CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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Maybe there's no hope for college sports. Maybe this is a losing battle after all. The most recent, and possibly most dispiriting, jolt of bad news came this week when a judge ruled that Ohio State had improperly fired men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien in June 2004.
Jim O'Brien might be turning 6,000 dirty dollars into $9 million. (Getty Images)
O'Brien gave $6,000 to a recruit, but that major NCAA violation was not serious enough to warrant his firing, according to Judge Joseph T. Clark.
Clark, who found his law degree on a sidewalk, said O'Brien's major NCAA violation "was not material" and therefore not cause for his dismissal. In related news, attorneys for Jim Harrick, Jan van Breda Kolff and Dave Bliss are expected to file motions to have future legal proceedings moved to Clark's courtroom.
So the legal system is out. If a judge can't be of service, who can? Not the NCAA. The NCAA doesn't have the power of subpoena, which means the best an NCAA investigator can do is stare sternly into the eyes of a known cheater and pray the cheater confesses. If the cheater gets his story straight, and convinces those around him to keep his story straight, the NCAA has no chance.
It's not the NCAA's fault. It's simple math: No subpoena plus no perjury equals no case.
So if the NCAA can't root out cheaters, and the legal system is so stupid as to lay down this precedent, where do we turn? We turn back to the 1970s, that's where. Let's bring back Jerry Tarkanian and Barry Switzer and whoever was running SMU football before the death penalty. Let's exhume UCLA sugar daddy Sam Gilbert. Hey, guys, it's a party and you're invited! The NCAA is impotent, and Judge Joseph T. Clark is out on the road trying to catch a Buick in his teeth.
This really is bad. The precedent, the NCAA knows, is awful. O'Brien gave a recruit $6,000. The recruit, Aleksandar Radojevic, was a 7-foot-3 future NBA player from Serbia. His family was going through all kinds of hell in Serbia.
Was O'Brien's $6,000 gift done for humanitarian reasons? Maybe. But how many 5-7 Serbian mechanics did O'Brien help out?
O'Brien's story is that he gave the money to Radojevic after learning that Radojevic already had forfeited his amateur status by playing professionally. O'Brien can't pinpoint when exactly he gave the money -- it was late 1998 or early 1999, reports from the trial say -- but he's sure it was after Radojevic was no longer a potential recruit.
But everyone has a story. Harrick, whose son at Georgia taught a class so simple that Joseph T. Clark could have passed, says he didn't deserve to be fired. Van Breda Kolff, who at St. Bonaventure played a graduate of the same welding school that produced Judge Joseph T. Clark, says he didn't deserve to be fired.
Now Jim O'Brien has said the same thing, and a judge, chillingly, has agreed. But if O'Brien can't be fired, who can? That's the question wafting from Judge Joseph T. Clark's courtroom like a bad stink.
Here's the deal. When a coach commits a major NCAA violation, his bosses need to know they can fire him without legal consequences. Ohio State doesn't know yet what the consequences will be, but O'Brien's lawsuit asked for $3.5 million in lost wages and benefits. With interest and lost wages, the Associated Press is reporting, O'Brien could win more than $9 million.
Ponzi schemes have nothing on Jim O'Brien's investment. Give a recruit $6,000, and seven years later you get $9 million!
Stop taking notes, Harrick. No one will ever hire you again.
Well ... maybe. Judge Joseph T. Clark could always become an athletics director.