I love dyeing my hair, but there is no way coach [Mike] Montgomery is letting me walk on the court with it like that," he said. Perhaps that kind of discipline is what has kept Cardinal players in the classroom and out of the police blotter. Since Montgomery arrived on campus in 1986, no Stanford recruit has left school early for the NBA or been suspended for any significant amount of time. Ironically, Montgomery succeeded Tom Davis, who reportedly left Stanford because he felt the school's academic standards limited his chances of building a top hoop program. Davis went on to coach at Iowa but is now out of basketball. (Graduation rate, all students: 93%; basketball players: 100%. Athletes make up 15% of all black male undergrads.)

4. Arizona (26-6)In November, a Tucson judge ruled that former Arizona basketball star Miles Simon couldn't sue the school over the leak of his academic records to a newspaper, which Simon claimed caused him public humiliation. Tom Penders left his coaching position at Texas in 1999 after being accused of the same thing by a former player. Meanwhile, Wildcats coach Lute Olson remains in his $500,000-plus position. (Graduation rate, all students: 51%; basketball players: 29%; black players: 22%)

5. Temple (26-5)Owls starting center Kevin Lyde missed a game down the stretch while the NCAA investigated possible rules violations regarding a class he took in high school. At issue is whether his AAU coach paid for the course. The Washington Post last month reported that Lyde, a D.C. native, had admitted that his coach paid for the course. Coach John Chaney questioned the NCAA's nit-picking ways: "Why don't they go back and see if the kid changed his diapers in the crib?" Then again, Chaney also said this when asked about his team's chances in the tournament: "If we believe in God, we believe in God, and that's final." (Graduation rate, all students: 43%; basketball players: 15%; black players: 10%)

6. Cincinnati (28-3)A broken left fibula ended probable Player of the Year Kenyon Martin's college career last week, and most likely dashed UC's national title hopes. But coach Bob Huggins didn't go down without a fight. After Martin's injury and the resulting loss to St. Louis in the Conference USA tourney dropped the Bearcats from No. 1 to No. 6 (and to a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs), Huggins asked reporters, "Why are we always the ones to make history?", implying his squad routinely gets screwed in its placement in the postseason. Perhaps the NCAA actually takes UC's stance on off-court issues into account. The Bearcats program hasn't graduated a single black recruit in 10 years, and Huggins has been routinely soft on disciplinary matters as well. It made news when he actually suspended a player this year—forward Eugene Land—after he was arrested for shoplifting $256 worth of socks, underwear, and polo shirts. (Graduation rate, all students: 47%; basketball players: 13%; black players: 0%. Athletes make up 20% of all black male undergrads.)

7. Iowa State (29-4)Over the summer, coach Larry Eustachy dismissed Ga. Tech transfer Travis Spivey before the guard ever suited up for the Cyclones. Spivey was charged with statutory rape and later sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty and admitting he had consensual sex with a 17-year-old runaway he met at a convenience store. (Graduation rate, all students: 61%; basketball players: 50%; black players: 50%)

8. Ohio State (22-6)It's OSU's basketball administrators who are the problem here. Gerry Emig, athletics communications director, was forced to resign earlier this season after the school referred to comedian/alum Richard Lewis as a drunk in basketball media guides produced under his supervision. Meanwhile, the school's director of basketball operations, Randall R. Shrout, was charged with two counts of domestic violence last fall for allegedly grabbing a female friend by the throat and threatening her (charges were later dropped). (Graduation rate, all students: 57%; basketball players: 21%; black players: 10%)

9. Louisiana State (26-5)Tigers coach John Brady, a bargain at $100,000 a year, has turned around a program left in disarray by Dale Brown. The team is still dealing with NCAA penalties stemming from the '96 recruitment of Lester Earl. (Graduation rate, all students: 47%; basketball players: 8%; black players: 0%)

10. Tennessee (24-6)Question: Which head basketball coach at Tennessee has 700 career wins and four national titles—men's coach Jerry Green or Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt? Easy, right? The answer, of course, is Summitt. Now, who's the higher paid? Green. The men's coach was given a one-year contract extension last May, bumping his annual salary to $540,000 through 2004. Summitt's contract was also extended through 2004 in May, but for only $500,000 per year. (Graduation rate, all students: 55%; basketball players: 31%; black players: 22%)

11. Florida (24-7)After one winning season in Gainesville, UF signed coach Billy Donovan to a new five-year contract worth $3.5 million, making him the third-highest paid SEC coach. Even though he led the Gators to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season, Donovan is still most famous for kicking Sacramento Kings star Jason Williams off his team two years ago for smoking marijuana. (Graduation rate, all students: 64%; basketball players: 62%; black players: 43%)

12. St. John's (24-7)SJU is home to the NCAA's most investigated player, point guard Erick Barkley. Currently, Barkley is under the microscope because of doubt over his SAT scores (or maybe the NCAA just doesn't like him and his school—we can't be sure). This latest inquiry marks the third time Barkley is under investigation this season. First, he was suspended for two games in early February for "receiving an improper benefit" after he traded his 1996 Jeep Cherokee for use of a 1995 Chevrolet Suburban leased by the brother of his former Rucker League coach. Then he was suspended for one game later in the season for receiving $3150 from Riverside Church (where he played AAU ball) toward his $21,500 tuition at Maine Central Institute, a prep school he attended before enrolling at St. John's. The NCAA has not been happy with how SJU has handled the various probes, and the feeling is mutual. Future suspensions are not out of the question. (Graduation rate, all students: 65%; basketball players: 92%; black players: 83%)

13. Oklahoma (26-6)The university looked into the high school finances of two of its stars last week—Eduardo Najera and Victor Avila—after a newspaper reporter suggested improprieties. Najera and Avila, both seniors, attended Cornerstone Christian School in San Antonio. An official with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools apparently told a journalist the two players had their tuition subsidized by the Mexican National Basketball Federation (both players are from Mexico). Oklahoma's in-house investigation concluded that nothing occurred that would affect either players' eligibility. (Graduation rate, all students: 44%; basketball players: 0%)

14. Syracuse (24-5)'Cuse's penchant for minimizing obstacles—particularly early in the season (the school's 19-0 start is due, in part, to opening with 10 straight home games against the likes of Colgate, Albany, and Hartford)—apparently extends to academics as well. A report released last summer cited the hoops team as having the lowest graduation rate (17%) in the Big East. (Graduation rate, all students: 70%; basketball players: 17%; black players: 0%)

15. Oklahoma State (24-6)Freshman forward Andre Williams was suspended for five games by the NCAA after an investigation revealed that a Kansas City businessman paid his tuition to Maine Central Institute (the same prep school involved in the Erick Barkley mess at St. John's). Also, as part of his punishment, Williams must donate $5000 to charity. (Graduation rate, all students: 50%; basketball players: 50%; black players: 100%)

16. Maryland (24-9)After the Terps ended Duke's 46-game home winning streak last month, nearly 1000 Maryland students engaged in a rowdy celebration on fraternity row, lighting a bonfire and stealing one of the goalposts from the school's football stadium. Police in riot gear were called in to disperse the crowd. (Graduation rate, all students: 63%; basketball players: 13%; black players: 9%)

17. Indiana (20-8)Walking powder keg Bobby Knight shot a friend while grouse hunting in the fall—unintentionally, of course. He was cited for failure to report the incident and hunting without a license. The friend suffered back and shoulder injuries. (Graduation rate, all students: 68%; basketball players: 77%; black players: 67%)

18. Texas (23-8)This fall, Texas officials found themselves defending their decision to give former coach Tom Penders a $900,000 buyout when he departed in 1998. Penders left after allegations surfaced that he had orchestrated the release of former Longhorn Luke Axtell's grades to a local radio station. The deed was allegedly an effort to get back at Axtell, who complained to UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds about the coach. Penders is now coaching at George Washington. Axtell has since transferred to Kansas and Texas has apologized for wrongly suspending him in 1998. (Graduation rate, all students: 65%; basketball players: 17%; black players: 10%)

19. Tulsa (29-4)Former Oral Roberts coach Bill Self has built Tulsa into a major power. Now fans hope Self doesn't leave for any of the half dozen or so offers that are buzzing around him. He did just sign a seven-year extension. But so did Steve Robinson, just three months before he left Tulsa for Florida State in 1997. (Graduation rate, all students: 56%; basketball players: 56%; black players: 78%)

20. Kentucky (22-9)Coach Tubby Smith suspended Desmond Allison on Selection Sunday after the sophomore forward was arrested on drunken driving and marijuana possession charges. Allison is expected to miss the entire NCAA Tournament. (Graduation rate, all students: 50%; basketball players: 55%; black players: 43%)

21. Connecticut (23-9)Husky point guard Khalid El-Amin marred his team's championship celebration last April by getting arrested for marijuana possession the day after his home state of Minnesota observed "Khalid El-Amin Day." Coach Jim Calhoun called it a "sneaky sting operation," alluding to the fact that Hartford detectives acted on a tip from an on-campus informant. El-Amin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to community service, which he spent speaking to schoolchildren about the perils of drugs. (Graduation rate, all students: 68%; basketball players: 47%; black players: 42%. Athletes make up 24% of all black male undergrads.)

22. Auburn (21-9)A preseason pick to win it all by several publications—including Sports Illustrated—the Tigers have fallen on hard times since star forward Chris Porter's suspension late in the regular season. Porter admittedly accepted $2500 from a Las Vegas?based agent—the senior swingman said he needed the money to help his mother escape eviction. The NCAA is not expected to clear Porter to return in time for the Tournament. (Graduation rate, all students: 66%; basketball players: 27%; black players: 13%)

23. Illinois (21-9)Head coach Lon Kruger dismissed reserve center Fess Hawkins last fall for reportedly failing to attend workout sessions and missing curfews. Hawkins was also overweight and his grades were being reviewed by the NCAA. (Graduation rate, all students: 78%; basketball players: 50%; black players: 67%)

24. Purdue (21-9)Last June, the NCAA punished the Boilermakers' program for violations in connection with the recruiting of former player Luther Clay, who was reportedly given a $4000 "loan" by a booster. As punishment, Purdue will lose a scholarship in the 2000?01 and 2001?02 seasons and was forced to repay a portion of its revenues from the '96 NCAA Tournament—about $80,000. The school also forfeited 24 games it won while Clay was on the team during the 1995?96 season, when the Boilermakers won the Big Ten championship and finished 26-6. (Graduation rate, all students: 67%; basketball players: 53%; black players: 50%)

25. Miami, Fla. (21-10)Known for its troubled football program (the early-'90s Pell Grant scandal is just one example), Miami has also had a tough time with discipline on its hoops team this season—if on a smaller scale. Coach Leonard Hamilton suspended star player Johnny Hemsley twice this season, once for kicking a chair during a game and the second time for unspecified reasons. (Graduation rate, all students: 59%; basketball players: 44%; black players: 42%. Athletes make up 26% of all black male undergrads.)

This poll combines the ESPN/USA Today rankings with NCAA findings on institutional ethical conduct, graduation rates, and exploitation of African American athletes. Graduation rates and enrollment data cover entering freshmen from '89?'90 through '92?'93, all given six years to get degrees.

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