By Matt Norlander
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- I've never been more proud of my amateur photography career. The symbolism is so heavy and obvious I think the word "irony" just got redefined.
Runners, runners, everywhere! It's a grand old illegal time here at the Peach Jam. What I appreciate most is the delicate balance and dance of the fringe agents that deftly move about the facility, nobody really telling them to get the hell off the property.
Agents, street agents, runners, pushers, whatever you want to call them, they can't be here. But they are. In abundance. The Riverview Park Activities center is teeming with them, and the NCAA can't do anything about it. Amongst grizzled, grayer writers than myself (and this goes beyond the two boys on the masthead there), it's fodder for conversation. It's an acceptance. No one can just walk up to a person that seems -- or is even well-known to be -- a street agent and try to undress them. That simply doesn't happen, for a number of obvious reasons.
The most glaring: the only people who don't want them here is the pack of NCAA employees, who most definitely don't look interested in smothering out the horde of honchos who lubricate this event. They couldn't even if they tried.
Unless inclusion into these events becomes much more strict, this "problem" will simply continue to be an organism in the recruiting infrastructure. The kids are here, after all. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds who will one day make a lot of money. So their pushers will follow. It's an infested nest that's pretty impossible to clean up in college basketball's current situation. And most coaches don't seem to want to clean it up. At these events, there can be no contact between school and player, or anyone associated with that player.
But information needs to be shared. So the middle men move to the front. And information is shared. Constantly. If it was ever possible to read the text messages these coaches are sending, night and day, what a non-revelation that would be.
Here's pretty much what I've learned. If a guy has a press credential dangling from his neck that doesn't say MEDIA, TEAM, VIP OR VOLUNTEER, he's probably working for someone. And even if he is wearing one of those ... he's probably working for someone. AAU coach, shoe company, you name it, there's a party invested in moving the pieces on the board. The age of most of these peddlers are 20 to 30 years old. Runners blend in like friends and family. Congratulations and condolences after wins and losses. It's a heartwarming scene after the final two minutes of a blowout take 10 minutes of real time and involve fouls every possession.
As for the NCAA's patrol men and women (it's mostly, if not all, women here), they're doing the best they can, though they're in the wrong spots. Policing the gyms is an easy task. It seems the enforcers have their familiar faces they make conversation with (I saw one high-profile coach gab a laughing NCAA employer off for nearly 45 minutes Tuesday), but they're not getting much done. NCAA staff sitting inside the gym is akin to a cop staking out a 7 Eleven in hopes of curing the town's crime issues. You're in the wrong spot, sir or ma'am.
The enforcers can't realistically keep the street agents out of the gyms. But to curb any potential illegal behavior from coaches, the NCAA's slew of onlookers should be anywhere but inside. Hang around the parking lot, be in the hotel lobbies and bars and mezzanines. That's where the few in-person deals are getting done by those brave and brazen enough to run afoul of the NCAA right under its nose.
Still, doesn't much matter. There's never going to be enough manpower from the NCAA to scrub clean these events. There's no motivation from other parties to get it that way. We've got an odd-bedfellows situation going on, and the NCAA is helpless to stop it.
Bend the rules and loopholes at these events, pick your couriers carefully, and nobody will tell on you. That's the code coaches of every distinction and the minions attached to them abide by. With the way this event is policed, you'd have a right to be cynical and think the NCAA is compliant in it as well by the way its resigned to accept the state of affairs. But I can't fault them for trying. From a recruiting corruption standpoint, events like the Peach Jam are too big to fail for the teams and shoe companies involved. You can't kill what you can't see, even if you know it's there.
Day 2 Peach Jam impressions: runners and the NCAA
Posted on: July 14, 2011 2:48 am