Our sports-obsessed nation is all over the O.J. Mayo story. ESPN got the ball rolling with its explosive investigative report by Kelly Naqi; the LA Times quickly followed with the eerily similar story of Rodney Guillory's relationships with Tito Maddox and Jeff Trapagnier. Even NCAA president Myles Brand can't resist letting us know that the NCAA has "new information."
Many are calling for the firing of USC's coach, athletic director, compliance staff, and school president for lack of institutional control. Most extreme, ESPN's Pat Forde called for USC to get the death penalty.
There's also the cumulative effect the yet-to-be-resolved Reggie Bush case taking place at the same school.
Look, Guillory, Mayo, BDA and USC may be guilty as sin, but they all deserve an opportunity to state their case to the NCAA and whatever other authorities may have an interest in this case.
For anyone who wants a break from the 24/7 cycle of deciding the appropriate penalty, here's a lifeline thrown by Michael Wilbon followed by questions I have about the case and then a link to an interview radio I did on the subject.
Michael Wilbon on meeting O.J. Mayo at the Laker-Jazz playoff game:
"He was the nicest, sweetest kid you could hope to meet. Said hello and then hugged me, even though he'd seen me call him a 'punk' on television. He was polite, engaging, answered every question with 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir.' He said: 'I would just love for you to spend some time with me, just talking. . . . Could I have your card and just be able to call or talk to you? I've got the pre-draft camp [in Chicago] coming up, a whole new world.' I realized instantly I was wrong for attacking Mayo the way I had. While Mayo isn't an innocent, he's absolutely the product of a subculture in which the ability to play basketball at an elite level is valued more than being a good father, more than formal education, more than almost anything that appears to be within his grasp. Mayo, like so many who've come before him, simply is doing the only thing he knows to negotiate the road before him."
Questions I have before I am ready to decide in my own court of opinion...
1) Why did Johnson go to media? I assume there was some kind of falling out involving Johnson and Guillory. Was there an attempt to reconcile privately? Did Johnson ask for or demand money before unloading on ESPN (similar to Lloyd Lake in the Reggie Bush case)? I think Louis Johnson's motives are absolutely fair game.
2) Louis Johnson GUESSED that OJ got $30,000 from Guillory. He produced some receipts, but several were expenses related to Johnson and Guillory courting OJ, which is not an NCAA violation.
3) Show me the money trail between BDA and OJ. Remember, it is not remotely illegal for a sports agency to employ a runner. The $250,000 figure Johnson threw out there sounds like a lot of money, but it's really not in the grand scheme of the business of professional basketball. I would have a problem if Guillory did not disclose his relationship with BDA to OJ, but that's a private matter and definitely not an NCAA issue.
4) Regarding the cell phone and other receipts--that might be damaging evidence, but there are several instances where the NCAA has restored eligibility after an athlete serves a suspension and repays the benefit or makes a charitable donation (as OJ was required to do when he received free NBA tickets from Carmelo Anthony).
5) Is it possible that Bill Duffy and Calvin Andrews were duped by Guillory? Duffy is a smart guy. Until I see how this shakes out, I will give the benefit to Bill and Calvin that they would not so blatantly jeopardize their sports empire. It's not like OJ is BDA's breakthrough client. They represent some of the NBA's biggest stars: Yao Ming, Steve Nash, Melo, Greg Oden, etc.
Lastly I was a guest yesterday on the Petros and Money Show discussing the situation.