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NCAA steps up and cracks down

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The old adage "better late than never" does not always ring true. However, after years of turning a blind eye to the seedy practices at play in college sports, the NCAA has recently gone on a crusade for which the sport of football, in particular, is paying a heavy price this year.

Unscrupulous activities in college athletics have been a Hollywood punchline forever (i.e. One on One, Blue Chips, He Got Game, The Program, Johnny Be Good), and many years after those films were created, the NCAA has apparently amplified its effort to meet the issues head on, culminating in a record number of inquiries, investigations, suspensions and dismissals.

USC's transgressions during the Reggie Bush years, and subsequent punishment, represent just the tip of the iceberg it seems.

Georgia's A.J. Green was handed a four-game suspension by the NCAA on Wednesday.
The SEC has now made its way into the NCAA crosshairs, and it looks like the body is intent on making an example of the nation's top conference. Illegal practices on the campuses of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have come to light recently, and only time will tell what other programs join the party and what the fallout will be.

The Bulldogs will be without the services of perhaps the nation's top wide receiver for one-third of the season, as All-American A.J. Green has been handed a four-game suspension for selling his Independence Bowl jersey to an individual who is regarded as an agent by the NCAA definition.

Green is certainly saying all the right things, indicating he has learned from his mistake.

"I want to apologize to my coaches, teammates, and the Georgia fans for the mistake in judgment," Green said in a statement. "I very much regret all that has taken place and the distraction that's been caused. I've learned a valuable lesson and hope others can learn from my mistake. I can only focus my attention now on practicing and looking ahead to getting back with my teammates as quickly as possible."

It may be a costly lesson learned for head coach Mark Richt and his Bulldogs, especially since they open up SEC play this weekend against South Carolina.

At the same time, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have their own issues in terms of an NCAA investigation and sanctions, with the indefinite absence of tight end Weslye Saunders having brought the team unwanted headlines. The senior, who is linked to a national probe regarding illegal agent activity, is not the only Gamecock coming under scrutiny. At least six other South Carolina players are being investigated regarding their living arrangements at a local hotel.

The NCAA made a stop in Gainesville this summer as well, looking into possible impropriety surrounding money given to All-American center Maurkice Pouncey by an agent prior to last year's Sugar Bowl. It remains to be seen what impact that investigation will have on the Gators' program.

The focus of the NCAA's wrath has extended beyond the SEC, and the program hit the hardest has probably been North Carolina. Butch Davis was missing quite a few star players for the season-opener against LSU, and it definitely played a role in the narrow loss to the Tigers. All-American candidates Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin are regarded as two of the top down linemen in all of college, but both are under NCAA investigation for alleged interaction with an agent, as well as their work with a tutor who may have done papers for some UNC players. Davis was forced to use what amounted to a skeleton crew in the season-opener, as the team was also without RBs Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, WR Greg Little, CBs Kendric Burney and Charles Brown and S Deunta Williams. The investigation has taken its toll on Davis' staff as well, with associate head coach John Blake stepping down.

The NCAA has also beaten a path back to its familiar territory of Tuscaloosa, with the two-game suspension handed down to star Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus the latest controversy for a program that has had its fair share of it over the years. Once again, it centers around alleged contact with an agent. The defending national champs will be just fine on the field awaiting Dareus' return, but an All-American candidate on the shelf for a defending national champion hardly enhances the positive P.R. profile of college football.

I guess the NCAA should be given some credit for finally deciding that enough is enough. Painting the problem with a broad brush and being heavy-handed in delivering punishment is way overdue. The pandemic of "breaking the rules" wasn't created in a day and it will take a lot longer than that to fix it.

For now though, at least the NCAA has made a stand.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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