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Either NCAA is caring more -- or members couldn't care less

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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So is it me, or are college athletic departments just getting stupider?

Is it me, or did the NCAA's enforcement division find some money under the couch? Or become freshly emboldened by finally reeling in Southern California?

Is it me, or are the little conspiracies that make up any good cheating scandal way more delicate than they used to be?

Enes Kanter is causing a stir after reports surfaced that he was paid $100K while playing in Turkey. (Getty Images)  
Enes Kanter is causing a stir after reports surfaced that he was paid $100K while playing in Turkey. (Getty Images)  
Is it me, or is Comrade Barnhart, who knows a lot more about this than I, noticing the same thing?

In the past couple of days, South Carolina and Tennessee just got their little envelopes from the NCAA snoop department, and Kentucky's back in the soup after a Turkish basketball coach said a UK recruit was already one of the richest players on campus from his previous job.

All of which means, among other things, that if you have your SEC miscreant bingo card, you're pretty much halfway there.

Now in my own little conspirator's mind, I see a lot more large fish than there used to be, and I suspect that the fish are getting more arrogant than they used to be. Then again, I think arrogance breeds arrogance, and every new investigation convinces more and more schools to consider life in a post-NCAA world.

But in the meantime, the world of college sports is about two things and two things only -- teams leaving the conferences they're in for new and bigger conferences, and teams being investigated for paying players without the minimal caution or dignity of hiding the envelopes.

This burst of capitalism without regulation is a fascinating development, because one of the beauties of regulation always was that it helped ensure that the rule-breakers followed the niceties of secrecy. And after all, the true fun of sin is getting away with it without anyone ever knowing.

Suspecting, sure. But knowing? Uh-uh.

But apparently the NCAA rulebook is either too big to follow, or someone in the home office bothered to learn all its ins and outs, because schools are getting investigated like this was America in the '50s.

And in these brazenly Darwinian times, with colleges across the country no longer even trying to hide that the only true motivation for their athletic departments is to squeeze money out of the customer base, the illusory virtues of education that the NCAA likes to brag about matter less and less.

Indeed, the jockeying to trade up, which has now reached Villanova and Montana for God's sake, and the side-door deals for recruits, which has now touched Kentucky and Tennessee (along with all the others), is part of the same general tone.

The planets must grow. The giants must feed. And subtlety is for little prissy schoolmarms, because this is where the carnivores roam.

Subtlety is the only way cheating can thrive untroubled. Keeping everyone quiet, keeping everyone happy, keeping everyone paid -- that takes time, and attention to detail, and unlimited resources. You try and cut a corner here, forget to cross a T or dot an I, you have a donor who isn't kicking in as much to the ancillary slush fund -- it all adds up to less attention to the small stuff.

That is, unless the NCAA is suddenly infused with new enforcement resources and the mood to use it, which seems counter to their secondary goal of keeping the wheels turning by keeping the engines churning.

Their primary goal? Making people think this is a noble enterprise.

It isn't. It's business. Hard, raw, naked business, and it's getting more of each with every passing day. Pretty soon, there won't be enough games like Boise State-Virginia Tech to hide that central truth.

So here's to today's winners -- Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and, because we don't want you SEC folks to get too bitter about it, North Carolina. Here's to Boise State, ripped by Nick Saban for not being in the SEC and for trying to squeeze Nebraska's shoes on an appearance fee. Here's to Villanova and Montana, trying to escape the mean streets of the FCS.

And here's to the NCAA, having its pretense for existence being stripped away and striking out at the least clever of those who undercut that pretense.

In the meantime, Alabama has gone from an 11½-point favorite over Penn State to 13. God, I feel so much cleaner now.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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