Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Alma Mater Under Siege

By now, I'm sure you know that the University of San Diego is mixed up in a bribery/gambling/marijuana scandal where Brandon Johnson, one of the best players in school history, is accused of fixing at least one game while attempting to influence the outcome of another. The feds have already charged 10 folks with it and the NCAA is waiting in the wings to do their own investigation.

I've waited a while to speak my mind because I wasn't sure what to say.  I'll start with this. I went to USD from 2002 to 2006. BJ came along in 2005 and was probably the first player we had since my freshman year who could compete for conference Player of the Year honors. It's no surprise he ended his career as the school's all-time leader in points and assists.

I was a fan of his fearlessness and ability to hit big shots. He led our team into the NCAA Tournament in 2008 where we upset UConn in the 1st round thanks to this shot by De'Jon Jackson. Unfortunately the program went into a downward spiral since that miracle shot.

I know folks who knew Johnson well. He's by all accounts a great guy who wasn't a troublemaker or a jerk. But like most athletes, I know he was probably struggling for cash and that's probably how he got mixed up. I could give you some inside information but I won't sell him out for gossip. It's sad that there's evidence he fixed at least one game in February and perhaps another suspicious game.

No school is perfect and any school is liable to get caught up in dirty activities. But point shaving is serious business. The first time I heard about it was through watching "Blue Chips" as a kid and seeing one of Nick Nolte's players subtlely throw a game. I later read about the CCNY scandal and I found other examples of it.

Former mobster Michael Franzese used to come on Jim Rome's radio show regularly and talk about how easy it was for gamblers to not only approach college athletes but convince them to fix a game. As opposed to deliberately playing like crap, all they had to do was make sure they match the point spread and make subtle mistakes. Players would think it was easy money but then they'd get mixed up and face even more problems.

I'm not surprised how often it's happening. But I am surprised that it hit close to home because it's not like our program is big time or anything. And I'm saddened because while I craved my alma mater would get national attention, I didn't want it like this.

If anything, I just feel rotten because it feels like a bad movie is on display at home and you know the scenery, the players, and the plot all too well. I will say that the school is still a fine university to attend and I hope the NCAA doesn't come with the hammer considering this was done outside of the school's awareness. 

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