Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What price Larry

So now the question is this: Why hire Larry Brown?

Three times now he's occupied a sideline in college basketball, and three times the NCAA has banned his programs from the postseason.

Three times this happened while he was still there, and three times it happened because he either looked the other way or actively took part in the shenanigans.

The last time Larry Brown coached college basketball, in the 1980s, he led Kansas to the national championship. Then he led the Jayhawks off a cliff. So outlaw was his program at KU that the NCAA seriously considered dropping the death penalty on it. Seriously considered it.

So why did Brown's latest employer/patsy, SMU, decide to bring him aboard?

That's the question. And it doesn't really require an answer.

SMU brought him aboard because college hoops is a business, and Larry Brown is the CEO who kicks businesses into overdrive. He took Kansas to the national title. Prior to that, he took a UCLA team thick with freshmen to the national championship game (after which he got them, you guessed it, banned from postseason play). He has a basketball mind matched by few others, and that makes him a valuable commodity, because those kinds of basketball minds win March. And winning March keeps the market share fat for everyone who makes up College Hoops Inc.

And so, hiring a man who'd proved he had no place in college basketball (or at least college basketball as imagined by the NCAA) was a business decision, pure and simple. And until the NCAA dropped the hammer this week, it was a damn smart business decision.

Because Brown, of course, did what he does: Win March. He took a program going nowhere, and in two years the Mustangs were 27-10 and in the NIT. Then they went 27-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament, the fabled ATM of college buckets.

And then, alas, Brown did what he also does.

This time around it involved a guard named Keith Frazier, who apparently got some illicit help from an assistant coach and basketball administrator in order to become eligible. And by "illicit help," we mean, "Here, son, let me write that paper for you."

Brown wasn't in on the scam this time, but when he found out about it, he didn't report it for a month. Then he lied to the NCAA about it before finally coming clean.

It will come as no shock to anyone that the NCAA isn't real cool with that.

And so Brown will sit for nine games, and SMU's seniors -- among them Warsaw grad Nic Moore -- get their final season ruined before it begins. Because even if the Mustangs win, say, 28 games this year, no final fling with March Madness awaits.

The only saving grace in this is that Brown will at least be around to watch it. When he got UCLA and Kansas dinged, he had already hit the road to the NBA when the stuffstorm came down.

He hasn't done that this time, which is no guarantee he won't. But before he does, SMU ought to do itself and the rest of college basketball a favor and show him the road.

It's the only way SMU -- and, yes, the rest of college basketball -- can retain a piece of its integrity. If only a piece.

And only until, inevitably, Larry Brown's phone rings again.


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