There's No Justice in Ban on Players

Quick, somebody get the University of Nevada Las Vegas a good lawyer. Somebody tough. Somebody who plays rough. Somebody who doesn't take any stuff. Somebody firm from a good firm. You know. Somebody from L.V. Law.

I would really like to see some sharp, Susan Dey-like attorney step into a courtroom and sue the pants--or skirts, if there are any, though I doubt it--off that august institution, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., which fancies itself the Supreme Court of scholastic sport.

In a court case pitting UNLV vs. NCAA, put me down with the plaintiff. Consider me Mr. Vegas.

Not necessarily as a character reference. I realize that Coach Jerry Tarkanian and his national champion Runnin' Rebels have not always been on the up-and-up, except around the hoop.

Yet, in no way did UNLV's 1977 crime deserve the grotesquely unfair punishment dished out last week by the NCAA, which has forbidden Jerry's kids from defending their title in the 1991 national tournament.

What a crummy deal this is for upperclassmen such as Larry Johnson, who loyally resisted millions of dollars in the NBA draft to return for his senior year, or for recruits such as Shon Tarver and Ed O'Bannon, who were in kindergarten when Tarkanian defied the NCAA.

I was happy to hear that some of the Vegas players did retain the services of a lawyer, Stephen Stein, who says that these young men are understandably "quite hurt and . . . want action."

This time, though, as opposed to 13 years ago, when UNLV went to court to prevent the suspension of its coach, the university is determined to work within the system, to appeal the tournament ban respectfully, without getting the NCAA boys all angry again.

I am sort of sorry to hear it.

Ordinarily, I'm in favor of protests being orderly and proper. But this is one time when I wouldn't object to seeing these Vegas players stomp their sneakers in court until somebody listens. They don't deserve this.

At the very most, the NCAA should have decreed that Tarkanian himself could not take part in the '91 tournament. That would have sufficiently slapped the wrist of a coach who defied the organization, as well as the school that supported him.

In the meantime, the Rebel players, under the rule of an assistant coach, could have gone about their business with at least a chance of winning another championship. Hey, if Michigan could win the 1989 title under an assistant, no reason UNLV couldn't do the same next year.

I wonder what would happen if Tarkanian decided this week to submit his resignation as coach, as a bone to throw the NCAA. Perhaps the ban would be lifted, and Tark could be rehired for 1991-92.

Rebel rooters probably wouldn't permit it, but it might be a nice gesture.

Why a wonderful high school player such as O'Bannon chose to attend UNLV over all the other fine schools that recruited him remains a mystery, particularly inasmuch as he now appears to be seriously considering going someplace else, possibly USC.

I guess the appeal of contending for an NCAA championship, even if he had to ride the bench in his freshman season, was more alluring to O'Bannon than the athletic or academic advantages of any other school that pursued him. That must have been his priority; otherwise, why would he now consider another school? Why wouldn't he just enroll at UNLV, attend class and enjoy three shots at national championships instead of four?

Maybe he still will. It's his business.

Like the basketball players and fans from UNLV, I just don't comprehend why the NCAA felt it had to be this strict. It smacks of petty revenge, of getting even with the university for refusing to fall to its knees and salaam before the NCAA's almighty presence.

You want to punish UNLV? Then don't give it any money from the basketball tournament. Keep the revenue. Establish a scholarship with it. Build a boys' club. Do some good.

Don't deprive these guys of their ambitions and dreams. Let them play. They didn't do anything.

When Larry Brown leaves as coach just as Kansas gets put on probation, don't just penalize Kansas and let the coach off scot-free. Penalize Larry Brown. Rule that he can't coach college basketball for the next two years.

At least in that case, a good lawyer could argue that some of the Kansas players were directly involved in the violations that led to the penalty.

But Larry Johnson didn't do anything wrong at Vegas. Neither did Stacey Augmon or Greg Anthony or Shon Tarver or Ed O'Bannon. When the teacher cuts class, you don't scold the students.

UNLV needs its lawyer to pound his fist on the table and yell, "Objection!"

The ball's in his court.

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