It’s a non-contact sport to NCAA bean counters
This is about a tempest in a teapot, a condition found frequently in the silly bureaucracy of the NCAA.
Just before the start of this college basketball season, UCLA received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA, seeking information about possible illegal contact between a recruit and a person representing the interests of the university.
The recruit was Kevin Love, now the Bruins’ star freshman center.
The person representing the interests of the university was John Wooden.
The NCAA has not disclosed who made the complaint.
Love and his family visited Wooden during his recruiting trip. They had a nice chat, Wooden teased the Loves’ young daughter, Emily, for being so quiet, and a nice time was had by all.
Recently, Stan Love, Kevin’s father, said that Kevin was so impressed when he had a chance to talk to Wooden that he considers him “the smartest man I’ve ever met.”
That puts Kevin in a group of several million of us who know Wooden, have met him or had a chance to hear him speak.
The Kevin Love-Wooden connection got a little play in some publications, including this one, and that apparently prompted either a fan or an official of another school to send some sort of complaint to the NCAA.
Here’s where it really gets fun. The NCAA, apparently shrugging off common sense and going with protocol, procedures and robot-ism, actually wrote a letter of inquiry to UCLA, requiring the school to investigate.
Conjure up images here of an empty room, a single table and three chairs, one good cop and one bad cop, each dressed in a blue suit and comfortable shoes, hovering over an aging man as he squints into a hot overhead spotlight.
“Awright, buddy,” says Bad Cop, “we know you promised the kid weekly poem readings. Fess up.”
Followed by Good Cop, turning down the spotlight and saying, “John, John. Ignore him. We know how these things happen. It’s so easy to have those poem readings turn into promises to get him into that special psychology class. We know you can’t help yourself.”
UCLA’s investigation, under the guidance of compliance director Rich Herczog, clearly didn’t need to be that severe. Matter of fact, it was easy. Wooden, as a paid consultant to the school, is permitted to meet with recruits.
But let’s say he had no official status with UCLA, other than being its greatest living example of humanity. Then the NCAA could have agreed that he was a person illegally representing the interests of the school in the recruitment of Love and actually penalize the Bruins.
Think about this.
Even though we know better every time we read about big bowl money and the latest zillion-dollar TV network basketball tournament contract, does not the NCAA purport to exist for the betterment of the educational experience? What better educational opportunity anywhere than to meet and talk to John Wooden?
Another thing. If Wooden had the time, health and youth to do so, he would spend just as much time imparting his wisdom to a tuba player from Occidental as he would to a 6-foot-10 center. If Wooden talked to Love and didn’t think UCLA would be a good fit, he would have told him not to come, to go somewhere else, to join a rock band. Whatever.
Wooden is 97 years old. He loves UCLA, but he is driven by only three things: family, truth and integrity. Bruins loyalty would be a distant fourth.
Even if Wooden hadn’t been official and legal when he chatted with Kevin Love and his family, who cares? It’s John Wooden, for Pete’s sake. Is there nobody at the NCAA who can think and reason and insert logic into their 14,434-page rule book?
Right now, confusion remains, which is grossly unfair for a freshman trying to lead his team back to the NCAA Final Four. Athletic Director Dan Guerrero and Coach Ben Howland think it is OK for Love to have any contact he wants with Wooden. Others at the school may not be so sure. Herczog’s final e-mail to the NCAA, sent a week ago with answers to all questions, has not received a response. It is a situation in limbo.
The school, which wasn’t the source for this column, just wanted all this to slip under the radar. Columnists don’t care if the NCAA gets mad at them. Schools do.
Stan Love is under the impression, hopefully incorrect, that his son can’t talk to Wooden right now. His son, who played the kind of game against Washington State on Saturday that could move him up several notches in the next NBA draft, used the occasion to tell Steve Dilbeck of the L.A. Daily News that “Coach Wooden says to be your best when your best is needed. And I think we did that when we were needed today.”
Two calls to the NCAA on Monday, both specifying the nature of the inquiry, went unreturned. They were busy making new rules, presumably.
The thought occurred to call Wooden and see if he even knew about all this, but logic says you don’t bother a 97-year-old man with foolishness.
When Wooden attends games at Pauley Pavilion -- sadly fewer and fewer these days -- Lorenzo Mata-Real, Love’s backup center, likes to go over to his seat and greet him.
Expect an NCAA investigation soon.
Bill Dwyre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.
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