As Bard Parker brought to our attention, the Nike-sponsored and city-funded Columbus AAU basketball team may have put the eligibility of Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jarvis Jones in jeopardy. Reportedly, the top two fellows in the Parks and Recreation Department had control over an unauthorized bank account used to provide improper benefits for athletes who played for the Georgia Blazers.
(At this juncture, I feel a rant is in order. First of all, when is the last time you heard an AAU program mentioned in any context that wasn’t sleazy? At best, AAU programs surface in media reports in ways that make the reader feel slightly dirty, producing squirms of discomfort regarding the thin grime of implicit impropriety that appears to coat everything about the enterprise; more often, those three initials appear the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s similarly-abbreviated New Deal "alphabet agencies" were noted in U.S. Supreme Court decisions prior to 1937---which is to say, solely in circumstances in which the three-letter organization in question is about to get slapped down. Also, the Parks and Rec Department, for crying out loud? Has proximity to Auburn caused Columbus to be poisoned by the steady seepage of unethical conduct from the (morally) Ugliest Village? Were it not for the fact that the Lowell of the South produced both Henry Benning and Doug Gillett, I’d be ready to let East Alabama annex the Fountain City.)
That said, it’s not yet time to panic. The Bulldogs are doing their due diligence, so there’s no reason to expect the worst. By that, of course, I mean there’s no specific reason particular to this situation that has yet been brought to light which would cause us to expect the worst; as Georgia fans, though, we have very good general reasons for anticipating that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, but, hey, at least we made it as far as June 26 before getting any news so bad that it made the denizens of Bulldog Nation roll their eyes, slap their foreheads, toss up their hands, and yell, "You have got to be kidding me!" in response to this latest cruel twist of fate, which, when you think about it, is itself an encouraging development.
The potential consequences are as ominous as they are obvious. Mark Fox’s two best Bulldogs now are L.A. Clippers, and the Hoop Hounds’ hopes for avoiding a slide back to the pack after last year’s NCAA Tournament trip hinged in no small way upon the arrival of Caldwell-Pope upon the scene. As Kris Willis noted, the absence of so solid a scorer from a three-guard lineup could cause the Red and Black to stumble out of the gate, struggle to find their rhythm, and end up behind the eight ball early against another daunting non-conference basketball slate. Among the benefits alleged to have been received by Caldwell-Pope was the payment of a portion of his mother’s $280.90 cell phone bill.
More worrisome still are the reports regarding Jarvis Jones, who is said to have received $828.40 in improper benefits in the form of flights between Atlanta and Los Angeles. Not only was the price tag heftier, but I previously identified Jones as a versatile rising star in the Georgia linebacker corps.
This much is certain: precedent does not favor the Bulldogs. We learned from last year’s suspension of A.J. Green that proportional penalties for the Red and Black are not probable. We learned from one of Auburn’s more recent run-ins with the NCAA that AAU improprieties are attributable to the schools that benefit from them. (Come to think of it, maybe there’s just something in the initials "AU" that corrodes the integrity of the bearer of that abbreviation. Those two letters also form the chemical symbol for gold; perhaps their employment works an ethical alchemy that transforms the user’s moral fiber into lead.) Moreover, if Mark Richt is called upon to mete out a player suspension, there is absolutely no doubt that he will levy it immediately, with no concession made to the importance of the first two games on the fall schedule.
It is not yet time to panic. However, practicing panicking so you’ll be ready when the time comes wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. On the plus side, at least no one was arrested, so we’ve got that going for us.