Jamar Samuels' career ended in heartbreaking fashion Saturday, when the senior who has given so much of himself to the program and us fans had to sit and watch the Wildcats' loss to #1 seed Syracuse. If you don't know all the details, I strongly recommend reading the great reporting from friend of BOTC Austin Meek over at the TCJ, and his commentary from this morning is also well worth your time.
Some of my friends and a lot of people in the national media are wanting to frame the story in terms of how the suspension cost Kansas State a chance at beating a very good but not great Syracuse team. Personally, I'm not so sure Jamar would have been the deciding factor, but either way, looking at this from that perspective completely misses the point.
The bigger problem is that Jamar sat didn't play in his team's final game because he took some money from a family friend and it might have been against NCAA rules. I was pretty disappointed following Saturday's game and went out to the bars on St. Patty's Day in a (somewhat successful) effort to drown away my sorrows, but my pain and emotional anguish surely did not compare to what Jamar had to go through for 2+ hours on the bench in Pittsburgh Saturday, and the second-guessing and frustrations that he's undoubtedly still enduring today.
I'm not sure what it is about games against Syracuse that bring out devastating, atypical endings to Wildcat careers, but it might not be a bad idea for Jamar Samuels and Adrian Hilburn to go see a psychiatrist together. The Salute was a pretty straightforward case of one player and at least two irrational officials, but the Samuels suspension has a few more layers, and a lot more characters who deserve scrutiny.
Other than the mystery person who tipped off K-State in the first place, Jamar seems like the obvious place to start, since nothing would have happened if hadn't (allegedly) accepted the (supposedly) $200 from Curtis Malone. Let's not forget that Jamar was on the team last season when Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen got suspended for accepting clothes, so it's not unreasonable to think that he should have at least checked with someone first.
On the other hand, Curtis Malone was a longtime family friend and what college student wouldn't gratefully accept some financial help, which no other organization outside the NCAA would find questionable? It's a bit hyberbolic to say he needed $200 for "food" unless KSU was requiring its athletes to dine at Le Mont and Tin Angel every meal, but knowing Jamar's background it's easy to imagine that he needed some extra cash he couldn't have gotten anywhere else.
That brings us to Malone, who undoubtedly could have handled this situation better. He should known he has a bit of a reputation for giving impermissible benefits, and if he's really been financially helping other players as well, then it was even more irresponsible for him not to first check with the NCAA about the legality of those payments.
It's hard to fault a guy for wanting to help a 22-year-old who is "very, very close" (according to Malone), especially without knowing many details about the extent of Samuels' need. Unfortunately, the timing and the secretive nature of it all raises a lot of unanswered questions that I think make it hard to determine just how much Malone is at fault.
Next up is Frank Martin, who seems to me to be the least responsible party here. As long as he's telling the truth when he says he had no part in the decision, it doesn't sound like there's anything he could have done, especially since he thought Jamar did nothing wrong and probably talked some to ADJC in defense of his player.
Speaking of John Currie, I certainly understand that he wants to protect the reputation of his program and its university. But considering the benefit might not even have been illegal if the NCAA determined Malone had a preexisting relationship with Samuels and his family, it seems awfully harsh to just throw Jamar under the bus.
I suspect I'm in the majority when I say I would much rather have seen Jamar play (win or lose) and then later have that game (or games) wiped from the record books. I challenge anyone to find a Memphis or Michigan fan who wouldn't feel the same way about their Final Four teams, and those instances involved clear violations of NCAA rules.
It seems abundantly clear to me that in terms of common sense, Jamar didn't do anything wrong, and he deserved to play one last time for a team for which he has dedicated so much time and effort to over the past five years. Sadly, the environment the NCAA has created makes ADJC's decision completely reasonable, if still a little out of touch.
That brings us, of course, to the NCAA, the entity that is inevitably the most deserving of blame in the latest incident revealing its hypocrisy and naively idealistic view of college athletics. It's hard to fathom how adults can convince themselves that it's OK for them to make billions of dollars off the efforts and likenesses of 18-22-year-olds, but it's somehow wrong when those same "student-athletes" accept $200 from a generous, caring friend.