The NCAA is looking for rats

June, 24, 2010
6/24/10
10:39
AM ET
One of the depressing things about modern sporting life is just how much faster the cheaters are at cheating than those trying to stop them are at doing so. Even as leagues and organizations spend millions to control their cheaters -- MLB's steroid users, the Olympics' HGH experimenters, the Tour de France's blood-dopers -- there's the sinking feeling, oft-confirmed, that the cheaters are staying a step ahead.

But what can you do? Stop trying? No, the only real option is to keep on fighting -- but to fight smarter and in a more organized fashion, maximizing the resources you have and stopping the cheaters when you can. You do your best.

Such is the case with the NCAA. The organization has always been a few steps behind basketball's and football's cultures of underhanded professionalism. Its efforts at curbing these cultures are like big games of whack-a-mole -- every time the NCAA outlaws some practice, or cracks down on some school for something unsavory, new cheaters find new ways to exploit loopholes and break rules. It never ends.

But, alas, the NCAA just can't quit fighting. So it's not. Per CBS' Gary Parrish, the organization is looking to hire several former or current coaches to "aid investigations and thwart cheating." It wants coaches who can put names to faces, who can describe the way the Faustian AAU-runner-coach bargain works at elite schools, and who can, as Parrish writes, essentially become rats.

Those coaches would be part of the NCAA's Basketball Focus Group, which is currently staffed by three people; the three new hires the NCAA wants to make would, yes, double the staff. Make no mistake, that's not enough. Much like the NCAA clearinghouse, this small area of NCAA red tape is woefully understaffed. There are simply too many players, coaches and skeezy AAU types to keep track of everybody before they hit college campuses each fall. It's impossible.

Still, the NCAA is doing something. The idea is there. There are philosophical arguments to be made about whether the NCAA should be so attached to the notion of amateurism in the first place -- after all, why shouldn't players be paid? But if you're going to stubbornly hang on to that pure ideal of amateur athletics, you'd best stick to your guns. You'd best fight fire with fire.

In that way, the NCAA deserves credit. Whether the idea will be as good in execution as it is in theory is almost beside the point. Because at least somebody's doing something.

Now: Who wants to be a rat?

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