Corruption in Amateur Athletics
A writer’s perspective on whether it can be stopped.
Renardo Sidney is unlike any basketball player you’ve ever seen; literally. At 6-10 and 265 pounds, your first and most logical impression would be that he was a post player, but first impressions can be misleading sometimes. He does have the post up game and rebounding ability of a big man, but he also has the ball handling and passing skills of a guard and he can shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the court. 6-10, 265; I get excited just writing about it. If you haven’t seen him play, you’re probably pumped up just thinking about his physical presence alone.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is if you haven’t had the privilege of seeing Renardo Sidney in action yet, and you probably won’t get it until he’s rocking and NBA uni next season. A product of the often criticized AAU or grassroots circuit, his entire basketball career has been mired in controversy since he first burst onto the scene as a 9th grade phenom who—after not being allowed to play HS ball in Mississippi—threatened to become the first player ever to make it to college and then on to the NBA by playing only summer hoops. He raised even more eyebrows when his family was given $20,000 by then Reebok exec Sonny Vaccaro to move from Mississippi to California so that he could compete in HS. Four years later he finds himself the subject of an intense NCAA investigation that could potentially jeopardize a college career that was only expected to last for a year anyway.
Once upon a time, the cancer in professional basketball was the posse. Hangers on who almost always got a player in trouble whether directly or indirectly. Those problems seem to be a thing of the past now but as is typical with most “diseases,” a new strain has come to take its predecessor’s place, only this time it’s striking its victims much earlier.
Prep basketball’s cancer is the handler; shady individuals who claim to have the athlete’s best interests in mind but really only look to benefit themselves. We’ve all heard stories of highly ranked, high school players with gobs of upside and potential who’ve had their reputations tarnished. In some cases, handlers derail or, at the very least, re-route young players’ careers.
In most cases, handlers double as AAU coaches who have exclusive access to kids and act as middle men between players, shoe companies and college coaches. They’re around these kids more than their high school coaches and often have a greater influence over many decisions concerning their futures. And if this handler/coach is lucky enough to have a star on his hands, he knows he can potentially cash in with the harshest penalties being reserved for the player if any wrongdoing is discovered.
This is the situation in which Renardo Sidney finds himself, only there’s one difference: The handler/AAU coach in question just happens to be his father, Renardo Sidney, Sr. Wouldn’t you say that changes the game a little bit?
Corruption in amateur athletics is nothing new, especially when it comes to high school basketball. Unsavory characters try and get close to and build relationships with the best players before anyone else, hoping to benefit from the relationship down the line. This is what happened in the very recent and very public OJ Mayo allegations and his involvement with a well-known sports agency runner while he was at USC. Then there was the very quite whisper of allegations that another well-known sports agency paid an AAU coach (who once coached Sidney) $250,000 by to deliver current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love while he was at UCLA. These days, stories like this are common.
Most times the people involved in these illegal transactions go to great lengths to keep their activities hidden, but in the case against Renardo Sidney, the transgressions committed on his behalf occurred in such a sloppy and almost shameless nature that it forced the NCAA’s hand into its current investigation. An investigation which ultimately led to USC (who claimed that Sidney, Sr. alluded to expecting payment for his son’s signature on a letter of intent) and UCLA backing off their recruitment of him, forcing him to sign with Mississippi State University.
Although recently academically cleared by the NCAA (allowing him to enroll as a student at Mississippi State), the investigation into his eligibility remains ongoing and isn’t likely to be resolved anytime soon. The center of the investigation is the Sidney family’s living arrangements the last two years while attending Fairfax HS in Los Angeles. An L.A. Times article reported that the Sidney’s rented two $1 million dollar homes with no visible means of being able to afford them.
The bigger issue in this case appears to be on the burden of proof and which party it falls on. Is it the NCAA’s responsibility to prove wrongdoing or is it up to his family to prove that there was none? The family hired an attorney in effort to have him cleared to play, but in light of the recent Derrick Rose and University of Memphis scandal where the NCAA and its clearinghouse took a major credibility hit when it cleared Rose to play even though it was determined that he never took his SAT, it seems that the burden of proof will fall on the latter.
It also doesn’t help that the attorney made a decision to play hardball with the NCAA who has the authority to drag this out for as long as they see fit. This situation could very easily turn into a de-facto suspension for Sidney, making him nothing more than a regular college student this year.
Remember when amateur athletics was less about business and more about competition? Doing your best, playing hard and being rewarded for it was where your pride came from. My, how times have changed. Now we live in an entitlement and ‘What’s in it for me?’ era. This kind of attitude is the very reason why corruption runs so rampant nowadays because no one does anything (not even the kids) unless they benefit from it. It’s become a part of the game.
But, can anything be done to stop improprieties from happening at the grassroots level? Can the NCAA and the governing bodies of the Amateur Athletic Union partner up and implement safeguards to curb this kind of no holds barred corruption? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The sad truth is the principles of these two bodies are all in collusion with the shoe companies who turn amateur athletics into fertile ground for wrongdoing.
The NCAA is in bed with the shoe companies who provide revenue in exchange for sponsorship of their programs. The Amateur Athletic Union is also in bed with the shoe companies who sponsor them. AAU coaches then get in bed with the shoe companies who sponsor and outfit their programs and give them all expense paid trips to their biggest AAU tournaments. College coaches, already in bed with the shoe companies by default, go to these tournaments scouting players and find themselves in bed with AAU coaches in order to get the inside track on signing a kid. In some cases even paying to have these kids delivered to them. And with all these people in bed together you know what happens? Somebody’s getting screwed. And it’s almost always the kid. Exploitation of youth for a profit… only in America!